Thursday, 28 February 2013

[HOMEBREWING] Borrow, Beg and Steal

Saving money as a homebrewer.

Homebrewing can be an expensive hobby, but it certainly needn't be. I estimate that my first full set-up cost me roughly £40 all in all, and my beer currently costs about 50p a pint to make (not bad eh?). Not everyone is willing to spend money on a top of the range stainless steel homebrew kit, and rightly so; I've been assured by reliable sources that world class beer can be made in three plastic buckets alone. From trying many homebrewed beers myself, I know for a fact that commercial standard beer can be made with even the crudest of equipment, generally in small kitchen or garage spaces better suited to less space-consuming hobbies.

If on a budget, why not buy cheap alternatives that will do the job just as well? A dedicated homebrewing kettle will easily set you back over £60 (most are over £100 for the basic ones). Instead I have built the same equipment for around £15: a cheap pan from my local market, a tap from a local plumbing supply shop, and calling in favours from friends with the correct drill pieces. My mash tun is a similar story: a converted £4 second hand cool box from Gumtree, with a home-made fitting made from £10 worth of copper, that once again required me to borrow a saw from a friend. I even saved money on the insulation, opting to glue some bubble wrap to some 50p tin foil, rather than fork out £12 for a roll of loft insulation. Admittedly, my scrimping may go overboard in places, but I'm simply giving examples of how money can be saved at every opportunity. Many homebrewers will pay upfront for a set of bottles (should they choose to bottle), but I've managed to amass around 100 bottles, simply from collecting my empties and reusing them. Christmas and New Year are particularly lucrative times of year for this practice.

One often overlooked beauty of homebrewing is the challenges that come from setting up and adjusting your kit to meet your demands. An overwhelming number of everyday objects can be converted to perform vitals roles for the brewing process. A common example is kettle elements, whereby a specific kettle element for brewing beer can set you back over £30, meanwhile there are countless guides on the internet on how to convert and use the heating element from a cheap Argos or Tesco kitchen kettle. Granted, all of these financial short-cuts are more time consuming, but it amounts to a more rewarding beer making process. Aforementioned plumbing supply shops are treasure troves of cheap piping and fittings that the homebrewer would be foolish to ignore, and generally can save you a lot of money when compared to buying pre-assembled homebrewing fittings.

For me, I love being entirely DIY, and working on a shoestring budget. Any corner than can be cut, without compromising the quality of your end product, should be considered. If money isn't an issue to you and your homebrewing, then simply make sure you buy once, and buy right. The scale of your brew is an important factor to consider when investing in equipment, as constantly up-scaling will end up costing you a lot on the money in the long run. For now, I know my equipment could potentially run at double its current capacity for minimal extra investment.

Homebrewing is cheap, and can be very cheap. You should savour the money you save compared to buying commercial beer, as much as you savour the tasting experience of your creations.