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I'm trying to reduce my cost-per-beer, without investing in an all-grain setup. I know I'm pretty limited with what I can tweak (can't get around needing sugar, yeast, and hops), but here in Montana it runs about $40 for each batch (even using Muntons yeast!). I'd like to reduce that if possible.

Any tips or tricks out there? Recommended places to shop? Brands to buy? Secret techniques I can't even imagine?

Thanks!

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Damn, at least you've given me an attainable goal. I've been spending 70-80+ on ingredients since i've started. –  Jarrod Nov 8 '10 at 22:10
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It would be interesting to see a cost break-down for either or both of you two. –  Jeff Roe Nov 8 '10 at 23:25
    
A 5 gallon batch is roughly 40 pints, so at $40 per batch thats not a bad price, IMHO. I'm with Jarrod, my batches run in the 50-60 range. I'm happy to pay it too, cause its still cheaper than the bar, and even the liquor store for similar quality beer. –  benr Nov 8 '10 at 23:53
    
Given that kits like this (northernbrewer.com/brewing/recipe-kits/extract-kits/…) are $27, with liquid yeast, $40-80 on ingredients strikes me as really high. Tack on the $7.99 in shipping and that kit (and most in that store) are still under $40. Buy more than one and split the shipping across them. –  J Wynia Nov 10 '10 at 1:51
    
Basic breakdown: Kits are my local brew shop start at $35, and building my own usually runs about the same ($1 for yeast, hops are like... $6/oz? so I spend $18ish for a batch, then $17 for 8lbs of LME plus, $5 or so for dark grains and extra DME = $41 (ish). –  thaddeusmt Nov 10 '10 at 14:40
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8 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted
  1. Reuse your yeast. If you're making multiple batches of the same beer, or even two different beers that require a similar yeast strain, you can pitch your (chilled) wort directly onto the yeast cake from the previous batch.

    If you're not planning to use the yeast again right away, you can wash the yeast and store it for later. This topic on HomebrewTalk illustrates the process really well.

    Also, as Dominic commented below, breweries are often happy to give you some of the yeast they use to produce their beers. If you live near a microbrewery, see if you can stop by and ask for a cup (or growler!) of yeast slurry; it will go a long way, especially if stored properly.

  2. Transition to partial-mash brewing. You don't need to go all-grain to start using grain in your recipes. Doing partial mash recipes will allow you to substitute some of the malt extract with grain, and if you buy some 2-row in bulk you can cut your costs a bit.

    Partial mash brewing doesn't require a whole lot more than extract brewing. You'll need some muslin or nylon bags to hold the grain, and you'll do a partial mash step before boiling (usually just soaking and rinsing a bag of grain for an hour).

  3. $40 per batch seems high. Look for deals and specials at large online store like Midwest Supplies and Austin Homebrew, and look for a local homebrew supply store if you haven't already.

  4. Are your friends enjoying the fruits of your labor? Have them toss in a few bucks toward the next batch ;)

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+1 for friends chipping in. I've got a friend who's bought me a couple batches of beer and a bottle tree because he's over that often. –  Nathan Koop Nov 8 '10 at 22:19
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+1 for reusing your yeast. I highly recommend that. Yeast can last 7+ uses, in personal and professional use. If you can find a brewer(y) that's kind enough to share their yeast, you're in good stead. Also, cost seems high too, should be around $25... I use HomeBrewIt. –  Dominic Tancredi Nov 8 '10 at 23:42
    
Great comment about getting yeast from a local brewery. A cup of slurry can go a long way, and from what I've heard, breweries are more than happy to give you some if you come at the right time. –  Jeff L Nov 8 '10 at 23:44
    
See if you can get friends to sponsor your beers. I'm brewing a cider for a friend soon- it's my time/equipment, so he's paying for all the ingredients and getting half the batch (24/48 bottles) –  Fishtoaster Nov 9 '10 at 0:24
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Reusing yeast will also help you to make better beer, since it is easier to achieve proper pitching rates. Also, if you brew several of the same batch, the yeast will acclimate to your wort. However, I would suggest that you use perhaps half the cake, rather than the entire yeast cake, since using the entire cake would be grossly overpitching in most instances. –  Dustin Rasener Nov 10 '11 at 12:00
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DMEmart.com, buy hops by the pound and reuse your yeast. You should be able to brew a batch for under $25/5 gallons. Under $30 if you wanna church it up.

I got into homebrewing young, like full grain brewing in high school (parents thought it was ok, long as I didn't get drunk) and gave up the hobby in my 20's cuz I got sick of paying 200+% markup to the beer snob dorks that bought the homebrew shop where i lived, doing a bunch of work and clean up, building/buying equipment and still paying more than I could buy it for. Made wine for a decade instead. got back into it few years ago when I realized that I could make german style lagers for cheaper than I could buy them. I use all DME and buy hops by the pound for usually $1 to $1.5 per oz. after shipping. Cascades are usually best value, it seems. I've even toyed with - purists, please sit so you don't get a concussion when you faint- corn sugar and don't think the results were too bad, but don't think there is much cost advantage. I lager for a month in a fridge on the porch, bottle in plastic two liters and like my beer just fine. I live in the woods and not trying to impress anyone. That said, I pay about $.65 a beer. About what I'd pay for a case of Miller lite at the grocery store. Mine's way better.

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Some recommendations:

  1. Reuse your yeast: you'll save ~$2 - ~$7 depending on the type of yeast you use.
  2. Create a yeast starter and sanitize good. If you have to toss a batch you're wasting time and money.
  3. I'm not sure about Montana, but look into growing your own hops. They're easy to grow and you can eliminate that cost to some degree depending on what kinds and how much you grow.
  4. Buy in bulk.
  5. Long term, go all grain and buy grain in bulk.
  6. Sort of counts if you're interested: brew larger batches. You can make a large starter (reducing yeast cost) and you're saving time since it is virtually the same amount of work to brew 10 gallons instead of 5.
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You can also substitute up to 20% of the malt bill with table sugar without having a huge impact on the finished product. It will reduce the maltiness but otherwise pretty much dries right out. The whole "it tastes like cider" seems be a myth. YMMV

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A couple ideas to save a little per batch:

PBW costs a fortune per lb. If you buy 50 lbs. at a time, it is cheapest. Buy in bulk with some friends? Also, the 5-lb. container from Midwest Supplies is pretty close to that per-pound price, if you can get free shipping. Or forgo PBW and get by with much-cheaper Oxyclean.

Also, you don't need five gallons of Star-San for a batch. I get by with two gallons, and use a needle-less syringe (get free from pharmacy - it is used for administering liquid tylenol to toddlers) to mix smaller amounts at a ratio of 5 ml per gallon of pure water. I could probably get by with one gallon if I was judicious about my use. Or you can save Star-San in a sealed five-gallon bucket -- it lasts a long time if you use soft water to make it.

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  1. Personally I've been looking into the exact same thing, my preferred store is morebeer because they have free shipping and pretty good prices.

  2. Look at sites like homebrewtalk and see if you can find a local group organizing a bulk grain buy.. and instead of getting bulk grain, get bulk DME which if you spend the time breaking it out into freezer bags or have a 5 gallon bucket that has a good seal on it, or have a food saver. with a bulk buy, you can probably get a 50 pound bag ( yes 50 pounds) of DME for maybe 1.60 a pound.. which your LHBS or a online store , cannot and will not touch.. I recommend bulk DME over LME because LME spoils alot easier and is alot sticker to deal with. Combining say a LIGHT DME ( gives you flexibility on what styles you can brew) with a minimash of speciality grains can end up getting you a beer for real real cheap. ( or see if you can make friends with someone who works at a local microbrewerie and would be willing to add your order on to theirs)( or try searching google for "bulk grain buy Montana Malt".

  3. Yeast recycling will save you 2-8$ a batch
  4. Buy your hops in bulk ( say buy 1 LB of a real clean bittering hop( that won't contribute any flavor), and then have smaller amounts of the different varieties of aroma and flavoring hops.

  5. Don't brew insanely hoppy beers, the cost will add up.

  6. If you wanted to go hard core, you could try finding a friendly farmer who grows malt grade barley and malting it yourself ( but I really wouldn't recommend it)

  7. Being in Montana sounds like a shame that you have to pay so much considering that alot of malters are based on the west coast for god sakes. I like the idea of AG, but if I can get real cheap DME the cost difference would take alot of batches before it made a big difference, even with a BIAB setup, partially because I would refuse to settle for a corona/victoria mill and I'll be dead before I regularly use a rolling pin to crush my grain, I can deal for just the specialty grain. ( better grinders are 100-200). and if you don't buy in bulk specialty grain tends to run 1.50-2$ a lb, and if you get it bulk preground, it will go bad too fast.

  8. A solution to #7 is to form a club with some friends//see bulk grain buy and share the cost of the equipment.

  9. If you do go all grain you could look into getting a good 2 row malt and reading up how to make your own toasted grains and crystal. and just buy black patent malt or some or the really special grains.

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+1 on DME having better shelf life than LME –  Daniel Chisholm Nov 10 '11 at 14:35
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When you include the high price of extract, liquid yeast and hops if you use a lot of them, $40 is about average - it's not high if you are starting from a recipe and not buying a kit. You can get down cheaper with a kit, but I think you'll find the kit will probably have less in it than the recipe and you'll learn more from using a recipe vs a kit. It's nothing against kits, the beer will probably taste as good as the recipe. This is especially true if you are buying at a local homebrew store, where they are including their shipping costs in the prices.

That said, there are some ways you can save money. The main thing I've found is LME is significantly more in local stores. A 3.3 lb container of Briess LME at the LHBS is around $13-14 in my neighborhood, whereas it's about $9 online, but then you're paying shipping. But even with shipping, you may still save money buying LME online. Some stores have free shipping deals if you buy a certain amount. For example morebeer.com has free shipping over $59. If you buy a LME online in bulk you will definitely save there. It has a shelf life, but if you keep it in the fridge it should last a few months.

I prefer to have my grains milled as close to the day I'm going to use them as possible, and I don't own a grain main, so I try to buy them at the LHBS. Yeast needs to be kept cold, especially liquid yeast so it's tricky to buy online without it being expensive since you need ice packs and fast shipping.

I think it's commonly acknowledged that if you want to save the most money in the long run, all grain is cheaper than extract brewing. I still do extract, but I'm planning to start doing stove top all grain soon with a cheap setup like this:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/easy-stovetop-all-grain-brewing-pics-90132/

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I could recommend a place to shop, but you're in Montana and it's in Vancouver BC, so I don't think it would be very helpful. But if you have access to a store like it which sells bulk liquid malt extract, that stuff can be pretty cheap.

Even though you said you didn't want to go all-grain, I'd suggest you at least look into it. It might be cheaper than you're expecting. I recently started brewing all-grain, and I spent less than $100 on extra equipment. And if you enjoy brewing, I think you won't regret it -- there is so much more to enjoy. And a 23 litre (6 US gal.) batch can cost easily as low as $14 or so.

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