How to brew and build a brew system on a budget…yes you can.

Am I a cheapskate? Maybe, well not really but I am on a budget and never really enjoy spending more than I need to. Let’s face it brewing and building that dream brew system can set you back some cash. Can you save money by home brewing? Yes, no, sometimes and depends but that isn’t why most of us brew and I’ll leave that argument for someone else to write about. This is just about ways to save money on brewing and building, upgrading or expanding your own brew system.

First let’s talk about brewing. There are a few things you can do to save money on your next batch. Are you a member of a home brewing club? If you are not I would encourage it as it is a great resource for all things home brewing and if you are a member check with the local home brew supply shop to see if they offer any discounts for club members. It is fairly common and it is a great partnership with the shop supporting those in the local brewing community and home brewers supporting local small business. Look for online home brewing suppliers that offer a customer rewards program. That way each purchase builds future discounts, I have used this frequently as the town I’m in does not have a local home brew shop and I’m ordering online anyways. Actually saved 50% on a keg that was on sale by redeeming my accumulated rewards and applying them towards the purchase. If you are ordering ingredients or recipe kits be sure to look at online home brew retailers that offer free or flat-rate shipping as this alone can save you a ton of money. Take advantage of every special offer you can, subscribe to online suppliers’ email newsletters so you will be notified of sales.

Another money saving idea…Try all-grain brewing, if you’ve been thinking about it here is another reason to take the plunge because it is generally cheaper than extract, gives you more control over your beers and is easy. All-grain brewing doesn’t have to require additional equipment if you go with the Brew In A Bag method, basically all you need is a kettle which you probably already have and a fine mesh bag for mashing in that you can make yourself (or nicely ask/bribe a friend or relative who sews) for about $8 with some Swiss Voile sheer fabric or Voile windows sheers which you can get from the big box stores for a few bucks. If you already are an all-grain grain brewer look for group buys on base malts like 2-row or check with the local craft brewery if they can add an additional sack of 2-row on their next order and you can pick it up. Chances are they are getting a bulk price and you frequent their tap room so it’s two brewers supporting each other…you are frequenting their tap room aren’t you? Of course you are.

Trying a completely new recipe? Why not brew a smaller batch the first time through? If it is great beer then you can brew it again in no time and if it’s not so hot then you don’t have 5 or more gallons of it to consume or possibly waste. Also if you find yourself frequently struggling to consume 5 gallons then consider the switch to brewing smaller batches. Many home brewers want to go bigger but many find going smaller is better suited to their lifestyle. Less cost to brew and you can brew more often if you like.

Thinking about starting home brewing but worried about initial equipment investment? Check local or nearby Craigslist ads for brewing stuff, often there is someone leaving the hobby (sad but it happens) or someone just making room for new stuff. Craigslist is also a good source for empty beer bottles in most towns. Just make sure you clean everything really well and it doesn’t hurt to consult a friend who brews to make sure you’re getting things you actually need and it’s a good deal. Also with Craigslist, don’t wait for someone to post a classified for what you are looking for, post a “wanted” classified ad.

Now on to building, upgrading or expanding that brew system or your home brewery…

Number one piece of advise I can give, that I believe in because it has paid off for me over and over, be patient! Normally I blog about my brewing equipment projects or ideas but right now I have a couple on hold because I am patiently looking for the best deal on components. If you can handle a little patience you will find a better price on almost anything you are looking for. Some of the brewing vessels or controllers I have built I have honestly paid less than half of retail price on many of the components because I was patient. I know sometimes it’s hard to wait but if you already have the basics to brew a batch then being patient is a little easier and think of the money you can save. Not impossible to save enough on that new brew kettle or kegging setup by shopping around to literally pay for the ingredients of your next two or three beers.

Along with patience comes research, do some online searching for what you are looking for. Again check Craigslist, look on eBay and with eBay you can save a specific search and it will notify you when matching items are listed. Check Amazon as many times they will have many options for the same item. I found a kettle that was offered as “used” directly from Amazon that was simply an open box return and never used but I saved 40% because I waited and watched the price drop over a couple weeks. Some online home brewing forums have a classified sections so check those. If you belong to a home brewing club ask around for what you are looking for, someone may actually have it or knows someone who does. Consider group purchases with the club members, on things like silicone tubing, if there are enough people looking to get tubing the bulk rolls are a great way to same money for everyone. Talk with members of the club about having a club swap meet. A club I belonged to had these and it was a great opportunity to clean out the closets and even find something you have wanted to get for your brewery.

Prioritize your wish list and start looking for the items at the top of the list but if you happen to come across a great deal on something lower on the list don’t pass it up because many great deals and opportunities don’t come around twice. Prioritizing keeps you focused but checking off an item lower on the list is great because you found it now and saved money. My lists are always changing. One thing I have found with lists and home brewing it allows me to keep track of things I want or need. Lists also help the brewer keep track of ideas that occur during those Ah Ha moments during a brew session or while out shopping for something completely unrelated. On more than one occasion I was looking for something else for everyday life and saw something that generated one of those Ah Ha moments, “hey I can use this or that to make brewing easier or this thing will work better than that product I have wanted for brewing and it’s cheaper”. Write down those ideas, take a picture of that “thing” and go home and patiently research the best price.

Consider going DIY on many aspects of the system or brewery build. With the abundance of information on the internet most brewing DIY projects are easy and money saving. There are many step by step online videos demonstrating different projects. Build your own mash tun, sew your own bag for BIAB brewing, put an electric element in your boil kettle, make your own weldless fittings, make your own brew stand or fermentation chamber. The list goes on and on. What goes naturally with DIY projects is repurposing items for brewing. Wanting to build a new brew stand but cost of materials scaring you away? Repurpose materials, I have seen many brew stands constructed from repurposed metal bed frames, wood from wooden bunk beds and out of kitchen carts. A good source for items that can be reused in brewing is thrift stores and yard sales.  Not uncommon to find a used bed frame for $5 or even free, try getting 10 plus feet of new angle iron for that price. Another example, at work they were throwing away an old heavy-duty 12 gauge three conductor extension cord, I snagged it. Chewed up and abused in places yet after stripping the outer jacket off it still yielded many feet of great heavy gauge wire for wiring my control panel.

Another source for brewing related stuff is restaurant supply stores, many of them buy out restaurants that are closing and you can often find great deals on kettles, stainless tables, carts, mixing spoons etc.

Same as when shopping for brewing ingredients, look at online retailers offering customer rewards programs, free or flat-rate shipping and look for sale and clearance items.

Let’s face it most of us cannot drop a ton of money on anything, especially a hobby, without it affecting our personal budgets so shop smart. Ultimately the more you save the more you can brew.

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