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Did you know that in most states, you can brew up to 100 gallons of beer or wine per adult in your home, 200 gallons max? So why are you still buying it from the supermarket?
To put that into perspective, 200 gallons will fill roughly 2000 12 oz bottles of beer or about 1000 standard 750mL bottles of wine. You can't sell it, that's illegal, but you can drink it yourself. While setting sail on a river of beer might seem enticing, many people are wary of homebrewing because it appears to be overly complex and scientific—but the truth is that basic beer and winemaking isn't much more difficult than making soup. And the best part is that doing it yourself can have you enjoying a better quality of beverage at a substantially reduced cost.
With both wine and beer, your finished product is only as good as your ingredients. As a beginner, I urge you to stick with all-in-one or extract recipes until you are ready to commit the time and additional equipment expense to branch out into more complex recipes like all grain brewing and wine from whole grapes.
Kits are relatively inexpensive and include all of the ingredients and instructions to make a particular style of beer or wine. For example, you can purchase a Hefeweizen kit for about $40. Throw in six gallon jugs of spring water and end up with about 50 bottles of quality beer for about 85 cents apiece. Even the cheapest beer costs around a buck a bottle when purchased at a store. Wine kits work in much the same way and will usually run you between $70 and $200 on average. So, if you were looking for an everyday wine, a $70 kit with a bag of corks and six gallons of spring water (for the concentrated grape juice) would yield 30 bottles of wine at less than $3 a bottle. It's not going to be a world-class wine, but it will be on par with bottles you would pay twice as much for in a store.
Keep in mind that ingredient kits are sometimes bundled with starter equipment kits, which could mean even greater savings.
Sanitation and Water
Outside of the main ingredients, sanitizer and bottled water will usually be your only repeat purchases. Near obsessive compulsive sanitation practices are of the utmost importance, so you will definitely need compounds like StarSan PBW or C-brite or metabisulfite (wine only). These compounds only cost a few dollars for a decent supply and can be bought in bulk if necessary.
Homebrewers are fussy about their water and there are a lot of contradictory opinions floating around about what type of water you should be using. Generally, the rule of thumb is spring water for beer because it lacks off odors and flavors and it possesses nutrients that feed the yeasts needed for fermentation. Some claim that distilled water is best for wine because of its purity, while others claim that it should be avoided because it has been stripped of nutrients. As far as we're concerned, spring water is probably your best bet in both cases. Obviously, buying this in the store will bring your overall costs up—but tap water is going to be fine as long as it is thoroughly filtered.
There is a startup cost associated with this hobby of course, but your investment will eventually pay for itself if you are brewing regularly. The ingredients and sanitizer that you will be buying again and again are inexpensive when compared to a finished product you buy at the store. Most homebrewing stores offer a starter set that will provide most if not all of the necessary gadgets and equipment for up to $100 (without ingredients). Basic beer and winemaking can be done at home with (mostly) the same set of tools. You may even have some of this stuff lying around the house already.
Standard Beer Starter Kit:
Necessities That Might Not Come With Your Starter Kit:
Standard Wine Starters Kit
A wine starter kit comes with just about everything that a beer version does. The differences are that the fermenting bucket may be a bit bigger, the bottling bucket will be replaced with a 6-gallon glass or plastic carboy (though some beer starter kits do include a carboy) and the capper will be replaced with a corking instrument. There is no need for a kettle since wine is not boiled, but the other extras will definitely be useful. Again, remember to save your empty bottles—about 30 for a standard 6 gallon batch. You may also need to buy a set of 30 corks, which usually run less than $10.
Gadgets You Might Want To Consider:
Although not necessary, you will probably find yourself wanting these time-saving gadgets somewhere down the line, regardless of whether you're making wine or beer.
As you mature as a homebrewer, you will find even more ways to cut costs down—experienced all-grain brewers can make bottles of beer for 50 cents or less (although you will need more expensive equipment). However, in the beginning it pays to get your feet wet with the basics. It also pays to look for quality bundles—there are an endless array out there that range from starter sets to super deluxe packages.
Because of all the factors involved, determining how long it will take to recoup your equipment investment is hard to say. Even time is a factor: Many kit beers are drinkable in a month's time while basic kit wines usually take at least 3 to 6 months—longer if you want improved quality. If you are comparing the cost of your craft beer and wine to the cheapest of swills, the craft brews will lose every time. It's about quality—and quality beer in the store is going to probably run $9 or $10 for a six pack. If you are producing beer of a similar quality at home for less than a dollar a bottle, the math works out well. Plus basic wine and beer making use [mostly] the same set of tools, so you can get more out of your equipment by producing both throughout the year.