One of the coolest ways to save money while in school is to take up the hobby of making your own brewskies. I had a couple groups of friends who got into this as well as my brother. My partner in crime here at My University Money (Justin) developed quite a legendary following in residence due to his propensity for producing pretty decent bottle of wine in exchange for a handshake and a promise owed. We even had a pretty advanced beer production system going at one point up on our floor that we begged/bribed our cleaning staff to keep residence administration in the dark and as crazy as it sounds it actually worked.
Besides the considerable savings (which we’ll get to in a minute), I found that brewing your own beer or wine was one of the fastest ways to make new friends as a young adult in a new city. If you’re worried about the legalities of this venture (a trivial thing), then you can rest easy knowing that making beer and/or wine is not illegal; however, selling it is. Therefore, as long as you drink the booze yourself or give it away for free you’re in the clear (at least in Manitoba).
Costs and OverheadThe cost of the equipment needed to brew your basic ale or lager will set you back around $150. Wine kits are usually even cheaper than that. You don’t need to buy new bottles if you simply wash and sanitize the ones that you already have piled up in your basement or shed. After that relatively minor initial investment, you’re all set to start running your home brewing operation.
You can buy beer kits online for $30 or so and if you toss in another $10 for yeast and bottle caps, the input costs for a five-gallon batch of beer will run you around $40. Five gallons is roughly equivalent to fifty-three bottles of beer, giving us a per-beer cost of about $0.75. In Manitoba, even your cheapest discount beers such as my old trusted staple – Lucky Lager – cost at least $1.40 per beer. Your middle-of-the-road beers such as Molson Canadian or Labatt Light will run you about $1.75-$2.00 each. If you prefer to pick your poison in a bar, beers there will cost at least $4.00 each.
If we assume that the average college or university student that consumes alcohol has about 10 drinks per week, this means that brewing your own beer will save you about $338 a year if you were drinking discount beer, and about $560 if you preferred your dad’s stuff.
We see a similar result for wine, where the cost to make your own 750mL bottle is about $1.50. If we assume each 750 mL bottle is five servings of wine, then 100 bottles over the course of a year would cost about $1,000 if you were buying relatively inexpensive wine at your local Liquor Mart. Therefore making your own would save you about $850 over the course of the year if you don’t include the one-time set-up costs.
My brother was actually pretty into beer-making as a hobby for a while and his final product wasn’t half bad by the end (the first few batches were a uh… learning process). He even experimented with different types of beer and some semi-exotic stuff like a hint of orange flavoring. My brother-in-law has taken things to a new level, and he informs me that down in Denver where he lives brewing your own beer is almost a competition and is pretty mainstream. Personally, I think I’ll just stick to being the official taste-tester and continue to adhere to my policy to never complain as long as the beer is cold and free!