It’s rare in any endeavor that cost, convenience, and creativity are all serviced by the same improvement. In the case of homebrewing, that’s exactly what comes from buying your ingredients in bulk and becoming your own private homebrew supplier.
We don’t brew to save money, I know. But buying in bulk can knock your costs back by as much as half. Check the prices at a major national retailer for something like a simple pale malt: You’ll save more than 40 percent buying by the sack instead of by the pound. Likewise, hops drop in price by about half when buying by the pound instead of by the ounce. Then there’s yeast ... Well, I don’t recommend stockpiling liquid yeast—but it doesn’t hurt to have several varieties of longer-lasting dried yeast handy, just in case.
That’s all before we consider the occasional sale price or deal; it’s not that hard to find a pound of all-purpose bittering hops for $5 or a sack of leftover grain (with a shelf life measured in years) for $45.
Then there’s the ease of having your beer supplies on hand at all times. No more trips to the homebrew shop or waiting for a delivery. Just decide to brew... and brew.
Finally, there’s the creativity component, since despite your best efforts, you’ll occasionally lack a recipe ingredient and have to call an audible—often with exciting and beneficial results.
How to Live this Dream
First, take your best guess as to what you brew in a given year (or consult your detailed records). Take those recipes, load them all into one large ingredient list, and see what you use the most.
Among your grains, you’ll probably make note of one or two base malts, a smaller group of specialty malts, and some real rarities (how often do you really need CaraRed, anyway?). Plan on sourcing a sack each of your base malts, 10 pounds (or, say, five kilos) each of your most-common non-base malts (such as Crystal 40, Munich, pale chocolate), and then one- or five-pound bags of the quasi-common things (Caramunich, Special Roast, Victory, and the like). Done and done.
Then, calculate how much pure bittering you do and buy an affordable dual-purpose hop such as Nugget or Amarillo to satisfy that need. That plus a pound of something Continental (any Hallertauer), something English (East Kent Goldings or Fuggles), and a nice, bright citrus blend such as Falconer’s Flight, and then you’re good for almost anything. (If you’re a heavy Belgian-style producer, for example, you might swap in Styrian Goldings for the English).
As for yeast, I tend to bite the bullet and buy three or four batches’ worth at a shot and store it cold because I don’t feel like putting in the effort for yeast banking.
And voilà: your own private brewing hoard.
Where to Put It All
Now, where are you going to store it?
For the grain, five- or six-gallon buckets with gamma-seal lids will do the job for your base grains just fine (one sack will usually fill two buckets). Vittles Vaults are another great option if you catch them on sale. For the five-to-10-pound quantities, I like 1.5–2.5 gallon apothecary jars with gasketed lids. They’re affordable, they look awesome on a shelf or countertop, and they keep air out (a nice bonus). Then, the homebrew hoarder’s best friend: the venerable Mason jar. A 16-ounce jar is the perfect vessel for a pound of grain. I have a drawer full of them in my grain area; a dry-erase mark on top tells me what’s in each.
What about hops? Well, nature is doing most of the work there, in that hops are really robust. If you keep them in recloseable zip-top bags with the air mostly forced out, you’re most of the way home. Throw them in any fridge or freezer and rest easy. A small investment in a mini-fridge to hold your hops and yeast might be worth it, too.
The best part: The total outlay for all of that storage gear likely won’t even add up to the savings you’ll see in just your first year of buying in bulk. The real cost-cutting comes every year after that.
At the end of the day, bulk buying means more beer, easier, and better. Isn’t that what we’re striving for?