How Home Brewing Beer Beats Buying It

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- If you like beer but don't like handing over $5 to $7 a pint at the bar or several times that per case, nobody's stopping you from brewing it yourself.

If anything, they're encouraging it. From $80 to $110 starter kits to books of recipes that clone almost any beer a drinker can find at the local pub or packaged-goods store, home brewing has become a thrifty and thriving alternative to hitting the bars or buying the bottles.

"There's usually a reverse relationship with the economy where when the economy's down, people start picking up the hobby," says Gary Glass, director of the Boulder, Colo.-based American Homebrewers Association. "This time around, we were seeing growth as early as 2005 and 2006 before the economy was going down."

The AHA surveyed home brewing supply shops earlier this year and found that their gross revenue grew 16% last year, matching growth in 2009. Roughly 82% of those shops also saw an increase in beginner-kit sales as more beer fans take up the hobby.

Home brewing requires a bit of an outlay at first, but it starts making that investment back in a hurry. That five cases' worth of initial spending is usually enough to buy a glass transporting and fermenting jug, a plastic fermenting bucket, stoppers, hydrometers, thermometers, tubing sanitizer, bottle fillers, bottle cappers, caps and recipe books that brewers will be using over and over again. The AHA even has a free downloadable copy of its beginner's guide in case you're still lost.

Many of the home brewing essentials don't even need to be bought. Have a five-gallon pot kicking around the kitchen and a stove to sit it on? Great, you have a way to boil your brew. Have a few cases of used bottles laying around? Wash them out and you have something to put your beer into.

Unfortunately, you will have to buy a $25 to $45 extract kit of ingredients, but that will be more than enough to make five gallons of brew.

"That's more than two cases of beer," Glass says. "Since home brewers are usually making craft-style beer, that's a significant savings over what they'd usually be spending on similar beers."

Few know that better than Mark and Tess Szamatulski, who own the Maltose Express brewing supply shop in Milton, Conn., and are the authors of beer recipe books Beer Captured and Clone Brews. The latter includes more than 200 recipes for brand-name beers including Heineken Lager, Pilsner Urquell, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Guinness. The couple first cloned a Bass Ale more than 15 years ago at a customer's request and began expanding their recipe offerings as demand grew.