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Old 06-17-2013, 02:19 AM   #1
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Default Spend my money, pick apart my strategy

Hello brewers,

Like many fathers today, I am sure, I received official blessing to start brewing, including $120 to spend at Northern Brewer. My wife will be visiting the in-laws in Minneapolis in a few weeks, and I'd like to have her pick up the order on her way back. I'm hoping to get some feedback on how to spend this money and get started making my own beer. I've been reading about brewing for about a year, but I am short on experience. Please correct me where I go astray.

A little background: I generally prefer ales. Porters, stouts, brown ales, and wheat beers are my usual preferences. My wife strongly prefers wheat beers. We got a keg of Oberon for our wedding. While I like IPAs, I tend to be indifferent to pale ales. I like bocks, but overall, lagers haven't been my thing.

My primary interest in brewing is bringing down the cost of beer, while gaining the satisfaction of brewing it myself. To begin with, I think I would prefer to stick to simple (in terms of ingredients and steps) recipes, including SMaSH or two/few malt recipes.

I would like to start with all grain recipes. I was thinking that I could brew 2 2.5 gallon batches on my stove top using the BIAB method, perhaps with an additional dunk sparge. I think I could do this using 4 or 5 gallon pots, which are available for not much money. This would allow me to make two styles in a single setting at not too much additional time cost. This would also allow me to try more variations.

I am hoping to source the kettles and fermenters locally (I'm hoping to pick up some 3 gallon pails and lids at local groceries). Otherwise, I have not equipment.

I was thinking of thinking of buying two bulk grain bags (a 2row and a wheat malt), a few pounds of misc. crystal malts, 2 lbs of hop pellets (say cascade and willamette), dry yeast (should I get anything other than US-05?), sanitizer, a hydrometer/tube, a few bubblers/stoppers, and some tubing.

I haven't nailed down my bottling strategy yet. I'm generally the kind of guy that if he is going to have a beer, I'm going to have a few, so I think 12oz seems like a lot of work for the result. On the upside, they are easily available second hand. I'd be interested to hear success or failure stories about larger volume bottling (2L bottle, e.g.). Kegs are probably out of the picture for cost reasons for now.

Thanks in advance for comments and criticisms!

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Old 06-17-2013, 02:29 AM   #2
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My $0.02: Spend more money/attention on fermentation temperature control than other equipment.

If you can't keep your fermenting beer in the 60s it's going to be underwhelming.

My other $0.02: Forget bottling and get a kegging setup.

However, my $0.04 is like your $800. If you have the cash make the plunge with those up front and you'll be rewarded.

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Old 06-17-2013, 02:44 AM   #3
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If you go BIAB and buy some grain in bulk you could start all grain right away. It is a little more involved than extract brewing but if you pay attention it is not much more difficult. You can start now to collect bottles. Ask all your friends to save some for you - free!.

I also agree that you should work on fermentation temperature control as a priority. It makes a big difference between beer and great beer.

As to saving money by brewing your own beer. Forget about that for at least a year. If you settle on BIAB, all grain, buy in bulk and stop buying bling fairly quickly you might pass the threshold of commercial/homebrew in about 1 year. If you keep getting more or better equipment you might not save any $$ for a LONG time. I have my per bottle cost >$2.00 but I also brew and drink a lot more than I would have before starting this obsession so after 2+ years I would say that I still have a long way to go to break even.

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Old 06-17-2013, 03:45 AM   #4
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Honestly, homebrewing is not a great way to reduce costs on drinking beer. It is as much about pride and being able to create your own masterpieces, rather than just what's in the store.

BIAB is a sweet spot of cost / quality / creativity. Watch homebrewfinds for deals. Ferm temps are critical, again, watch for deals on temp controllers and Craig's list freezers.

Join a local club, see how others brew.

Welcome to the group, read the forum stickies, the wiki, they're full of free info. Ask questions away, this is a helpful community.

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Old 06-17-2013, 04:29 AM   #5
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First of all, THANK YOU for doing your research and reading through the forums a bit before posting. It sounds like you know your beer.

If you're going to have more then 2 or so beers in a sitting, 2.5 gallon batches won't last you long. And running two batches at the same time is more work than it sounds like. I can't speak for everyone, but I like a relaxed brew day sitting outside and tinkering around.

If you're focused on saving money, you can figure out a minimal setup to reduce equipment costs. An 8 gal kettle is good for 5 gal batches and might fit on your stove, or maybe you could find a bayou classic kettle and burner at a garage sale....many others have. BIAB is a good option if you want to go all grain (ingredient costs are generally lower).

As for bulk ingredients, start with a 50 lb sack of 2-row pale malt. That's a good start for many ales. You may get close to wholesale pricing through your LHBS, local homebrew club, or through HBT group buys in your area. For now, buy the specialty malts through your LHBS...shipping costs will add up, and recipes vary widely with what's needed. As for hops, I would recommend finding recipes first and ordering hops as needed, maybe making a wish list and coordinating hop buys to order in bulk. Farmhouse Brewing Supply and a few others have 4oz packages, which I have found to be a good balance between quantity and price.

Good luck and happy fathers day!

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Old 06-17-2013, 04:35 AM   #6
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Oh, and I know this is sacrelidge on this site, but controlling fermentation temps isn't an essential first step. Many people have brewed many times without a temp-controlled chest freezer and they didn't die or anything. It's very difficult to make great beer without temp control, but if funds or space are limited you can make good beer without it. It sounds like you're in the Midwest, so maybe you have a basement that stays in the mid-60s during the summer?

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Old 06-17-2013, 06:05 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mragin View Post
Oh, and I know this is sacrelidge on this site, but controlling fermentation temps isn't an essential first step. Many people have brewed many times without a temp-controlled chest freezer and they didn't die or anything. It's very difficult to make great beer without temp control, but if funds or space are limited you can make good beer without it. It sounds like you're in the Midwest, so maybe you have a basement that stays in the mid-60s during the summer?
This is true. I have a basement that never gets above 66C in the summer and its cold enough for lagers in the winter. If you have a place like that you do not NEED temp control.

I say get some used kegs ASAP. The old pepsi kegs are fast going extinct and some day soon you will wish you had them (maybe even as soon as bottling your first batch). Kegs allow you eliminate oxidation and dial in the perfect level of carbonation which can vastly improve your beer.

In terms of boiling, get yourself a propane turkey fryer and some nylon bags for BIAB. I got one with a 36qt pot for around $80 that can handle no-sparge up to 1.044 or 1.070 with a dip sparge in a second 20qt pot.
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Old 06-17-2013, 06:13 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by markstache View Post
Hello brewers,

Like many fathers today, I am sure, I received official blessing to start brewing, including $120 to spend at Northern Brewer. My wife will be visiting the in-laws in Minneapolis in a few weeks, and I'd like to have her pick up the order on her way back. I'm hoping to get some feedback on how to spend this money and get started making my own beer. I've been reading about brewing for about a year, but I am short on experience. Please correct me where I go astray.

A little background: I generally prefer ales. Porters, stouts, brown ales, and wheat beers are my usual preferences. My wife strongly prefers wheat beers. We got a keg of Oberon for our wedding. While I like IPAs, I tend to be indifferent to pale ales. I like bocks, but overall, lagers haven't been my thing.

My primary interest in brewing is bringing down the cost of beer, while gaining the satisfaction of brewing it myself. To begin with, I think I would prefer to stick to simple (in terms of ingredients and steps) recipes, including SMaSH or two/few malt recipes.

I would like to start with all grain recipes. I was thinking that I could brew 2 2.5 gallon batches on my stove top using the BIAB method, perhaps with an additional dunk sparge. I think I could do this using 4 or 5 gallon pots, which are available for not much money. This would allow me to make two styles in a single setting at not too much additional time cost. This would also allow me to try more variations.

I am hoping to source the kettles and fermenters locally (I'm hoping to pick up some 3 gallon pails and lids at local groceries). Otherwise, I have not equipment.

I was thinking of thinking of buying two bulk grain bags (a 2row and a wheat malt), a few pounds of misc. crystal malts, 2 lbs of hop pellets (say cascade and willamette), dry yeast (should I get anything other than US-05?), sanitizer, a hydrometer/tube, a few bubblers/stoppers, and some tubing.

I haven't nailed down my bottling strategy yet. I'm generally the kind of guy that if he is going to have a beer, I'm going to have a few, so I think 12oz seems like a lot of work for the result. On the upside, they are easily available second hand. I'd be interested to hear success or failure stories about larger volume bottling (2L bottle, e.g.). Kegs are probably out of the picture for cost reasons for now.

Thanks in advance for comments and criticisms!

Walmart sells 8 gallon Aluminum pots(IMUSA Tamale Steamer Pot) for like 25 bucks...as do several other stores. So finding a pot to do full 5 gallon BIAB batches in is not difficult. You need to be more careful when cleaning them not to use abrasives, but its not that difficult considering the price your saving.
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Old 06-17-2013, 02:32 PM   #9
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I'm brewing small. I have three full 2.5 gallon fermenters right now. I've only brewed nine batches, only two grain ones. But I don't intend to increase size anytime soon. If you go 5 gallon all grain, you probably need a burner. With smaller batches my stove does it. It also allows me to practice without risking two cases of beer. Since I brew weekly, it keeps up with my consumption. My equipment costs are well below $200.

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Old 06-18-2013, 12:53 AM   #10
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Default Thanks for all the replies!

Thanks for all the great feedback. Let me provide a some clarification and responses.

Fermentation temp control:

I agree that this is a weak spot in my planning. I don't have a basement, but I think I could "rent" some space for the cost of a few beers. Given that I expect to move in a year or two, I might not go all in for a used fridge and temp controller, but I can certainly see the value.

Kegs:

I'll keep my eyes open for used equipment. I doubt I can afford any new stuff in until the aforementioned move (which will coincide my my PhD and a new job). To be sure, kegs are where I want to go in the long run.

Cost:

I'm planning on BIAB and bulk grain right away. A few people mentioned that costs won't be less than commerical brew. I'm surprised. Let's compare against Blue Moon (a popular beer at my house), at say $10/gallon. I think it would take about 2 lbs of grain (bulk price $1.50), 1oz of hops (bulk price $1), 1/5 of a package of US-05 ($0.75). If we say that water, sanitizer, fuel, and non-reusable bottling products cost $2 per gallon that is still only $5.25. If I produce 50 gallons per year, that's $237.50 in equipment alone that I can spend just to break even. I think buying Walmart pots, plastic fermenters, misc small equiptment, and re-using bottles (even counting the cost of beer to get the bottles), I think I could hit that target.

Deals:

Thanks for the hint on homebrewfinds. It's in my feedreader. The stainless bottles on Amazon are pretty tempting....

Also speaking of deals, I was riding my bike to work today when I saw a white bucket sitting on the curb. "That would make a nice fermenter," I thought to myself. "And that brush next to it looks a lot like a carboy brush!" After a quick u-turn, I am the owner of a 5-gal fermenting bucket, a stainless racking cane, a bottle capper and some caps, a hydrometer and test tube, a half dozen 22oz bottles (the wife picked these up later when out on her errands) and some probably suspect tubing. I left a note in the mailbox of the house that if there was anymore stuff, they should give me a call. I'm really hoping to see a corny keg on my ride tomorrow. And then a Blichmann 3 tier system. A guy can hope.

Education:

Quote:
First of all, THANK YOU for doing your research and reading through the forums a bit before posting. It sounds like you know your beer.
No, thank you (HBT)! If I see far it is because I read the forum posts of giants.

I've been enjoying the Beersmith and Brew Strong pod casts while working to get up to speed. Any other suggestions?

Kettles/batch size:

To be clear, I'm currently favoring small batches as I think it would be easier to a) buy off the shelf pots, b) chill in my sink, c) fermenters take up less space, and d) learn more quickly by trying more things more often. I'm sure there is a cost of time to be paid vs. 5 gallon batches, but I'm hoping is closer to 20%, rather than 100%. I think if I choose to go up to 5 gallon batches in a few months, I'm not going to be out very much on an inexpensive walmart pot or two. Adventures in Homebrewing also has 5 gallon SS pots at a very tempting $20.


Quote:
I'm brewing small. I have three full 2.5 gallon fermenters right now. I've only brewed nine batches, only two grain ones. But I don't intend to increase size anytime soon. If you go 5 gallon all grain, you probably need a burner. With smaller batches my stove does it. It also allows me to practice without risking two cases of beer. Since I brew weekly, it keeps up with my consumption. My equipment costs are well below $200.
This is the model I'm hoping to follow. I'm about 1200 posts into the "1-gallon brewers unite!" thread. Lots of great stuff there.
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