In my last post I covered the costs for getting into the hobby so that new brewers had a better idea of what to expect. To further that and for current brewers alike, this post will be covering optional systems to expand your homebrewing control and/or convenience. The first will be a look into the Mash Tun which is one, but not the only, way of doing all grain brewing. The second being Yeast Starter equipment which will assist in both healthy fermentations and propagation. And the last being getting into Kegging which has made my life easier since the start. Each of these could have a post on their own detailing the processes, benefits and drawbacks but the purpose of this post is Cost. How much will it be to get into each of these? (TL;DR at bottom)Note:All links are un-affiliated and are provided for proof of prices. The sources for prices used are examples for price points As with my last post, each section will be updated with feedback/tips from the homebrewing community.
Keeping it Hot in a Cooler
Mash Tun is a very simple device with a few items to help make things convenient. At it's core, it's just a container that is large enough to hold the total mash at a desired temperature using Insulation. There are other methods using direct or indirect heating to maintain temperature but those will not be covered here. There are three primary types of Mash Tun insulation that are Double Walled Pots, Insulated Pots, and Coolers. Because the goal here is to get a realistic low price for this method, I am skipping the first as they can run upwards of $300 to get like this pot from Chapman.
The second method is going to need a pot as a base. But this is where mash process gets in the way of just wrapping a blanket around a pot. The first challenge comes that you are not only trying to fit your target volumes but also the amount of grain. This isn't too difficult with lower gravity beers but once the grain bill starts going larger for bigger brews space becomes an issue. There is also the goal of separating that sweet sweet wart from those sacrificial grains. The common methods being either a filter or false bottom in conjunction with a drain port and valve. So now you are increasing the volume of your mash tun even further to compensate. A 10 gallon pot might still be limiting on what you can brew. But for cost analysis, we will use it as a base which comes in at $108 from AIH including stainless steel ball valve and drain port. Upgrading to a 15 gallon which would allow more room with the same options is $138. There is the addition of another port and a temp probe included but an external thermometer does the job for all your brew stages. You still need to get some kind of filter (DIY) or False Bottom ($60+). So your still looking at $170 on up and we haven't gotten to insulation. I am going to stop there and move onto the third option...
Coolers are generally the cheapest way to get into mash tuns. They offer large volumes of space that is already insulated all around with built in drainage for a fraction of the cost of a pot. There is one method that uses a 10 gallon water cooler for $40 but it still requires that false bottom and could limit the grain bill still. To really use the benefit of how in-expensive coolers are, I went with a 70qt (17.5 gallon) cooler, my model isn't available but this 70qt (17.5 gallon) Coleman for $65 is similar enough. That's $25 to move up another 7.5 gallons which you can use for high gravity mashes or even 10 gallon batches. At this point it's worth having the flexibility but less expensive options are out there. I personally used Brulosphy's Mash Tun Guide for building out the filter and ball valve. I won't re-link all the parts but it comes out to about $70 in parts. The only change I did was swap out his braided filter (too flimsy and easily messed up if bumped with mash paddle) with a stronger filter like this one for $8. That still comes out to $135 but still less than a 15 gallon pot setup. The other option here is to skip all the hardware completely and get a Brew Bag for Coolers for $44. That's $105 to have a mash tun all setup and have easy cleanup without any setup needed. Personally I would still install a ball valve or just extend the drain to hook up a hose if needed but that's quite a deal for such a large mash tun even before any sales.
Inside and outside mash tun, top is unscrewed for easier grain dumping.
For when you want 200 billion of something
Well Mash Tuns were a bit more complicated in order to explain the choices made. Yeast on the other hand should be simple enough. There isn't really many choices when it comes to making starters, either a purchase or DIY option. Both revolve around a stir plate as the 2L Flask for $22 and 1" stir bar for $6 don't really have alternate options. To purchase a complete unit, you can find The Stirstarter for $45 and sometimes less on sale. There is also the USB Yeastir that is about $30 if you can find a vendor to purchase from. But with the first your looking at $73 but then comes in the DIY project to save some money. With just a Fan Kit for $12, small project box for $4, and...uh oh. It seems that small rare earth magnets have been pulled from most realtors like Amazon, Walmart and similar places. I was able to find the 1/2" x 1/8" magnets on NewEgg for $7, though shipping will be separate and availability is unknown once they are out of stock. But you can get a magnet from an old hard drive or order larger ones as long as the polarity is along the Length and not the Height. But basically, you screw the fan into the boxes base then super glue the magnet(s) to the fan (make sure of opposite polarity facing upward) and that's it. The cord fits through the lid without drilling holes and you leave it on lowest speed setting. Not too bad for $23 and some screws/nuts/glue while your looking at about $51 otherwise.
Easy to make, store and use. (old In Use photo, ignore airlock)
Middle finger to Bottle Bombs
If the title didn't hint, I am not a big fan of bottle carbonating beers. It's more about the amount of work going in to cleaning and sanitizing in a hobby already heavily dominated by those processes. Diving right into getting a kegging setup going even before going to all grain saved me that bit of effort. I also knew that I was in it for the long haul so the investment was going to be well worth the costs. As with almost anything in this hobby, there is the 'Buy It' and the 'Make It' options. The further you expand your gear, that 20%+ savings from DIY can add up and it does when you look at Size. To start, lets look at items that are needed for kegging. These can be included in the kegerator you have already so there will not be a total cost on the list. This post is not intended to fully explain out each part or how to build out these systems. It is simply a cost analysis for those looking to get into home kegging.
- New Keg ($75 each)
- OR Used Keg ($49 each) [Including a new O-ring set]
- OR Set of 4 Used ($152) [Including a new O-ring sets]
- 5 lb Aluminum CO2 Tank ($65) [Local shops or AirGas stores might be cheaper]
- OR 10 lb Steel CO2 Tank ($60) [Local shops or AirGas stores might be cheaper]
- Dual Gauge Regulator ($50)
- OR Dual Gauge & Dual Out Regulator ($100) [Good for carbing vs serving pressures and bottle filling]
- Gas Manifolds ($35+)
- Ball Lock Fluid Disconnect ($8 per keg) [Include the Nut&Barb Option]
- Ball Lock Gas Disconnect ($8 per keg) [Include the Nut&Barb Option]
- 3/16" Thickwall Beer Line ($0.60/ft) [Amount depends on your setup]
- 5/16" Thickwall Gas Line ($0.80/ft) [Amount depends on your setup]
- Picnic Tap ($4)
Moving on, there are simple kegerators already made but your looking at $400 on up, like this one, new. Even Craigslist still has them running for $300 on average used though you might get lucky for less than that. Tag on the costs of two used kegs, tubing, CO2, regulator, and disconnects your looking at another $250 so a total of $550+.
Now here is an area that is a bit more gray with keezers, chest freezers used for kegs/taps. For this I will try to give a build out cost for a two keg system to stay comparable with the kegerator so you get an idea of start up costs. If you decide to go this route, it is advised to go with a larger chest freezer that can handle more kegs even if you only start with two as it leaves room for expansion. Just like with getting a bigger pot to start than you need, it saves you from having to sell the current equipment and purchase a bigger chest freezer later on. To start, the best thing to do is just get some 9" diameter cardboard cutouts of the size of a keg (number you potentially intend to have) and a CO2 bottle. I included the CO2 bottle as I am cutting startup costs for kegging for making a collar and tap system. This HomebrewTalk post is a good example of this though it is posted from 2008 so models can have changed. Also remember that this will need a temperature controller and while The Inkbird ITC was ok for a mini-fridge, the 1000w rating might not cut it for the freezer. An analog refrig thermostat for $60 is going to handle it better which I am pricing for this setup. Just be aware there are cheaper DIY options like the STC-1000 with a project box and wiring (Example Youtube Guide).
The smallest/cheapest chest freezer you can get is a 5 cubic foot that can usually handle 2 kegs and the CO2 canister. These generally can run around $150 new like this one from Lowes but the next step up, 7 cubic foot is only $180 from Lowes or $190 from Bestbuy. This can fit at least 3 kegs and the CO2 for just a $20-30 bump in price. With a wood collar and pulling the CO2 out of the box you could fit 4+ kegs inside. Now you can find used chest freezers off classifieds like craigslist and save a little more money or find larger for the same value. This is an unknown area for costs so I will be using the new price. Then we tag on the same costs from the kegerator but add Picnic Taps and temp controller so it comes to about $320 instead which gives us a total of $490. Which is still less than getting a used kegerator, though you don't get the normal taps. A DIY project to collar and tap the chest freezer can fix that but not covered by this post.
My messy/temporary keezer setup waiting to be upgraded with a bar top and 6 tap tower
Summary (or TL;DR)
- Mash tun - $108 with Bag & Cooler OR $135 with Cooler, Filter & Ball Valve
- Yeast Starter Equipment - $51 DIY Stir Plate setup OR $78 Purchased Stir Plate setup
- Kegging - $550 for dual keg Kegerator setup OR $490 for a dual keg Keezer
Hopefully this helps a bit, as with anything there are plenty of alternative options for all of this but the cost is going to come out about the same depending on sales, availability and how much DIY put in. As with before, keep your eyes out for black friday deals, Homebrew Finds, and classifieds like Craigslist to save even more.
Tags for this post: Costs, hardware, equipment, kegerator, keezer, kegging, mash tun, stir plate, yeast starter