The Absolute Cheapest Way To Make Beer Explained
If you love drinking beer but hate the prices, you aren’t alone. Making your own beer is one way to save money, but this can also be costly. However, there are things that you can do to cut down on costs and make beer on a budget.
The absolute cheapest way to make beer is to purchase or grow ingredients in bulk, store them properly, and make beers that don’t require many ingredients. You can start by purchasing inexpensive equipment.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain all the ways you can save money while brewing beer so that you can make your next brew the most affordable one yet.
What Is the Cheapest Way To Make Beer?
The cheapest way to make beer is to purchase ingredients in bulk or grow your own. You could also consider brewing session beers that require fewer ingredients and buy more affordable brewing equipment to lower your startup cost.
My first recommendation is to buy your grain and hops in bulk. Purchasing large bags of these ingredients decreases the price per pound, and if you’re planning on making lots of beer, you’ll need those ingredients anyway. Therefore, if you have the room, why not buy them in bulk?
If you purchase your ingredients in bulk, you must store them properly and know the signs of spoilage so you don’t accidentally use spoiled ingredients in your brew. The following table outlines common ingredients, how long they last, and how to store them:
|Ingredient||Shelf Life||How to Store Properly|
|Malt||Malt extract can last up to two years if not exposed to air, or two-three months after first air exposure. |
Pre-ground malt lasts approximately two months.
Unmilled grains vary, lasting anywhere from six months to a year or longer
|Airtight containers in a cool, dry place|
|Hops||Unopened pellet packages can last up to three years; whole flower hops can last up to two years||Airtight container in the freezer|
|Yeast||Packaged yeast can last for six months if stored properly; yeast vendors typically include expiration dates||Refrigerator or freezer in a vacuum-sealed bag|
As long as you’re mindful of the ingredients and store them properly, buying them in bulk is a great way to cut costs.
Unmilled grain lasts longer than milled grain, so I recommend going that route if you buy in bulk. Milled grain is also usually more expensive than unmilled. Then, you can mill your own grain with a grain mill.
I recommend the Brewland Grain Mill from Amazon.com because it has two grinding modes: manual and electric, so you can save energy by attaching an electric drill to the end. I also like its large capacity because it can hold up to 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms) of grains.
Buying hops in bulk is already pretty budget-friendly, but if you have a green thumb and are feeling up to the task, you can try growing your hops to save even more.
Growing your hops is also a great way to make your brew more original and authentic. However, it can be a significant time commitment, and the plants can attract unwanted pests and diseases.
Hops require plenty of space, access to direct sunlight, and potassium-rich soil to grow successfully. They also need at least 120 frost-free days. It’ll take three years to get proper cones for homebrewing use after planting the hops, so it’s not an immediate solution.
Hops aren’t the only beer ingredient that you can grow yourself. You can grow supplementary grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley.
With some time, energy, and patience, it’s possible to create a thriving garden filled with ingredients you can use in your brew, saving you from spending money on these items.
For more ideas about what you can grow yourself, check out my article on every type of grain that can be used to homebrew beer.
Because hops are typically the most expensive ingredient, I suggest doing everything possible to make the most out of your hops.
Here are some suggestions:
- Boil your hops for longer to get more bitterness per ounce, so you don’t have to use as many hops to obtain the desired taste
- If you’re going for a bitter taste, use high alpha hops
- Scale down on the number of hops you use per brew
- Use the freshest hops possible so you can use fewer of them
Another way to save on ingredients is to buy older batches, as long as they are stored properly. For example, hops harvested a year ago are less expensive than hops harvested more recently, but as long as you store them properly, they’ll work in your brew.
If brewing on the cheap is your priority, you can try only brewing session beers. Beers with higher ABV require more grains per volume of beer, so you’ll use fewer grains by making beers lower in ABV, cutting your overall grain cost.
Any beer that uses fewer ingredients, especially fewer specialty ingredients, will cost less to make than beers with lots of bells and whistles. However, these kinds of beers may stifle your creativity.
To cut back on the cost of yeast, you can reuse your yeast. You can wash and reuse yeast up to five or six times, which reduces waste and saves money. Ensure that your yeast doesn’t smell or look “off,” as this is a sign of bad or stressed yeast and could ruin your brew.
For a more thorough guide on recycling your yeast, I tell you everything you need to know in this article about my experience reusing yeast.
To sum up, here are my primary recommendations for how to cheaply brew beer:
- Purchase ingredients in bulk and store them properly to ensure their longevity
- Purchase unmilled grain and mill it yourself
- Grow your own hops or other grains
- Use your hops efficiently
- Buy older batches of some ingredients, as long as they’ve been stored properly
- Brew session beers and beers that require fewer ingredients
- Reuse your yeast
Finally, another way you can make beer on the cheap is by lowering your startup cost and purchasing affordable equipment. Let’s take a closer look at your options:
Cheap Homebrewing Equipment
If you don’t already have all the equipment needed for homebrewing, you can save on many initial startup costs by purchasing affordable brewing equipment.
Homebrewing requires many tools, and having to buy all of these items can get extremely expensive. I have a list of all the equipment you need to brew beer for reference.
I suggest spending some time researching the best affordable brewing kits so that you can get as many tools as possible at once. My article on the best homebrewing kit for beginners is a great place to start, and I feature two kits there for under $100.
I also have a video on three dirt cheap fermenter buckets you can buy. Fermenter buckets are one of the essential pieces of equipment you’ll need for homebrewing. Check it out:
Another expense of homebrewing is bottling. I recommend bottling because it is easy to do, and drinking beer from a bottle is superior to cans and drafts. Don’t believe me? Read my article on why bottled beer tastes better.
To save money on bottles, I suggest saving any empty bottles you go through and removing the labels to reuse them. This has the advantage of being environmentally friendly and prevents you from having to drop cash on new bottles for every brew.
I recommend purchasing equipment second-hand if you can. Spend some time going through thrift stores or online on resale sites such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone is selling anything you need.
Does Making Your Own Beer Save Money?
You can save money making beer, but remember that homebrewing has many startup costs, and it takes time, energy, and attention to do well.
Saving money is a compelling reason to make beer, but it isn’t the only or primary reason people choose to start homebrewing.
Many people find it a rewarding and enjoyable experience regardless of the money. Additionally, if you make your beer, you can create a brew that tastes how you want it to, instead of having to rely on the skills of others to meet your taste.
Finally, homebrewing offers unique opportunities for sharing and socializing, which are priceless. You can bring your beer to various festivals and events and meet other people who share the same hobby.
Still, after all the equipment costs, you can make beer for around half the price typically charged in stores.
The average cost of a gallon of store-bought beer in the United States is $16. Using the above methods, you can make a gallon of beer for around $11.
However, the cost will go up if you want to use top-notch ingredients, experiment with different flavors, and make the best beer possible.
Therefore, I don’t recommend going into homebrewing with the primary goal of saving money. Instead, consider it a bonus and one of the many great reasons to get into homebrewing.
I have a more in-depth article on this topic, where I explain if homebrewing saves money. I suggest giving it a read.
Does Cheap Beer Taste Good?
Making cheap beer is excellent for the budget, but is it even worth it if it doesn’t taste good? While your cheap beer most likely won’t be the most incredible brew you’ve ever had, it can be drinkable and comparable to cheaper beers on the market, such as Hamm’s.
Beer made with fewer and cheaper ingredients tends to taste more watery and flavorless than more complex beer with many components. However, keep in mind that there is no set taste for beer. For more information, you can check out my article on what beer tastes like.
If you want to make cheap beer but make it taste the best it possibly can, here are my recommendations:
- Add some salt. Adding a pinch of salt to your beer can make it taste crisper and, ultimately, better. This is especially true for more bitter beer.
- Mix in beer salt. If regular salt isn’t enough, try special beer salt, such as Bolner’s Fiesta Fancy Beer Salt from Amazon. These salts come with a zesty flavor of lemon and lime. I also like them because they’re perfect for rimming margaritas and micheladas.
- Add a slice of citrus or some citrus juice. If you’ve ever had a Corona with lime or a Blue Moon with an orange slice, you probably know how much of a difference some fruit can make in a brew. I also like orange juice or apple juice in some beers.
- Mix the beer with a light soda. If your cheap beer needs some sweetness, I recommend mixing it with Sprite or Ginger Ale. This mixture makes for a yummy, shandy-like drink that tastes much more expensive than it is.
- Include some margarita mix. If you’ve never had a beergarita, you’re missing out. Depending on your flavor preferences, add as much or as little margarita mix to your beer to change the taste and make for a better drinking experience.
- Add some cocktail bitters. If you have bitters on hand, they can add complexity to simpler, cheaper beers to help make them taste better and more enjoyable. Bitters aren’t just for fancy cocktails! You can experiment with differently flavored bitters, too.
- Add a splash of Campari. Campari is known for what it can bring to various cocktails, but it also tastes excellent with yeasty beers. The sweetness of the Campari mixed with the bitterness of the beer makes for a great drink.
Cheap beer may not taste as good as beer with more complex ingredients and flavors, but using these tips makes it taste almost as good.
Most people don’t start homebrewing with the primary purpose of saving money. Still, it is possible to cut down on how much you spend on beer by homebrewing if you buy ingredients in bulk, brew beers with fewer ingredients, and use affordable equipment.