Okay, I know that in this “financial space” it might not be gauche to talk about why saving money isn’t worth it, but hear me out. I made a mistake a week ago and thought I’d save myself some money. To save myself ~$8 I cost myself almost 3 extra hours of time. Yeah, that doesn’t sound frugal, that is starting to sound cheap, and not to mention I cost myself a lot of extra work too. What mistake could cost me that much time for so little money? Brewing beer. Yep, homebrewing can be a great way to save money per beer, but when you add in the time cost, for me at this point in my life, I’d rather have time over cheap beer. So here’s what started the “saving money” idea and what led to me understanding how much that “saving money” actually cost me. I basically cost myself 3 hrs of working time to save myself $8, wtf was I thinking?! How did that even make sense?! This is what made it make sense in my head and how I forgot why I quit all-grain brewing to begin with.
Homebrewing Beer Saves Money — Mostly
I was reading an article by Mr. Crazy Kicks about homebrewing and beers only costing him $0.40 per beer. Yep, this is true, as it’s around the average per beer price for brewing all-grain from my Louisiana homebrew club members. Brewing like I do using pre-made malt syrup and a smaller amount of grains, usually costs more, closer to ~$1/bottle of beer. So in homebrewing, you can do all-grain, where you make your own base syrup or use a mini mash setup, where you use pre-made wort (sugar base) and add your own grains not for an alcohol boost but for color, body, head retention, etc… The all grain brewing usually takes about 4-5 hrs from beginning to end and the mini mash takes ~2hrs from beginning to end.
Is there a Quality Difference?
I have to say, yes. In the ~20 batches of all-grain that I made compared to the regular mini-mash technique I did taste a difference. The all-grain is a little cleaner and you get a little more flavor of the grain than you do with the mini-mash. The mini-mash technique is good, but the base flavor can be a little muddy compared to all-grain. Overall, it’s just a little cleaner flavor. So why give up the cleaner flavor for a little less time involved? Well, here’s why; there’s a lot of extra work involved in the all-grain process.
After reading Mr. Crazy Kicks article, I hadn’t considered doing all-grain on the stove. I’d always used a turkey fryer burner, and done it outdoors. It was just more efficient. After reading his take on it, I thought, “Yeah, I can do it indoors, it should be easy, why not save money.” Oh Christ, was I deluded. And I’d even done this many times before, but I’d forgotten why I quit doing all-grain brewing. It wasn’t cost, it was the time.
So Much Work
When the grains showed up I was all set to brew and then when I went thru the process in my head and talking it out with Mrs. SSC, she looked at me lovingly and said, “The kids and I will be out of the house next weekend, can’t you wait until then?” So I did. Then I got my cooler out that I steep the grains in, and I found my heat exchanger and my pots. So much equipment, I’ll never be able to live in a tiny house with these types of hobbies, lol. I had to clean the cooler, clean my pot, and scrub the whole half of the copper coil that was going to be submerged in my beer. I don’t want to taint it after all that work just for being lazy…
So Much Time
So the biggest part of all-grain brewing is the time involved. You have to heat 3 gallons of water to ~155 degrees, which takes about 30-40 minutes, then after the grains steep for 60 minutes, you heat another 3 gallons to ~175 degrees, which takes another 40 minutes or more. Then you boil the 6 gallons for about an hour adding hops at appropriate intervals. Then, you have to cool 5 gallons of liquid down from boiling to 80 degrees ASAP to dissuade any bacteria from setting up shop in your soon to be beer.
I use my heat exchanger, but in my mini-mash method I use a bag of ice and tap water because I’m boiling only about 2 gallons. So to get to 5 gallons total, I can add ice and tap water and cool down the 2 gallons of boiling liquid. In an all-grain setup you already have 5 gallons of boiling liquid you need to cool down so you can’t add ice or other water to cool it down or you end up with more liquid to deal with than you want.
That’s why I built a heat exchanger from copper pipe. One half sits in an ice bath and the other half sits in the boiling liquid until it cools down. The cooling part with the heat exchanger takes about 12 minutes to get to a yeast pitching temperature, but there are a lot more things to clean and deal with than a bucket, bag of ice, and tap water as I typically use with the mini-mash method.
It’s Not Worth It
My all-grain batch is fermenting away, but I can’t believe I put myself through all if that just to save $8… Holy shit, the extra time I cost myself amounted to about $2.50/hr in labor I paid myself. Yeeeaaahhh… I’ve never worked for that little. Even my first job, minimum wage was $4.25/hr – talk about dating yourself. The main thing is that while both methods make beer, and one method makes beer that tastes a little better, I already decided years ago that it didn’t taste enough better to account for the extra time involved. Pure and simple. It didn’t taste ENOUGH better to make up for the extra cost. I just got caught up in the fact I could do it cheaper. Yes, this time, I did do it all indoors, so no turkey fryer burner for me this time, but it still took about 4.5 hrs. Getting out all of the extra equipment and cleaning it, yep, it’s just not worth it.
It Could Be Worth It
Much like Mr Crazy Kicks and others from my home brew club that did all-grain brewing, they didn’t have toddlers, or even jobs, as most of them were retired, or they just had a solid half of a Saturday morning that they could kill because they didn’t have other engagements/kids/wives/things to do. I too would love to go back to all-grain brewing, but it will be when I have time to do it on a Wednesday, when nothing else is going on, lol. Until then, I don’t have 3 hrs extra to spend on making beer. Which is exactly why I want a &#*damn lifestyle change.
Is 3 hrs too much to ask? No, that’s a reasonable amount of time, but for something as “frivolous” as home brewing, then yes, that is too much to ask in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. When you have floors that need to be cleaned, a dishwasher that needs to be emptied, and then loaded, and god knows what else. Trying to find time to work out, or time to do anything other than “tend to life” is rare. I had a free Saturday afternoon by myself because Mrs. SSC and the kids were in hill country, and after swimming at the gym, I went shopping.
Yeah I may not have bought anything, but I miss shopping. Even if it’s all not buying but really shopping. Being able to walk into any store of your choosing and see what they have to offer, it’s pretty damn cool!
Have you screwed yourself out of time just to save yourself money? Have you ever had a similar situation? Let me know, I’d love to know I’m not the only one that’s made a dumb financial decision.