Brewing Financial Independence

Something that everyone on the path to Financial Independence should consider, is brewing your own beverages. For the fraction of the price of commercially bought drinks, you can brew amazing craft beverages that are way better than anything you could buy commercially.

On my rotations are India Pale Ale, Cider, Ginger Ale and Kombucha. These are by far the easiest and ‘lowest hanging fruit’ to make, and can be easily, cheaply and quickly brewed at home. The equipment I use is incredibly cheap and the secret to success is just being very thorough with disinfecting everything (although you don’t need to be so strict when making Kombucha since this uses a wild yeast SCOBY anyway).

On average, I am spending around $20-30 per batch which produces around 25L or around 70-75 ‘stubbies’ (330ml bottles) worth – which makes the drinks range from around 27 to 42 cents each. The lower end is for the ciders, the upper end for the hoppy pale ales – although you can spend as much as you want on hop monsters if you like! This makes home brewing a heck of a lot cheaper than the $3 each you pay at the ‘bottle-o’ or the $10 each you pay at the pub!

The basics of all brewing is extracting some form of sugar into a vat, adding water and yeast and letting it ferment for a couple of weeks in a temperature controlled environment. I use a 25L food grade plastic tub with a screw lid and bubble airlock, which came as part of a ‘commercial’ home-brew kit. After a few weeks, you can prime the whole solution with a cup or two of sugar water and transfer into individual bottles, or if your a bit fancy you can keg it and use a CO2 cylinder to carbonate it.

The name of the game with home brewing is sterilisation, sterilisation, sterilisation. Makes sure you keep your working area and equipment sparkling clean and use starsan or sodium metabisulphite to disinfect everything. Thoroughly rinse all your bottles, vats and implements.

Beer – India Pale Ale

Now the first thing I will say that when brewing beer is that there are really three tiers of beer brewing, each with their level of snobbery. As you progress up the tiers you become progressively more snooty. These tiers start with our basic malt/hop syrup extract cans, and progress to the more expensive (but better) all-grain 3+ vessel professional micro brew set ups

  1. Kit-in-a-can
  2. Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB)
  3. All-Grain 3+ vessel brew

Secondly, you can choose to do it at home, or there are small commercial ‘DIY beer brewing’ companies or clubs that will (for a fee) let you use their equipment and temperature controlled storage for you and some mates to knock up a good brew for about half what it would cost you to buy – its also a good way to get into home brewing and learn about the process from people who know what they are doing.

I am just going to talk about the home brewing ‘at home’ because this is by far the much cheaper option. As I mentioned before I simply use a 25L food grade plastic tub with an airlock, and then when the fermenting is complete, I prime the entire vat with a sugar water solution and then I transfer to sterilized bottles, cap them and then store them in the cupboard for a month or two before consumption.

Kit-in-a-can (KIAC)

Kit in a can is where most people start their brewing adventures. I personally use kit and can methods for the majority of my brews because it is super easy, cheap, and when done right can still produce a fantastic beer.

Brew kits are readily available in stores like ‘Big W’ or even some supermarkets, and of course specialty brew stores always have a good stock of these.

All you have to do is take your malt and hop extract can, leave it in warm water for a bit to warm up, then sterilise the can and your canopener, open it and pour it into your fermenter vessel. Simply top up the vessel with tap water, add your extra malt powder (~1kg), hops and yeast and close the lid up and leave it for a few weeks.

I like to lightly boil my hops for a few minutes and then pour the entire saucepan of hoppy water and hops drudge into the vessel. I am very lazy and don’t even take specific gravity measurements. Taste a small amount after a week or so and when it tastes ‘dry’ (the opposite of sweet) its usually finished fermentation.

You’ll know its ready to prime and bottle when the vat stops bubbling, or about after 2 weeks if you leave it at around 15-20 degrees. Of course, everyone’s individual situation is different. The more extra malt you add, the more alcoholic it will be. Don’t be tempted to add extra sugar or dextrose as it will just end up more alcoholic and won’t taste as good. Good ingredients in the right proportion makes good beer.

After the fermentation is finished, I have started ‘cold crashing’ it by placing the entire fermenter vessel into the fridge for a day or two – this causes all of the suspended particles to drop to the bottom of the vessel (and form the ‘trub’) and improves the beer clarity. You could also use finings if you really wanted, but I don’t like adding anything other than the big four ingredients into my brews.

Brew-in-a-bag (BIAB)

A brew in a bag is an awesome improvement on the kit-in-a-can brew, which allows you to extract your own fresh malt sugars from ‘malted’ grain (germinated, roasted and crushed grains) to use as the fermentable sugars for the beer.

Usually the grains are Barley, but you could also use Wheat (to make a wheat beer) and specialty brew stores will usually sell a mixture of different types of malted grains which you can use to brew different styles of beer.

The benefit of BIAB is that the malted grains make better beer than a kit-in-a-can brew, and its actually cheaper than buying the cans. The downside is it does need a bit more equipment, time and experience / know how.

Essentially you smash up the malt and put the grain powder into a bag (like a pillowcase) and boil them at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. There is some complex brew chemistry going on here, and I would need to consult two of my best mates who are absolute master brewers to properly explain it, as I just couldn’t do it justice myself.

They throw words out like Alpha, Amylase, Water to Grist ratio, Ph, Silicate extraction and Tannin levels (I’m not sure if you are supposed to let these ones mellow?). They love fusing over the Specific Gravity, denoting it the Original Gravity and being very satisfied and smug when it is an appropriately large figure.

Once the ‘brew in the bag’ boil is completed, the bag of grains is removed but not before being appropriately squeezed to get every last drop of goodness out. The hop flower cones (or pellets) are added to the wort (the remaining malty sugar solution in the boiling vessel) and again gets an appropriate technical level of heating, stirring and fussing over, before the whole batch is allowed to cool, the yeast is pitched in and then it is transferred to the fermenting vessel – the exact same vessel used for a kit-in-a-can method.

Most BIAB brewers are ‘too cool’ for bottles, so they opt to keg their beer once its finished fermenting and then use a Carbon dioxide cylinder to carbonate; the benefit is the beer is ready to drink usually within 2-3 weeks from first starting the process, as opposed to bottle conditioned which usually takes about a month as a minimum.

Multi Vessel brew

The next extension in the brewing obsession is advancing into multi vessel brewing; usually defined as minimum of three vessels;

  1. Malt sparge vessel
  2. Wort vessel
  3. Wort reduction boil / Hop addition Vessel

This is by far the method I have the least experience with, but the favorite brewing technique of one of my master brewer mates. He is quite handy with an oxy acetylene torch, and built himself an awesome three vessel system complete with a myriad of pumps and octopus tentacle arms connecting all the vessels together. He reckons he spent about $500 building this set up, using second hand and scrap materials.

You can also spend thousands of dollars commissioning a custom build, or buy a commercially available multi vessel kit. There are some fantastic products out there in the home brewing space such as the Grainfather set up.

The crux of it is that you add your crushed malt into one vessel, and sparge it with precisely temperature controlled hot water that gets transferred from the second vessel. After a pre-set time you transfer this to your boil vessel, which you heat with a propane flame to boil off excess water and achieve a specific malt wort strength – this lets you brew stronger beers.

After your happy with the specific gravity, you add your hop flower cones or pellets according to the hop addition schedule, and then your wort is ready to ferment – exactly the same way you would do with the other two methods

I cant help but feel though, that a BIAB is more than adequate if you want to get fancy with fresh malt grains, and that a kit-in-a-can is much much simpler and cleaner technique than both. Admittedly, all-grain brews are cheaper than kit in a can per brew, but you need to amortize the cost of the equipment over many hundreds of brews before you actually break even. Personally I just dont consume that much beer to make it worth pursuing!

Cider

cider

Cider is a very fun drink to make. It is similar to making beer, but instead of using malt (maltose) that is extracted from malted barley or wheat, the sugars you are fermenting come from different kinds of fruit. The most common type of Cider is Apple cider, which is made from fermented apple juice. Other common types of Cider include Pear, Berry and Peach cider. If you make it too strong (% Alcohol by volume), it could actually even start to be classified as a fruit wine.

When making Cider you can use the kit-in-a-can method and simply use the sugar-juice-syrup extract as your base, add some dextrose (glucose), top it up with water and add your yeast and let it ferment away, after 10ish days (more if you have added more extra sugar to bump up the %ABV) it will stop bubbling and you know its ready to bottle or keg – I cold crash mine, prime the entire vat with 2 cups of sugar (easier if you dissolve this in boiling water first and let it cool) and then bottle into stubbies and let condition in the cupboard for a month.

To make my Apple-Berry cider, I start with about 20L of apple juice, add extra dextrose and then on day 3 I add 2kg of berries which I boil down for a few hours in 5L of water (with some extra sugar) – kind of like adding some half cooked jam into the mix.

The first time I did this I had to crush something like 40kg of apples, I wasnt very effective and wasted so much juice and pulp, and made a huge mess. The apples you want to use are the ‘thirds’ – apples which are sold specifically for juicing because they have lots of blemishes and if I am honest, little bits of mold and half rotten spots too! Premium table apples usually go for around $5+ a kilogram, so this just wouldn’t be cost effective to use these ones.

You can actually just use apple juice from the supermarket, but you want to make sure its preservative free – so try to go for the fresh stuff, and beware anything with sorbates (added vitamin c, citric acid or ascorbic acid is fine). Just experiment and see what works for you. I have done a batch using el-cheapo homebrand apple juice, and also using apple juice concentrates – both have turned out really well.

Other things you can do to mix it up and flavour your ciders include adding a vanilla bean pod, some chopper up ginger, berries, or even adding some peach or mango juice/nectar. I have not had much success at all with citrus flavours though.

Ginger Ale

My Ginger Ale is an absolute favorite among my family and friends, and is super easy and simple to make. Just like with Beer and Cider, I create a ‘malty / sugary’ wort solution and ferment this in a large food grade plastic vessel with an airlock.

I start with about a kilo of fresh, raw ginger roots and then I finely chop them up as much as I can bother – you could probably also pulverize them using a food processor (it would probably be more effective). The thing I am trying to do here is maximise the surface area for all the ginger flavour and juice to come out of the root.

The next step is to sterilise it all, so I find boiling the ginger in a big pot of water (5-10L) achieves this and helps to break down the ginger and get more juice out of it. During this stage I also add other random ingredients to try new types of Ginger Ale – you could try a stick of cinnamon bark, honey, a vanilla pod, some lime slices or even nutmeg! These are all expensive additions though, so the cheapest option is to stick with the ginger!

Once this has finished boiling for a good hour or two, I don’t bother straining it or anything, and simply add it all to my sterilized fermenter vat and add in a kilo (or two if I’m feeling cheeky) of Malt or Dextrose powder – if you have no alternative plain sugar will do. Top the fermenter up with warmish tap water to the 25L mark, pitch in your beer Yeast or Ginger Ale starter (make sure its under 30 degrees Celsius as you don’t want to hurt the yeast) and close the lid up.

I wrap my fermenter vat in a towel and then have it sitting in the corner of the kitchen. My apartment sits around a fairly stable 15-20 degrees which I find takes around 10 days to complete the fermentationm and then I transfer the entire fermenter vat into the fridge which helps all the sediment to settle out of the ginger ale.

I then ‘prime’ the solution with a sterilized sugar water solution (2 cups of sugar to 500ml water and boiled for 10 mins then let cool with the lid on), mix thoroughly and then I bottle it into 70-75 glass stubbies and press the caps on.

If your desperate, you can drink these after a week, but your much better to let these condition for a month before whacking them into the fridge. I like to drink them cold, especially after working up a bit of a thirst during the cooler months of the year. You can also drink the ginger ale in a similar way to mulled wine or hot cider, adding extra spices and heating it up on the stove.

Kombucha

Kombucha is actually super easy to make, but its done slightly different to the other brews. I don’t typically target making an alcoholic kombucha, but as with any fermented beverage it usually contains a very small amount of alcohol, especially since I use the yeast to prime (carbonate) the bottle solution.

Kombucha is simply a fermented tea drink, so I start by making a strong pot of tea with about 6 teabags. I let this cool to room temperature then I add it to my kombucha fermenter vessel. I use a 3L glass drinks vessel with a tap, since it makes it easier to bottle. Also into the vessel goes one cup of cheap plain sugar (but you could use maltose or dextrose too), and it gets topped up with water.

The final ingredient which starts the process is the SCOBY (the starter culture) and some starter tea (starter tea is just a bit of kombucha from the last batch, or if your totally stuck you could use a litle bit of plain vinegar). We add the starter tea or vinegar because the SCOBY prefers an acidic environment to ferment, and this acidic solution stops any nasty pathogens or bacteria from getting into our batch.

I just leave this on my kitchen bench top, and after about 7-10 days (depending on your kitchens temperature) it will be ready to drink. You can let it ferment longer if you want it more tangy, so I usually taste it every day or so to check the progress. Once its at your liking, you can drink it as is, flavour it with chopped fruit, or bottle it and let it carbonate and get nice and fizzy.

I like to do a bit of both – so when my ‘booch has reached the appropriate level of tanginess (a technical term!) I actually bottle them in 600ml plastic bottles with a teaspoon of honey, and a wedge of lime, ginger and sometimes some berries. After a week the bottles have turned hard and I know they are fully carbonated and good to drink!

Kombucha is great for your gut health and is a nice fizzy drink, a great alternative to soft drinks or alcohol. You know exactly what ingredients are going into your body – no dodgy chemicals or preservatives with long names that you can’t even pronounce. The only thing is I wouldn’t want to drink more than a bottle a day, or you might be overloading your body with ‘booch, and the carbonated drink (bubbles) means it’s actually quite acidic (carbonic acid is what makes it bubbly as the carbon dioxide is dissolves in water and turns into this acid!) so its not great for your teeth – always have a glass of fresh water after drinking something fizzy!

Summary

Cheers boys!

Everyone likes a good brew. Alcohol is part of Australian culture, and consuming it is a right of passage for all adults. Whilst its important to know our limits and consume it responsibly, its also just a lot of fun to get pissed with your mates and enjoy going a bit silly once in a while.

Alcohol is incredibly expensive due to government taxes and excises, so home brewing is a great alternative to the cost conscious consumer wishing to avoid such taxes. My home-brews come out at between 27 to 42 cents each per bottle (depending on how much and how expensive the ingredients I use are). When beer from the bottle shop is around $3 each in a slab, or $10 each when poured at the pub – you can see how cost effective this is – 37 times cheaper, or under 3% of the commercial price at best!

But the best part of home brewing is that you can make any drink you like, in any flavor combination you like and experiment as much as you like – and you know exactly what is going into the brew, and therefore going into your body!

Hoppy brewing!

CaptainFI

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