5 Ways to Save Money on Brew Day

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

If it is not already painfully clear; it is all about the savings. I work for a non-profit as an educator while I continue to pay my school loans. If you struggle with math (I went to college, so I am alright at it) then let me just tell you flat out; I scrape by. It is not like I can not feed myself or have some fun on occasion but I can not afford to waste a penny more than necessary on my brewing hobby. I have improved over the years and do fairly well lowering my overhead so I will offer up my experience here, for your benefit. The following five pieces of advice should help you achieve the bliss known as; lowering your per pint cost.

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1. Mash Efficiency is by far my number one target. I could (and will) write a whole rant about this. Nothing can be more crucial to helping you save money. It all starts with the grind. The first step is investing in a grinder (trust me, it is a great investment - try this one: Barley Crusher) and experimenting to see what the best grind is for your equipment. For mine, I use a grind that leaves a low to medium amount of flour and cracks 95% of the grain. Too much flour, you risk a stuck sparge, too little cracking and you will not be able to access all the sugars and enzymes. Avoiding the brew store's grinder is key, they usually set it so that you will have a lower efficiency and need more grain. Good for them, bad for you. Temperature is the next factor along with water quality and amounts but we will save those for another day.

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2. Buying in Bulk is easily the second best way to save money in the long run (not that these are in order). It may be hard to take the plunge and buy your first 50 pound sack of 2-row but if you can store it properly, you will never buy "a la carte" ever again. At my brew store, which is not super cheap, I pay $60 for a sack. This works out to be $1.20 per pound of base grain as opposed to the $1.50 cost per pound. The thirty-cent savings adds up fast ($3 per batch, usually) and can be even better than that if you find a cheaper source of base malt. I have seen sacks sold for $35 or so but usually you need to get in on a club buy for that; I have yet to venture in to that territory. Make sure to store the grain in air-tight containers like the ones you find at Home Depot, two will hold just under a full 50 pound sack, lined with a food grade bag just in case.

3. Yeast is an expensive addition to each brew. If you use an expensive yeast like Wyeast, it can sometimes be nearly 40% of your batch cost, unacceptable in my mind. How I get around this issue is by up-keeping my own yeast bank. I use my DIY stir plate, an old Jim Beam handle and some 8 oz mason jars to keep my little beasties happy. Since I often use Nottingham yeast I make sure to keep a rolling stock of it in the fridge. Sure, you need to pay down for the first pack of yeast but after that you should be able to avoid buying the same strain for at least a year or several generation of yeast. If you are afraid to breed your own you can always pitch a second (darker) batch on top of the yeast cake of a batch from a few weeks before.

4. Hop additions can be modified and with enough practice you can use each hop to its fullest potential while decreasing their amounts and thereby cost. I would not recommend messing with this without software, experience and until after you have tried the other avenues.

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5. Use of a Refractometer will allow you to closely monitor your progress, conversion rates and extraction efficiency. A weak extraction rate in your first runnings can be noticed with a refractometer, before it is too late, and you may be able to compensate with your sparge calculations and save yourself from ending up with horrible efficiency. You can find a refractometer here and by purchasing one, you will help support both our hobbies!



Keep in mind these five bits of advice and see how you do on your next brew day!
Cheers-

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