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Home brewing equipment: what do you really need?

Getting started with home brewing involves an outlay, just like practically any other activity. But because it saves you money, the question isn’t ‘How much will this cost me?’: it’s ‘How long will it take this to pay for itself?’

The answer, of course, is that it depends how much you spend in the first place. But there’s a simple way to work it out, and that’s to look at how much you save per batch of home brew. I’ll look at two simple illustrations*; one for five gallons of red wine and the other for five gallons of bitter. I like my payback illustrations to be fairly gloomy, so we’ll price our home brew against the lower end of the market**. In reality your home brew should turn out better than this.

making home brew kit beer

Home brewing wine

A 5 gallon kit of Solomon Grundy medium dry red costs £21.95, and I’ll allow £3 for postage and £3.20 for sugar. This works out at 94 pence per bottle of home brew, against £3 for a bottle of ultra-cheap supermarket red – a saving of £61.80 per 5 gallon brew.

Home brewing beer

A 5 gallon kit of Youngs Harvest Bitter costs £10.95, plus £3 postage and 80 pence worth of sugar. This means our home brew costs 37 pence a bottle, against 75 pence for the same amount of Tesco 3% bitter – a saving of £15.20 per 5 gallon brew.

Let’s not forget the outlay for equipment and supplies like sterilising powder and glassware. Simply add up the total spend and divide it by your savings per brew, and you’ll know how many brews it will take you to break even.

Of course, the calculations above are based on kits. Home brewing from scratch is less expensive, particularly for country wines where you may get the ingredients for free. The calculations also can’t account for changes to how much you actually drink. Speaking personally when I have to buy wine in, I don’t drink all that much of it. But when I have it on tap – literally – I have a glass with my evening meal most days. I do have to watch the calories though!

Home brewing is a hobby with lots of bits and bobs, and you can potentially spend a lot of money just setting up. My advice is, don’t! Some of these extras are great labour savers but some are just plain unnecessary. Start off with the bare minimum, and buy extras as and when you decide it’s worth it.

Minimum equipment for home brewing 5 gallon kit beers and wines

  • A large saucepan, for boiling water
  • A 5-gallon brew bucket. You don’t need to put an airlock in it – it’s not completely airtight.
  • A long-handled stirring spoon or ladle
  • At least 1.5m of syphon tube (food grade)
  • Bottles and caps or corks
  • Sterilising powder
  • A tap and rigid end for the syphon tube are handy, but not essential. When you choose your bottles, think about how you will close them: crown caps (or corks) are traditional, but you need a capper (or corker) to close them. If you use screw top bottles you won’t need to worry about this – but don’t use screw-top glass bottles for home brewed beer: empty plastic lemonade bottles are fine.


*Price estimates viable at the time of writing, and based on the ingredients and costs of typical kits. Postage costs vary between retailers. £3 postage assumes ordering two kits at once from Home Brew Online, but not managing the threshold for free deliveries (£65 at the time of writing).

**It does go lower though, to Tesco Value Bitter which, although not actually unpleasant, isn’t a fit comparison for home brew even on a bad day.


Image courtesy of The Whittles Whittering’s on Flickr

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2 Responses to “Home brewing equipment: what do you really need?”

  1. Brian Pitt says:

    I found a much cheaper alternative to sterilising powder(and more effective)is weak bleach, which is sold in 2 Litre bottles at supermarkets for under 30p. Add a small amount to your plastic lemonade bottles and top up with cold water. Just rinse when ready to use them. To sterilise fermenting bin after bottling a brew, clean bin in the usual way, then add a couple of glugs of weak bleach to an inch of cold water in the bottom of bin. Swirl this around with the lid on, to cover all the inside of the bin. Leave this solution in the bin, and just before next use, swirl the solution round a few more times, before rinsing.

    • Andy McKee says:

      The problem with this is that some brands of bleach (but not all) are formulated to cling to surfaces, and the residual chlorine imparts a TCP flavour to the brew. I got caught out by this once as a novice – never again!

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