Brewing on a budget in tiny spaces

[Note: Many of these links are off to the BrewNorth home-brew shop (with referrals set). I am not affiliated with them, and can provide links to alternative home-brew stores for you to shop around.]

So you want to start brewing and after looking around online, see all these shiny and elaborate brewing systems. Or perhaps you are listening to some brewing podcasts and hear about inexpensive brewing systems that still $1000.00 CAD. After looking at these systems, do you also feel discouraged, thinking you need pockets of cash to get started in an enjoyable hobby?

Depending on “how legit” you want your brewing to be, the initial costs needn’t be any higher than $300. On the lower end you’d be using some kind of extract kit such as a Mr. Beer or Steeped Grains + Extract. When I started I skipped over the full extract route and did extract + steeped grains. A partial mash recipe will cost a little bit more, but if you think you might be interested in doing all grain then it’s an excellent way to get a taste of what it is like (milling grains, steeping them, their smell during the mash, etc.). Whatever you are doing, the cost for your most basic ingredients will be somewhere around $20 – $35.

If you are looking to jump right into All Grain, initial costs will be a fair bit higher. The best suggestion here is to start with Brew in a Bag (commonly called BIAB), which has a number of advantages for small space brewers. The bags are super easy to clean and take up very little space when stored. You can find these on Amazon or your home-brew store for about $10 after tax.

Of course, with the ingredients above you still won’t be able to make any beer without anywhere to store it for the 2 weeks it’ll take to ferment. When starting out, it’s probably the best to start off with a plastic bucket. They are inexpensive, safe to handle and easy to clean. However, buckets are permeable, which can cause problems if you will be aging things for a long time. Generally, first time brewers are more interested in quick turnaround, so it’s not a common concern. Your basic fermenter setup (Bucket, Drilled Lid, Stopper and Airlock) will set you back about $30.

There’s a number of knick-knacks you’ll need to get your hands on before your can get into your first brew day as well. Without these you’ll run the risk of contamination or lack the ability to measure things like the ABV of your finished product. This list of things is also the parts that cause your first-time brew costs to add up. Though, unless you break something you shouldn’t have to replace any of the gear for years.

Many of these costs can be trimmed down by buying a starter kit ($100) which will get you lots of what you see above but for a slightly discounted price. Though get in contact with the home-brew store to verify what is included in the kit and what items you’ll still need to get.

The other item you may need is the container for your boil. For now, assume you’ll be doing brewing on the stovetop, as that can help you keep the costs down. For stovetop brewing, a 21 quart canning pot ($45, but you should be able to find cheaper ones at Walmart) works out really well. They are easy to clean, lightweight and you should be able to get a good boil going for a 12L batch of beer.

Something that you need to keep in mind when buying this gear is that you can always recoup some of the costs by selling whatever you no longer need to people looking to get into the hobby.

Going a less expensive route means a small increase in the labour involved, but the difference isn’t that large. Most of your labour, regardless of how automated your system is, will be around cleaning and sanitization. Equipment at every price point still requires you to keep your gear free of bacteria and wild yeast that could get into and ruin a batch.


 

Homebrew Shops (Canada). Shops in bold have been vouched for by the author or friends of the author.

For other home-brew shops that might be in your region, check out the listings on BYO.


Thanks to Carson Brown for proof-reading this article.

 

2 thoughts on “Brewing on a budget in tiny spaces

  1. I am a long time homebrewer ( 1980 ) and do remember starting out. There were no homebrew stores around me at the time. Yes, there were a few wine places that did get me started with kits. Books is all I had to learn how to brew beer. Your list is pretty good to get started and now with the internet it isn’t hard to buy what you need. Whatever you buy, it won’t take long to get your money back comparing prices to commercial craft beer. Thanks Chris, maybe you got a homebrewer or 2 to take the plunge and start making Craft beer right in their own home.

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About Chris

If there is a place that serves or sells beer I've never heard of, I'll find a way to get there. A fan of the humble Pale Ale, though always willing to try a pint of something new. I also enjoy brewing my own beers and love sharing the science of the beer making process.