Craft Beer on a Budget

No one is going to argue with you that craft beer is an expensive hobby to get into, it is, and there are not many ways around it. Craft beers are artisanal products using prime ingredients handcrafted in the state of the art machinery. All that stuff costs plenty of money. So how can you enjoy craft beer on a budget? I’m working on doing this myself and am sharing my ways; please share yours in the comments!

Craft Beer on a budget

Prices Rise Down the Rabbit Hole

Beyond all craft beer being somewhat expensive, there is another problem I’ve found that the more you get into craft beer, the more expensive things get. A general craft beer progression seems to be that first pint at a bar, then a 6-pack, a few mixed 6-packs, and then you get into beers only available in bombers. Now you’ve gone from paying $10 for a 6-pack (72 ounces) to paying $10+ for a bomber (22 ounces).

The next evolution comes a year or two later for some. Hunting rarer bottle releases that have you driving across town, state, or country to pay $20+ for a bomber or a 4-pack. Either around this time or later still folks stumble into sours, you’re still going to your local bottle shop, but now you’re buying 750 ml bottles (25 ounces) for $15 – $25.

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I’m not even going to get into shipping costs when you get into trading beers[footnote]FedEx & UPS don’t allow shipping beer and it’s a crime via USPS, so I don’t know anything about shipping costs for beer… ;)[/footnote]. I try to convince myself those aren’t “beer” expenses, but that’s bull crap.

But once you’re far down the rabbit hole what can you do to get back to ground level? How can you keep drinking craft beer on a budget?

Climb Out of the Rabbit Hole

Instead of always hunting those rare bombers that some super-secret Facebook group has you convinced you absolutely must drink you can go back to the start on a Kroger shelf. Just because a beer is rare or expensive doesn’t mean it’s any better than something sitting on a store shelf. Plus everything on that shelf, be it Kroger or Cappy’s, is probably around $10 a bomber or 6-pack.

I know more people who want to try Dark Lord than even know about Victory Storm King. Storm King has a 100 rating on RateBeer and is available in $10 4-packs at any better beer store on any day. It’s the first stout I ever had and still holds a special place in my heart, and it should be in yours too! No waiting in line, trading, or long drives required.

IPAs more your thing? Thrillist has a list of 10 IPAs selected by some of the best brewmasters in the country. Here’s the kicker, 9 of them are sitting on store shelves across the city, and 2 of these IPAs are brewed in Ohio!! Fat Heads Head Hunter and Brew Kettle White Rajah are must-drink IPAs that you can buy at Kroger for $10.

Brew-it-yourself

First off homebrewing seems to be a natural evolution for many beer enthusiasts. Most I’ve talked to first get into it for three reasons:

  1. They’re Do-It-Yourself type people
  2. They want to brew a beer that’s harder to come by (this was me)
  3. They want to save money

The initial setup for homebrewing can be pricey depending on how big you want to go. I usually say bare minimum equipment costs is $50. The equipment can get costly[footnote]The fault in the homebrew theory is that you start chasing the dragon of better gear. Yes, you got going for $50, but your beer would be so much better with that $130 8 gallon kettle with spigot & thermometer. Now you need to go all grain and spend $80 on a mash tun. So this may not be the way to save money, but it could be.[/footnote] But the per batch savings are fantastic. The following prices are courtesy of Osborn Brewing from their pre-made kits and make 5 gallons, or 640 ounces, or ~ 52 bottles of beer.

Cincinnati Common – $27.99 = $0.53 per bottle

Up Yours Kit (IPA) – $49 (varies based on aroma hops chosen) = $0.94 per bottle

Double Decker (Russian Imperial Stout) – $67.99 = $1.30 per bottle

Lambic [footnote]This isn’t a kit but is about what I paid when I made my Lambic. [/footnote] – $45 = $0.86 per bottle

Have you ever seen a sour for $.86 cents for 12 ounces? If so, please tell me where! Sure, you can find some big stouts off the shelf for around $1.30, in fact, I think I paid $1.50 for a single bottle of Sierra Nevada Narwhal. So that one doesn’t save as much, but apparently the Cincinnati Common, IPA, and sour would all save us money. Plus, it is a fun hobby, and you get exactly what you want. Want a stout with galaxy hops, cinnamon sticks, pineapple, and ghost peppers? Brew-It-Yourself! [footnote]Please don’t make that combination. It’s just an example folks.[/footnote]

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Boo!

I saved the worst for last, but the easiest way to save money on beer is just to drink less of it. Instead of 2 beers a night drink 1, instead of 1 beer every night skip a night here and there. Do you really want to save money? Don’t open a tab at the bar, close out after each and every beer. It’ll make you realize how much you’re spending fast!

One of the best ways to drink less is to make your beer last longer. Is your favorite beer in a bomber? Pick up a Hermetus or a pack of Beer Savers then open your bomber, pour yourself a nice sized glass of it, slide the Hermetic on, and finish the rest of the bomber tomorrow!

Can’t resist the urge to drink special beers but want to keep trying more? Get together with some friends for a bottle share. Everyone brings something special, and you get to try 5 or 6 unique beers instead of just one.

Well, those are my ideas. How do you save money on craft beer?

11 thoughts on “Craft Beer on a Budget”

  1. It seems the majority of my craft beer spending isn’t buying to drink as much as it is to collect/hoard. This is becoming a particularly bad habit as not everything I buy ages well and I end up holding onto things long beyond their prime because I do not consume them in a timely fashion.

    I heard the best advice I’ve ever gotten on the topic last weekend – that no matter how hard I try, I cannot taste all the beers. There are simply too many. I’m constantly picking all the new arrivals off a shelf instead of narrowing down the few I’m really excited to try. Also, if there are two very similar beers I have a tendency to buy both for comparison rather than just choosing one. I could float an armada on the stouts in my fridge and I still find myself constantly acquiring more, just because I see something I haven’t tried before.

    I’m also realizing that I don’t have to buy a beer simply because it is rare or limited. Although it’s hard to resist the urge to snap up every bottle I can I’m trying to limit it to beers that I genuinely want to try, not just buying them because I’m afraid I might not get another chance (or holding onto something thinking I’m going to trade it because I am far, far too lazy to do a trade unless it falls in my lap.) There will always be another beer available down the line that is just as good that I can buy when I’m ready, I can’t make my life into a quest to collect every beer. Additional bad habit – if I know it’s really limited or harder to find, I tend to buy at least 2.

    Often I think I buy beers just because I feel like I’m obligated. Sometimes I try several beers at a tap room and feel obligated to buy one even if I’m just not feeling it, or someone holds back a bottle of something at a store they think I’d like, and I end up with a lighter wallet and heavier shopping cart without consciously deciding whether or not I actually choose to buy or if I just purchased on impulse.

    I got three notices from my financial software today that I was over nearly double my beer budget for the month. I set that for a reason and I really need to pay it heed.

    I’m hoping that I’ll be able to stick to my resolve and I’m sure my waistline and wallet will thank me.

    TL;DR:

    1. Don’t hoard beers – just buy what I really want to drink or age.
    2. I cannot try all the beers and therefore don’t need to buy them all.
    3. Not being able to get it later doesn’t mean I have to buy it now, especially not in multiples.
    4. There isn’t an obligation to buy anything I’m not really feeling. It’s okay to say no.
    5. Mind the budget. It’s there for a reason.

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  2. Yeah, I’ve been put on a budget by the missus.

    The catch for me is the sours. I can easily get my ipa fix on the cheap, but the best available sours around these parts are big bottles and expensive. Luckily Anderson Valley has stepped up with the six pack gose’s.

    I may have to dust off my brewing gear and figure out how to go wild with it.

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    1. The process of brewing a sour is easy, maybe one of the easiest beers. 70% malt 30% wheat and old hops added in with a few minutes left of the boil gets you a good Lambic wort. The problem is forgetting about it for a year or more.

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  3. Kentucky Common is a pre-Prohibition Ale made with roasted malts added to distillers mash. Wanted to add some local flare to the IPA-Porter-Stout kits that I would have on the shelf. I read a memoir about Cinci pub owner who didn’t list a recipe, but said he was selling ~75-80% common and the rest American Lagers. Looking at the Kentucky Common recipes available, I knew I didn’t want to put sour mash techniques or Lactobacillus in the shelf kits. Seeing a lack of distilleries around the Ohio River, we figured the common brewed around here would not have been sour anyways. So we named it Cincinnati Common and based the recipe off the Kentucky Common with addition of Rye, to give some tang, and ferment with a British Ale yeast to keep it clean. Leaving the sour step up to the desire and ability of the particular brewer.

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  4. Another strategy for saving a little money is to have a target beer or shopping list when you go to the beer store and stick to it. Sometimes I go to the store looking for X, but if that beer is not available I end up buying something else, or even if X is available I end up buying something else because it looks interesting.

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    1. This is a great approach and something I’m going to combine with my idea of buying easily available beer. I’ll go into a store and ONLY buy Victory Golden Monkey or MadTree PsycHOPathy and nothing else no matter what I find.

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