The Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Homemade Beer And Wine Edition

Now that I finally have a basement of my own, I’m itching to make my own homemade beer and homemade wine. I have room down in the basement to brew the stuff – now I just need the equipment.

Carry Some Cash I have a big issue with carrying cash… I started writing a long comment here about it, then decided to turn it into a post of its own. (@ wise bread)

Why My Friend Invests In An Insanely Expensive Fund – And Why I Don’t People who are willing to invest in such funds are often rate chasers – they turn investing into a form of gambling, much like blackjack, where the player has partial information. (@ i will teach you to be rich)

WWYD: Buy Or Read In The Store? I have no objections to reading a book in a bookstore that I’m a regular customer of. However, if I’ve never shopped there, I can fully understand why a bookstore owner would be unimpressed with me lounging on a chair reading a new bestseller. (@ queercents)

The Simple Dollar Retro: The Frugal Geek’s Toolbox I had a lot of fun writing this post – and I apply most of it in my garage.

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  1. dong says:

    The one problem with brewing your own beer is that since most people can’t pasteurize the stuff, it keeps on fermenting and getting stronger. Good if you like strong beer, but after 6 months the taste isn’t necessary what you intended…

  2. Brock Tice says:

    For the last three years I’ve been keeping a budget where I figure out what to save, what to use to cover rent, utilities, and so on. What’s left is spending money (mostly for food). Every Friday, I get my weekly spending money in cash from the ATM.

    It’s then very easy to see how my budget is going for the week.

    1. Take out my cash (I just use a paperclip, no wallet)
    2. Count it
    3. Compare with how many days are left until the next Friday.

    Can be done almost anywhere, no internet connection or paper tabulation required.

  3. guinness416 says:

    The cash thing probably depends on your lifestyle. I’m on public transit every day; anything breaks down on my subway or streetcar lines and I need to be able to get cabs, wait in coffee shops for transit to come back on, etc. Also, getting stuck in NYC on both 11th Sept and during the blackout taught me that cash can be REALLY handy when you urgently need water and radios from street vendors!

  4. Bones says:

    I have brewed beer in two occasions with my flat mate. It has been a nice exepriment (we did lagers both of the times) but I didn’t keep track if the money in normal beer went down in those two occasion. I now have the malt for a dark beer… and I am longing to try it before winter!
    If I do, I’ll let you know how it worked out :)

  5. jeremy says:

    I picked up a starters brew-kit from a local brew store and have made a few batches and bottled them. Two friends upgraded to the small keg setup and I highly recommend getting it. It’s a little more expensive ($100 for basic kit – $250 for small keg setup). In the end it’s really not that cost effective – 5gallons ~ 54 bottles of beer = 9 x 6packs. You can usually get quality beer for around $1/bottle easily. To make your own it costs about $20 for the ingredients and recipe, then about 6-8 hours of your time over the course of 2-3 weeks.

    In the end, just brew beer because you want to brew beer – it’s not likely to save you money unless you started selling it to friends and family.

  6. mamacita says:

    I’m sure this already occurred to you, but you can probably score homebrew equipment on Craigslist if you are patient enough. I don’t know if you’re anywhere near a college, but they always seem to be hotbeds of homebrewing.

  7. Logan says:

    Easily the best place in the midwest for learning to brew beer is Northern Brewer, in St Paul. Might be a bit of a haul from Iowa, but its the best homebrewer’s resource i’ve heard of or seen anywhere around here.

  8. Ian says:

    I personally haven’t brewed beer, though my family did wine once. From a frugality point of view, it’s only saving money if you do it 3+ times (at least last I calculated) It takes at least three times to save as much as it costed to invest.

    I agree with jeremy, you have to do it because you want to.

    Good luck, making your own booze can be fun and rewarding!

  9. Anna says:

    I’ve started carrying cash because I don’t trust myself with my credit cards anymore. I used to use them to pay for everything, but I didn’t keep track of how much I spent, and even though I told myself I’d pay it off at the end of the month, I almost always spent too much for that to be possible. Using cash lets me physically see how much I have left until I can get more.

    I’m sure credit cards are a great tool if you can be responsible with them, but for me, for the time being, it’s not an option.

  10. Dean says:

    I second what “jeremy” said. Brew for brewing sake, not for frugality. I was a homebrewer for 10 years. It was a fun hobby, but there is not much cost savings. Once you have the equipment, you can get started pretty cheaply, the expensive part is the time commitment. Over the past 10 years I have made ~50, 5 gallon batches of quality beer, but after thinking long and hard about the time investment I recently sold all my brewing supplies and kegging system on Craigslist and I have not looked back.

    New Castle Brown Ale is the same price as my home brew w/o the time investment. I’ll spend my time enjoying my beer and not cleaning and sterilizing carboys, bottles and kegs.

  11. Mitch says:

    A number of people I know dabble with fruit/herb infusions (I think this is the correct word). It’s less overhead and even people who aren’t big beer fans (sorry, A-B) enjoy tasting the other flavors.

  12. Anthony says:

    As others have mention brewing your own beer is not very cost effective once you look at the time involved. However, I have found it to be a very enjoyable and relaxing hobby. You can start out with very little in the way of specialized equipment and with the Internet you can get very good kits for $20-$30 for 5 gallons (usually 2 cases) of beer.

    If you want to take a stab at it I would recommend the forums at Very knowledgeable people who hang out there and they love helping noobies get into the hobby.

  13. Sarah says:

    No experience or knowledge about beer, but wine can definitely be a way to turn surplus harvest into saved money. As said above, it’ll take a few batches before you recoup your investments, but with good skills in following directions and cleanliness, you can turn out nice meads and wines. I’m learning how to do wine at an very experienced friend’s house – she said since we have a couple of housecats, our house won’t be clean enough. They’re old cats – by the time they leave us, I’ll have my own stuff and the skills to match.

  14. Steve W says:

    I’ve home-brewed beer and there are no dollar savings. I agree with those above: brew as an inexpensive hobby (you can roughly break even relative to buying, if you do not factor in work-time).

    On the plus side, it’s actually very easy to emulate high-end beers like Anchor Steam, so if you can drive down the costs via volume or some other innovation (Grow your own hops? Hops are basically specialized weeds), then you may be able to live well and save money.

  15. Jodi says:

    My father in law brews his own and has taken home numerous prizes for his brew. He posts his tried and true recipes online.
    Randomly, he made all the beer and wine for our wedding. Cost effective for us. Not so much for him. :)

  16. Paula says:

    My husband used to brew beer (and it was wonderful, if not so cheap), but the best part was the same equipment helped make mead (honey wine). I loved his mead, it was so very good! Too bad he lost interest 8(

  17. Seth says:

    I brew using a $100 kit I purchased at Northern brewer. It included one box for ingediants to make about 50 beers beer. Each extra box cost about $35-$40 with shipping. So with extra supplies it is about $.80 a beer. I live in DC and here beer is at least $7.00 a six pack if you buy anything decent (or if you haven’t tired of Juengling). I think it saves about .50 a beer for me.

    Plus a home made six pack makes a great gift.

  18. Baba Ghanoush says:

    I make my own beer, but it’s more about the pleasure of the creative process than about being frugal. I probably do save money, since I brew craft-style beers that are more expensive to buy, but someone who likes American light lagers will probably be disappointed. Also, there are many commercial beers I can’t try because it’s illegal to ship alcohol into my state to anyone except a licensed distributor, and the local selection of craft beers is limited.

    Although I also enjoy wine, I don’t produce my own, because I can buy much better wine locally than I can produce. The selection is much better than local beers.

    Mead is a very different story. The only commercial mead I’ve ever found locally was so sweet that I couldn’t drink it. So I do make a nice dry mead every once in a while.

  19. Mike says:

    Actually, starting out homebrewing can turn out fairly expensive. I got a homebrewing kit as a gift one year and my only two experiments were disastrous. The first attempt, I faithfully followed the instructions on the can and left the concoction to ferment while I went on a two week vacation. I came home to a garage of broken glass: every bottle had exploded–violently–because (according to the local homebrew store staff) I used too much sugar. They recommended throwing out the directions on the can and modify using their instructions.

    So the second attempt produced an actual product that could be ingested. Unfortunately it was the worst “beer” i’ve ever had. I couldn’t get past the second bottle and it all went down the drain. The kit then collected dust in a closet for 8 years until I finally tossed it (after attempting to sell at a garage sale).

    My advice: find someone who will mentor you BEFORE you purchase any equipment. You will get a feel for the time commitment, effort, equipment needs and the end product without a big financial investment. Plus, you’ll probably make some new friends who will steer you away from disappointment and broken glass. Good luck!

  20. Danika says:

    I agree with Seth. There is some cost savings in brewing your own beer. Not enough when you factor in the time, but if you just count supplies, it’s quite a deal. I can buy a kit at the local store for around $20, and that gets my about 50 beers. I’ve brewed six times, and every one turned out well.

    My first time home brewing I was lucky enough to have a friend lend me their equipment, so I could see if I liked home brewing very inexpensively. But, after I decided that I liked it, and purchased my own equipment, I was able to get all the equipment I needed for around $60.

    And so far, I have only had two bottles explode, and that’s because my roommate accidently double sugared those two bottles.

  21. Noelle says:

    My husband and I have brewed two batches of wine. I agree it takes at least three batches to break even, assuming you have the ability to brew a decent wine. We are still high up on the learning curve. Our first two batches were more of a sparkling red wine instead of a cabernet, even with following directions closely and having extremely sanitary tools and environment. I think that it may take a few more trys before we can produce a comparative wine that we would buy in the store.

    The time that my husband and I share choosing which wine we are going to make next, preparing, monitoring, bottling, waiting and finally sharing with each other and friends gives us even more reason to make wine than the idea of saving money on buying wine.

  22. Meico Tenkawa says:

    if you are looking for a kit in the Des moines area ( I live in the same area ), there is a home brew shop in Valley Junction. Their website is They are one block west of the main street. They are not really the best for advice, but they have a good selection of kits and whatnot, and at least you dont have to pay shipping for the heavy parts.

  23. Sarah says:

    Can I recommend Mr. Beer? It makes about 2 gallons of homebrew per batch… which is pretty manageable. We have 2 “brewkegs” that we use and we have a pretty big variety of beer brewed right now! They’re at We’re considering moving up to a larger operation but it was a great way to get started!

  24. Patrick says:

    I’ve also used Mr. Beer, and I thought it came out OK, but not great. I have two friends who have very nice home setups and their beers are wonderful. You can have a lot of fun with it. :)

  25. Re: comment #1

    Beer doesn’t keep getting stronger and stronger “forever” – the strength of a beer depends on how many fermentable sugars are in it. A lot of homebrew is a bit stronger than mainstream lagers (particularly the american stuff), but you can make lower-alcohol beers just by adding more water.

    Naturally brewed beer will mature and gain condition in the bottle, as it ages, but it won’t get stronger.

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