Brewing Crazy Awesome Beer Cheap

I like beer, I like it a lot actually, and the beer scene in New England is outstanding. For me, there’s nothing better than a juicy New England style IPA exploding with hop aromas. The only problem is these brews are more expensive to make and in high demand, which means if you can get your hands on them, they sell for $10 a pour. A few years ago I brewed my first citrusy IPA. It turned out good – like really good – and I’ve been hooked ever since. These days, for about $0.40 a beer, I can brew something that to me rivals the best beers in New England. I’m going to share the cheapest all grain brewing setup that I’ve found.

One of my home brews with home grown hops.

Most of the beers I make take around 6 hours of work over the course of a couple of weeks. A lot of the work revolves around cleaning and sanitizing pots, carboys, and bottles. But I think the best things in life come with a little bit of work, and there is nothing more rewarding than enjoying one of your own cold ones.

All grain brewing steps

At its basics brewing involves converting malted barley to sugar water or wort, cooking the sugar water with hops, then fermenting it with yeast. It’s possible to skip the first step and just buy the already extracted sugar, but it’s more expensive. I do all-grain brewing, which is starting from the malted barley grain. This involves a bit more time and equipment, but the ingredients are cheaper, and you have control over the entire process.

Make your own home brew recipes

I’ve never purchased a kit – they usually cost double or more what the ingredients alone would cost. Making your own recipe and experimenting to see the effects of different ingredients is all part of the fun. If you have a particular beer you want to try, just google the recipe. What you find online is likely the same recipe in the home brew kits.

Save money by making your own recipes and buying ingredients in bulk.

Select the malt for all grain brewing

Malted barley is the main ingredient, and where the sugars come from. I buy it in bulk to save money. A 50 lb bag of malted barley usually sells for $55 at my local homebrew store, and is enough for 5 batches of beer. There are also specialty malts, that I buy by the pound, which are usually roasted at higher temperatures to add some caramel flavors and color to beer.

Crush the malt

On brew day, I take all the grains in the recipe and crush them. This exposes the starches so they can be converted to sugars. I use a Barley Crusher malt mill along with my cordless drill to grind everything up.

Crushing my grains.

The cheapest all grain brewing setup

To convert the grains into sugar water or wort, I use the brew-in-a-bag method. It’s the cheapest all grain brewing setup. All you need is a mesh brew bag which is used as a giant tea bag to steep the grains in a big pot of hot water. I add the grains to the hot water slowly while mixing them in so they don’t clump up.

The cheapest all grain brewing setup.

The cheapest all grain brewing setup.

The grain needs to steep at an exact temperature. The maltose enzymes that convert the grain starches into sugar are active when the temperature is between 146 deg F and 156 deg F. For a good conversion, the temperature should stay in that range for about an hour. To keep my brew from cooling down during this time, I use an old ski jacket for insulation in my cheap all grain brewing setup.

My brew doesn’t take any shit.

After about an hour of brewing the grains, I just pull the bag out and let the liquid drain off. I’m then left with nice sugary wort ready to cook.

Teabagging my wort.

The hops

Like the malt, buying hops in bulk is much cheaper. I usually buy my hops by the pound. Citra is one of my favorites, and usually sells for around $22/lb at the home brew store. But this is one of the more expensive ones I buy, most hops sell for $14-$25/lb. I like my beers extra hoppy and usually get 3-4 batches out of a pound of hops.

Boil the wort and add the hops

The wort gets boiled for 1 hour, and hops are added at different times to add different flavors and aroma. Hops added early on in the boil will give the beer more bitterness, hops added toward the middle add flavor, and hops added toward the end add aroma. I add more hops after the beer is fermented for even more hop aroma.

Those Citra hops smell so good.

The cheapest and easiest brewing yeast

Once the boil is complete and the wort has cooled, I put it in my carboy and add little yeast babies that eat the sugar, burp CO2, and poop out alcohol. There are some yeasts who make some really funky shits. These stinky little yeasts are what give Belgian beer and Saisons all the funky rotten flavors that, like a stinky cheese, are just oh so right even if they smell wrong. But there are also yeasts that make nice clean poops – ones that you can’t taste or smell – and these yeasts are perfect for beers like IPAs that showcase hop flavors and aromas.

The cheapest and easiest brewing yeast to deal with are dry yeast. They sell online for very cheap, usually around $3 a packet. All you have to do is sprinkle the dry yeast on the wort, put an airlock on the carboy, and cover it to protect from any light. Then just let the yeast babies do their thing. To save money, I will also re-use yeast. When fermentation is complete, yeast settles at the bottom of the carboy where it can be collected to use in the next brew.

Beer fermenting.

Keg that beer and keep it in a keezer

Once you stop seeing CO2 bubbling out of the airlock, the fermentation is complete. This usually takes 1-2 weeks. At this point you can either bottle or keg the beer. If you’re just starting out, then bottling is the cheaper way to get going, but it’s a hassle cleaning and filling individual bottles. If you plan to brew a lot, then a good option for a cheap all grain brewing setup is going with a soda keg. I use my ultra efficient fridge as a keezer for keeping 3 kegs. Old chest freezers sell for $50-$100 and converting them to a fridge is easy. I bought my soda kegs for about $50 a piece on Craigslist.

The cheapest all grain brewing keezer setup.

The ultra efficient fridge holds 3 kegs and 2 cases of beer!

The beer is ready at this point, but it’s much tastier carbonated. I put the beer in the keg, hook up the CO2, and turn the pressure up to 30-psi for a couple of days. After that I turn down the pressure and the beer is ready to go.

Have a party

Now that you have brewed your all grain beer, why not have a keg party? When I have a particularly good brew on tap, we will have a few friends over and make some pizzas. Sometimes, we will have a bigger happy hour potluck style. Often times we end up with a good variety of beers that friends bring, so we get to sample all kinds of beer.

Sharing is caring.

Going out to bars and socializing used to be one of our biggest expenses. The ingredients to make a batch of all grain homebrew only cost me $20 to make 50 beers, and I use the cheapest all grain brewing setup there is. It’s cheaper to host friends and make all the food and beer than it is for the two of us to go out for dinner. This saves us and our friends loads of cash, and we get to have an awesome time with excellent brews, food, and company.

38 thoughts on “Brewing Crazy Awesome Beer Cheap

  1. I agree, more and more local micro breweries in New England are popping up all over the place, but some of these pints are $8 or more especially for a DIPA. I have a friend who brews in NE and he easily grows his own hops in the backyard, which could lower the cost a bit. As you noted Citrus style hops are all the rage right now. Keep Calm and Brew On!

    • Yeah, if you do the brew in a bag method, it’s not too bad. The biggest expense is the Barley Crusher. But starting from grain adds another dimension, which I enjoy, and it’s pretty cheap if you buy the grain in bulk 🙂

      Good luck with the brews, dude!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Mr. CC! I know Mr. Picky Pincher has been excruciatingly excited to read this. 🙂 He’s been using the kits since he just got started, but I have a feeling he’ll eventually gravitate to making his own once we gets the hang of it.

    • Nothing wrong with the kits, but making your own recipe is a big part of the fun. It’s incredible when you see how a little bit of one ingredient can have a huge effect on the final product 🙂

    • They sure do! The spent grains still have some calories left and the chickens love it. They actually have a special squeal they let out when they see I’m bringing them some warm spent grains 🙂

  3. Nice! I haven’t brewed in a while, but my keg just blew out the last of the Pinot Grigio I put in it, so a new batch is coming soon. Haha, I switched and tried a couple of batches of wine but didn’t want the clutter of bottles, so I kegged it. The first batch didn’t carbonate, but the second batch turned into a spritzer about halfway thru. Whoops. 🙂

    I tried doing all grain brewing, but it took so long. You’re saying you can do all-grain on the stove? I hadn’t considered trying that since the grain bill was usually so large compared to mini mash and adding pre-made wort or DME.

    I have a book of about 30 or so recipes I’ve created and tweaked over the years so I get almost all my grains and malt from the homebrew store, but only did about 8 or so batches all grain. It just took so long I got discouraged with it when I could still make good brew with the mini mash method.

    • Haha, nothing wrong with a spritzer!

      I heat my mash water on the stove, then shutoff the heat before I put in the brew bag and add the grain. I usually have a 10-12lb grain bill, and is not a problem with my turkey fryer pot. It does still take more time than using DME, but less than using a mash tun 🙂

      • Aaahhh…. Nice! I’ll have to try some going that route next time I brew. I guess playing with the beer calculators I can also tweak the grain bill to account for add’l water added if I don’t boil a full 5 gallon batch and just top it off at the end.

        Thanks for the idea!

        • My grain bill just matches up to my final fermentation volume of 5.5 gallons. I end up with maybe 4.5 gallons after the boil, and then add another gallon of cold water before fermentation. Shouldn’t matter if you have less water during the boil, the sugar is still in there 🙂

          • Touché on the sugars being in there even if you have to top it off at the end. Again, thanks for the out of the box idea to go all grain without a propane burner and boiling ~10 gallons of water during the process. Thanks!

  4. Hey Mr. CK, awesome post! I want to start doing this myself. Do you recommend any kits (online or local [I’m from CT]) that include all the equipment necessary to start brewing?

    • To be honest, I am not a fan of most of the starter kits. They usually contain some junky stuff you don’t want. I just pieced mine together buying stuff online and on Craigslist. These are some of the main components I can think of off the top of my head…

      Brew Pot – I got a turkey fryer so I could brew outside, but if you start with DME you can use a smaller pot like a big soup pot if you have one.
      Sanitizer – to clean everything before fermentation
      6 Gallon Carboy – This is for fermenting the beer
      Funnel – for pouring your wort into the fermenter
      Airlock – This keeps oxygen and contaminants out of your fermenting beer
      Auto Siphon – This is for transfering the beer out of the fermenter
      Bottle Capper and Bottle Caps

  5. Awesome stuff, Mr. CK! Forty cents a brew is amazing. Between your crazy-low cost of pizza-making and crazy-low beer costs, you could kick some serious profit out of Mr. CK’s Pizzeria Rustica – just saying!

    Thanks for all the detailed info here. I especially like the use of the old ski jacket to keep the stuff warm. Incidentally, if you ever were to bottle/can this stuff, that’d make for an awesome label!

    • Haha, good idea on the beer label 🙂

      You are welcome to visit Mr. CK’s Pizzeria Rustica anytime you’re out this way. It’s just not open to the public at this time because we have trouble meeting the existing demand 😉

  6. Great tutorial Mr CK! I am a beer lover myself, and this post is making me very thirsty! We are quite fortunate to be living in Beervana (aka Portland, OR) with all its great beer offerings. You’re right though, this stuff doesn’t come cheap, so maybe I need to give the old home brewing a try.

  7. I have a starter kit back at my parents place that I got for Christmas a few years ago, this has post has inspired me to go pick it up and give it a shot.
    The low cost is a big plus as our bottled beer in Australia is fairly expensive, even for the cheap and nasty stuff.

  8. I’m so glad you posted this! My personal finance goals at the moment are to save up 20k in cash, then purchase another investment property. I also have some equity available to put towards the purchase. Once I’ve done that responsible adult thing, I’m going to reward myself by starting home brewing! It’s been a great motivator to keep my ‘boring’ goals in the front of my mind while learning about my fun ones.

  9. Verry cool! I agree with you. The best things in life do come with hard work. It just makes the final product a little more satisfying.

    The beer looks awesome, btw. I bet you’re a popular man after mastering home brewing!

  10. Nice setup. I’m still experimenting with the expensive kits, but at some time down the road I might go get my own ingredients. My parents use to forming whine so it runs in the genes, at least that’s my excuse for my wife.

    • Nothing wrong with the kits, but I think you will enjoy making your own recipes. My grandfather used to have a good sized vineyard and we made wine every fall. I miss those fall harvests 🙂

  11. Looks like a great setup, Mr. CK.

    I expect an update next year showing your DIY mash tun, keezer complete with collar, and stainless Perlick faucets. OTOH, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    I’m got a citra IPA and a Grapefruit Sculpin clone finishing up right now. Going to chill tomorrow, carb Saturday, and serve at the Super Bowl party Sunday. Monday, I’ll be off call and can actually taste them myself!

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • Nice, sounds like some tasty brews! Just my style 🙂

      It was actually a conscious decision to skip the keezer collar and go with the party taps – I even have a few perlicks still sitting around from my last setup. I get better pours with the taps kept cold inside the fridge, and the mess stays in there too 🙂

      I am still considering a DIY mash tun, but haven’t read anything to convince me its worth bothering. I would like to do the experiment though…

  12. I love a nice IPA too. That’s my favorite beer, but I rarely drink any more. I have a triglyceride problem and beer will only make it worse. Now, I only drink on special occasions.
    Portland has a ton of good local IPA too. 🙁

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