I’ll admit it, I’m a frugal home brewer. One of the original attractions to home-brewing for me was the cost savings aspect. But I notice a lot of home brewers get carried away by the hobby and spend a small fortune on all sorts of fancy gear. The home brewing experience for these gear obsessed home brewers turns into another avenue for excessive consumerism and materialism. If you worked out the total costs of some of these elaborate setups, I reckon some homebrewer’s beer ends up costing way more than the best craft beer you could buy. That would be a major ‘off-flavour’ for me. The fact that my beer costs a fraction of what I would have to buy it for is a great incentive for me and perhaps even does more for the perceived flavour of my beer than any fancy equipment could.
To date I’ve been brewing with a bare minimum of equipment: mostly just a 12L pot and and the original plastic fermenter + accessories kit that I first purchased to get into the hobby. With this minimum of equipment I’ve been able to make some pretty decent beer using extract and partial mash brewing methods, beer that I really enjoy making and drinking.
But this hobby does suck one in and you want to try new things. At this stage for me that’s all grain brewing. I realise that could just do small volume all grain batches with what I have and I have been intending to give that a go; I could make a 10L BIAB batch with the same process that I use for partial mashes. But lately I’ve been thinking about ways that I could do full 23L all grain batches without having to get much more in the way of equipment. I’ve been leaning towards the BIAB (brew in a bag) approach since you don’t need a seperate mash/lautering tun, so it appears like less equipment is required. But you do need a bigger capacity pot for mashing and boiling in and a bigger pot would need a much more powerful heat source than my electric stove (back down the more equipment road again). Then a wort chiller would be required to cool a full volume boil, another expensive item, at least here in New Zealand. So now I’ve got to thinking that a good solution might be to use 2 smaller pots instead of 1 big one. That would allow me to continue brewing on the stove top. I saw a 17L pot for $25 in The Warehouse yesterday (but was on the bike so couldnt carry it). That along with my existing 12L pot gives me 29L which should just about give me the capacity to do a 20-23L batch, especially if I top up to make up for evaporation. With the batch split between 2 pots I should be able to get by without an imersion chiller, just sitting the pots in ice water bath as I normally do. For mashing I can split the mash between the 2 pots. So all I would need to spend to go all grain is $25 plus a few dollars for material for another grain bag.
Having the ability to crush grain myself will allow me to save money by buying grain in bulk, so that’s another thing I’ve been thinking about. But grain mills are another very expensive piece of equipment here in NZ. For example, a basic Barley Crusher mill is currently listed on TradeMe.co.nz with a Buy Now price of $460, bloody expensive eh! So I did some research into other more economical options. I found some information on HomeBrewTalk.com and other places on converting pasta makers into grain mills and it looks like a good few people have had good success with that approach. So I picked up a cheap pasta maker on TradeMe for $22, a hell of a lot more affordable than the $460 Barley Crusher! I’ve roughened up the rollers with a drill and next I need to rig up a hopper and attach it to a grain collecting container or bucket. I hope to have that up and running next weekend, get some grain for my next batch and give it a go. I’ll post an update on how that goes.