Yes, it can be cheaper to brew your own beer—if you make enough of it. Let’s break down some numbers. According to the guys at Park Slope’s venerable Bierkraft, there are in fact no places in Brooklyn that sell brew equipment. They recommend ordering a kit online at northernbrewer.com; a basic starter kit will set you back $75. You will also need to buy one of their ingredients kits, which range between $20-$40. Finally, you’ll need a brew kettle—any pot 2.5 gallons or greater ($40 at northernbrewer), and 48 to 52 pry-off 12-ounce beer bottles (about $30).
So let’s put the initial investment at $175. That averages about $3.30 per bottle for the first batch. For a subsequent batch—you’ll need to purchase new ingredients kit and bottle caps—the total average (of all the beer made, including the first batch) will be about $2.10. For a third batch, it’ll be about $1.75 a bottle. And so on. I’m roughly estimating, though; the price will fluctuate according to the ingredients you purchase.
Cobble-Hill resident Fritz Fernow has been home-brewing in his kitchen for three years now; he often buys ingredients from the brewers in Red Hook’s Six Point Brewery (Six Point is also on Twitter and Facebook). Six Point doesn’t officially sell hops, through—it’s more of a casual, brewers helping brewers exchange. Once you get to know people, Fernow says, it’s easy to find ingredients “below market price.” Fernow recommends the Brooklyn-based Malted Barley Appreciation Society for getting to know other brewers. They host monthly meetings, with guest speakers, at brewpubs around Brooklyn.
There are also tons of home-brewing blogs out there, including Fourth Avenue Brew, new this year, and Seanywonton’s Brewing Blog, written by Sean White, president of New York City’s Homebrewers Guild. (He lives and brews in Brooklyn.) The Gowanus Brewery, written by a Carroll Gardens-based brewer, is also worth a look: it’s no longer active, but has good information about growing your own hops—another way to save money.
If the initial investment still seems daunting, look around: I found a “NEW! IN BOX! Never been used!” Mr. Beer Premium Home Microbrewery Kit for $25, which included ingredients, on craigslist (all good things come through craigslist). Location of seller = South Slope.
Another money-saving tip from Fernow: don’t buy new bottles. He finds them at parties, soaks the bottles to scrape off their labels, cleans them, then sanitizes them.
As a quick aside, brewing is not only cool—it’s Brooklyn-cool. A few years ago, the Brooklyn Historical Society ran a history-of-Brooklyn-brewing exhibit called “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” According to the Society, just before Prohibition, Brooklyn had in fact become one of the nation’s main brewing centers, along with Milwaukee and St. Louis; nearly half of brewery founders had come to the U.S. in the mid-1800s from the Bavarian region of Germany. Breweries were located in mostly heavily German neighborhoods: Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint.
Also according to the Society, it was apparently common back then to see children carrying pails of beer (called “growlers”) from local taverns to houses and tenements. So for anyone who ever heard “honey get your mother a beer” as a kid—such a request is actually part of Brooklyn tradition.