Can you brew beer at home to save money? How much does homebrewing actually cost? I thought it would be interesting to capture my homebrew related expenses in 2022. In this article I look at my approach and the steps that I took to track my annual homebrew expenses for 2022.
Homebrew Expenses Introduction
I decided that it might be a good idea in 2022 to track my homebrew expenses. In retrospect, was that a very bad idea?!? In any case, homebrewing is a hobby and a passion for me. While I like to think I am fairly frugal with my homebrew equipment and expenditures, I also know that I spend a fair amount of money on various homebrew expenses. While my goal of brewing beer is not to make the most alcohol for the least amount of money, I have been curious about how much I do spend. Are there are any areas where I could save some money without reducing quality.
I decided to break this up into three articles, maybe with a fourth one to follow. Since this is my first year tracking and writing about my expenses, this first article is more of an overview of my approach and steps. I will then follow up with separate articles containing data and analysis for each approach. I hope to follow those up with a fourth article discussing how to better combine the two approaches to better track both overhead expenses.
Approaches to Tracking Homebrew Expenses
I will start with what might be an obvious question: How should you track homebrew expenses?
I see two valid approaches for tracking homebrew costs. The first approach is to track every dollar spent homebrew related ingredients and items. The second approach is to track expenses per batch so costs are recorded when the ingredients and items are used. Both approaches have positives and negatives.
Note that I often purchase ingredients in bulk and well in advance of brew day. This means I usually have a good amount of ingredients on hand that were not purchased for a specific batch. Examples include include full sacks of base malt, specialty malt in 1 to 5 pound increments, packs of dry yeast, and a fridge stuffed with bags of bulk hops. If your style is to just purchase the specific ingredients for a the next batch or two, tracking purchases and expenses per batch might be the same for you.
Tracking Homebrew Purchases
Tracking brewing expenses as you pay for ingredients and items has several advantages. First, it is fairly easy. You just need to record expenses when they occur. It also provides a more comprehensive view on homebrew expenses. If you purchase an item, say a bag of hops or malt, but end up dumping some of them in the trash and never use them, you still have incurred that expense.
Also, most purchases for equipment, say for a new kettle or just replacing tubing, never show up as a line item on a recipe sheet. There are also a lot of other expenses that are hard to track to a specific batch. Where should you track that bottle of sanitizer? What about the propane tank refill, or the cost of CO2? Tracking purchases can give better insight into overhead costs.
A downside is that is provides less focused tracking of expenses. If you spend $200 for several full sacks of grain in one year, but end up using those grains over two or more years and several batches, it is hard to get a feel of where the money is going.
Also, I found that at times it was difficult to determine if an expense was actually homebrew related. For example, I purchased cleaning products that have other uses around the house and purchased ingredients (like sugar or oatmeal) that I use in both in brewing and in cooking. In these cases, I recorded the full amount or a partial amount using my best judgement.
Tracking Homebrew Expenses per Batch
The positives and negatives to tracking expenses to each batch are just about the reverse of just tracking individual purchases. Expenses per batch can give more a more focused picture of how much each batch of beer costs. You can start to see the difference in prices for brewing a Saison vs a Barley Wine. How much did the hops actually cost for that NEIPA?
This approach does have some challenges. If you purchase ingredients well ahead of brew day, it can be difficult to track actual expenses of individual ingredients. Exactly which pack of S-04 yeast did I use in that batch and how much did it cost? This approach also requires accurate recording of costs for each line in a recipe. Most brewing software has features to track expenses, but the default costs may be significantly off from your actual costs.
There are also a lot of overhead expenses that do not show up in recipes. Some of these are the direct expenses that could be tracked to a recipe. I am thinking of items like propane, CO2, bottlecaps, priming sugar, etc. These are items that are purchased once and used up over several batches. There are also expenses that are harder to measure and track, like natural gas for a stove or the electricity for a fermentation chamber.
Another challenge is tracking equipment costs. For a new brewer, the initial costs for a brewing system can be under $100 or well over $1,000. Even long-time brewers that have long ago paid off their core system will have continuing equipment expenses. Examples include replacing worn or broken items (tubing or hydrometer), minor additions (pH meter or additional keg), or major additions (glycol chiller or kegerator). I had equipment expenses in 2022 such as a pickup tube for a kettle, a new vacuum sealer, and EVABarrier keg lines. Small and medium expenses like this can add up, and are often overlooked. Many homebrewers will ignore these costs, giving a skewed picture of their actual costs.
Steps to Track Homebrew Expenses
Now that I presented my two approaches to tracking expenses, what steps did I take to track my expenses?
Tracking Homebrew Purchases
Tracking my purchase costs was fairly straightforward. Since I like spreadsheets, I created one where I would record purchases. In addition, I have a folder near my desk where I can stash any printed receipts. Now, I just needed to remember to record my homebrew related expenses. I think I did a fairly accurate job.
As I mentioned earlier, I used my best judgement as to exactly what items should be classified as brewing expenses. The garden stakes purchased specifically for my hop plants were included as brewing expenses. The container of sugar that I might use when bottling beers was not, since most of it would go towards other kitchen uses.
Tracking Homebrew Expenses per Batch
Tracking my expenses per batch turned out to be more effort than I thought it would. I use BeerSmith software for my recipe creation. It has some features to track inventory and purchase prices and then match those up to items in a recipe. I have not invested enough time into understanding those features well enough to use them. Maybe I should.
Tracking Expenses in Excel
As I created recipes through the year, I tried to enter reasonable values for each item. Upon review I was often off on price or inconsistent from batch to batch. I like spreadsheets, or at least I like the flexibility they offer with analyzing data. To help with this effort I built a simple tool in Java that would export all the costs from a set of BeerSmith recipes into a CSV (comma separate values) file that I could manipulate with Excel.
Once I had the data in Excel, I could look at the different ingredients that I used across recipes and establish consistent prices. For some items, like Gypsum or Lactic Acid, I came up with a per unit price that was either close to what I actually paid or close to the current retail price. To establish a price I looked at the prices for the quantity and store that I would typically use. For the prior mentioned items, I purchased a 1.5 pound container of Gypsum off Amazon a year or so ago, but I usually pick up smaller bottles of Acids at my local homebrew shop.
I did have to make a few decisions about certain types of items when assigning costs to specific batches.
What about “free” items?
One question I encountered was about items that I obtained for no direct cost. I decided that these fell into two buckets.
Some items I received free with no costs involved. Examples of these include hops that a friend at a brewery gave out, a few bags of bottle caps that were given to me, or packs of yeast that I obtained as giveaways at a homebrew club event. For these items I recorded the price as zero.
I also encountered some items that I obtained either at events that required payment or as a bonus for a purchase that required payment. Examples include many hops, yeast and other items that I obtained at Homebrew Con. Another example is a pound of hops from renewing my annual AHA (American Homebrewers Association) membership. For these items, I decided to enter a reasonable retail cost for the item when it was used in a batch.
Use actual costs for every item?
Another challenge I encountered was linking items used in a bath back to the actual purchase price. Many of the items I used within 2022 were purchased in prior years and I don’t have good records on the actual price. Also, I purchased some items at different price points. For example, if a recipe used 2 ounces of Simcoe, were those individual packs from my local shop at $3 per ounce or were they from a bulk pack that was purchased for around $1 per ounce?
In these cases I decided to apply a reasonable retail price for these items. For example, I looked at some purchase records for US-05 and S-04 yeast and at the current price at my local shop, and decided to use $5.50 for each pack. I purchase most of my hops in bulk, so based in prior purchases I assigned them into price buckets of $0.50, $0.75, and $1.25 per ounce. In some cases, I had a record of a recent purchase, and I did use that value. For example, I purchased two 1-ounce packs of Saaz hops recently for a recipe, so I used the actual purchase price.
Tracking Hop Prices
Speaking of hops and prices, I might be undercounting the amount I have spent on hops. The vast majority of the hops I use have been purchased in bulk from a couple vendors. Yakima Valley Hops is the primary one, but I also have purchased bulk hops from MoreBeer, Midwest, and Fermented Food & Beverage. Hops from these vendors, including all shipping and taxes, is often around $1 per ounce. I have picked up 1 oz packs of hops from local shops where prices are often over $3 per ounce.
In most cases, I am using the bulk price for hops. I do know that I used a few 1 oz packs that were purchased at higher prices, but I also used a few packs of hops that I obtained for free. I figure these costs will balance out in the end. Plus, my goal is to track reasonable prices for my own information, and not to survive an IRS audit.
Following the approaches and steps outlined above, I was able to generate two views on my 2022 homebrew related expenses. The next two articles in this series take a deep dive into the data for each of the approaches. How much money did I spend in 2022? (Spoiler, it was more than I expected.) How much did ingredients each 12 ounce serving of homebrew cost? (Spoiler, it was fairly reasonable.)[Once live, the articles will be linked here.]
Cover photo by olia danilevich: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-person-holding-black-desk-calculator-5466810/