Is homebrewing cheap? Kind of. As hobbies go, it isn’t super expensive. The equipment can be a large investment, and it gets incrementally more expensive the fancier and larger you want to go. But the more beer you make, the more the expense of the equipment pays off.
Materials themselves aren’t super expensive. Grains don’t cost very much. When you go to the grocery store and there are bins of bulk grains for $2 a pound, that’s similar to what grains would cost at the homebrew shop. Standard 2 row pale malt will cost you under two dollars a pound. Local, organic, or specialty malts will be more expensive, naturally. Yeast can be expensive, but is generally $6-12 for what you would need for a five gallon batch. Since I brew in one gallon batches, I’ve only been using dry yeast so far since it is easier to store and split. Dry yeast will run $3-6 per pack, and a pack is good for 2-3 one gallon batches. Hops vary quite a bit in price. I’ve gotten some simple USA Columbus hops online for $1.50 an ounce, and I’ve seen high end imported or local-grower hops for up to $6 an ounce. Hop usage varies greatly per batch, since not all hops contain the same amount of elements like alpha acid and oils, and beers themselves have great variance in how much hop character they have. An English malty beer that just requires a small bump of bittering hop might use 1/20th oz of high alpha hop, while an American IPA using lower alpha acid hops, and lots of them, might end up using a full ounce plus by the time it’s done.
A lot of items must be bought in bulk. Caps, yeast nutrient, irish moss, etc, aren’t things you can just measure out like grain each time you want to make a batch. The upfront cost of getting a lot of it pays off as it is spread out throughout many batches. For example, I once had to drop $6 on yeast nutrient, but each batch requires so little that it’ll likely expire before I can ever finish it (60 batches).
I’m a numbers person. I tend to justify any spending I do by telling myself that I made the right choice and got a bargain. I like to know where my paycheck goes. As such, I developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of all my home brew spending.
I have an equipment sheet, which logs all the equipment I have, money spent, any equipment lost, and any equipment gifted to me. I have a bulk items sheet which logs all the things I’ve bought a lot of at once and how much they cost per batch. I have an ingredients sheet for things bought specific to a batch but that will have leftovers; this allows me to later calculate what the cost of hops and yeast for a particular batch is. I then have a sheet that adds up exactly what each batch of beer costs, calculated out to packaged cost per ounce/bomber/12oz, and a final sheet of how much I’ve spent on homebrewing total.
In the end, for every penny I’ve spent to every ounce of beer I’ve packaged, homebrewing costs less than having craft beers at the bar, at least. Not including equipment, and just counting the recipes, most of my brews end up costing more than a Bud but less than a craft brew bought at the liquor store.
Not a bad price to pay for quality beer. And even when a batch goes awry, the $11 or so dollars spent for the learning experience is usually worth it.