The boons of brewing your own booze

I’ve been waiting for this for two weeks.

I crack open the cap, and raise the bottle to my nose, ready to inhale the sweet aroma of the beer I’ve so lovingly brewed.

Instead, I gag and hold the bottle as far from my delicate senses as possible. It smells like sewage. Unfortunately, I had been overzealous with cleaning my home brewing kit—the large glass carboy needs to be washed with a sulfur solution and I had not rinsed it properly before starting to brew. The residue solution had spent two weeks fermenting along with my grains, hop, and water. Granted, I’ve never had much success with DIY projects, but with practice I’m sure I can create something a little easier to swallow.

I started my beer making project because I heard I could save money. As a university student, my beer costs are second only to my coffee. But I was wrong about how much I’d save.

With home-brewing, the key seems to be patience. It doesn’t happen overnight, says Jessica Hughes, who has been brewing beer for about a year. For her, it began as a beer club she started with friends.

“The first batch we ever made, we got about eight beers out of it, but they were about 16 to 20 oz. each,” she says.

A start-up kit costs about $80 and includes a carboy—a big glass jug for fermenting the mixture— a plastic pail, siphoning equipment, sanitizer, and a number of other pieces needed to turn a wheat mixture into a brown beer.

Per bottle, Hughes estimates the startup costs for first timer brewers is about eight to $10.

After your first batch, however, Hughes says the price tends to go down, “as long as you don’t break anything.”

Still, brewing at home is not for the faint of heart, nor the easily dissuaded.

“If you’re super dedicated to doing it, it can be cheaper,” Hughes says. “But if you’re not very good at it, you lose a lot of time and energy and then can’t drink the beer.”

Rick August, an executive member of the Ale & Lager Enthusiasts of Saskatchewan (ALES), says people often overlook quality for a cheaper cost.

“The issue of which is cheaper is . . . only relevant to those that drink beer just to get drunk, and do not care about quality,” he says.

But he says most people who brew at home do it for the flavour and the fun, not for the cheap drunk.

Brewing at home is also a time investment, whether it’s beer or wine. Carleton student Alex Kurkjian makes wine with his father. He says that while it’s substantially cheaper—he estimates it around $3.33 per bottle—that doesn’t mean it’s easier.

“It’s a little hard to do it regularly . . . not to mention the yield is quite a bit,” he says. “It takes up space.”

Each vat will produce about 30 bottles of wine, which all need to be stored.

Brewing is a mixture of science and art, with precise measurements and creativity leading to the final product. If you decide to brew your own booze, you can reap the benefits.

But make no mistake—you’re also making a commitment, in time, money, and space.

“If you’re looking for quick beer, just go to the Beer Store,” Hughes says.