A friend of mine gave me a most excellent wedding present some six years ago: a homebrewing setup. Since then I have made maybe a dozen batches of beer, and yet I have still spent money on beer at Costco, Frys, and even the occasional PBR from Circle K. Why?
Sloth. Pure sloth. Making beer takes planning. It takes patience. It takes skill. Buying beer requires NONE of these things! Not one! Isn't it great? I can be a schmuck and still enjoy beer! As long as I want to pay between $1-$1.50 per bottle, let the good times roll!
Now, it's true that having a kid slowed down the beer-making and beer-drinking enterprise considerably (probably a good thing, too), but I do enjoy having a beer some nights with dinner, and when we have my brother-in-law over, we're usually good for two or three apiece. So beer is still on the things-I-want-to-have list. And now that we are on the Via Mustachia, I need to get off my duff.
The simple but effective rule that I am following here is: If you want luxury items, MAKE THEM.
This holds most strongly for food and beer, but it can be applied to household decor items (curtains come to mind), simple furniture, and various personal grooming products (olive oil is extremely versatile, but the Mrs. knows more about that than I - I just know I haven't bought shaving soap in a long time).
You will say, perhaps: "But I can't make _______! That's WAY too complicated for a schlub like me!" Perhaps, perhaps not. First, do you need it? If you really need it (or want it badly enough), then have you even looked at the internet to see if it's reasonable to make it yourself? If you've done that and said "But I don't have the tools/space/time/chutzpah to make that!", return to the first step. If you still really want/need it, then do you live in a void or the Australian outback? If not, there will be OTHER PEOPLE around you. These people may be known to you as "neighbors", "friends", or "family", but in either case, they likely have skills and equipment that you can make some arrangement to obtain. Alternatively, in some cities there are "hackerspaces", which are essentially a community garage, where a few volunteers make themselves available and for a nominal fee (sometimes it's free), you can come and use tools and get advice. If you cannot manage any of these options, it's a good bet that the item in question is 1) a mattress, appliance, or apparel item, or 2) completely frivolous. If (1), get over to Craigslist or Freecycle. If (2), get over yourself.
So, I've been looking at how to get beermaking supplies cheaper. I've got the capital equipment, but the syrups are so darn expensive. I have never done an all-grain batch, but I think I should do a few more processed-malt batches before diving off that deep end (brewers get this crazy look when you talk all-grain, like some demented alchemist who learned the secret to perpetual youth). So as much as I like my local brew store, I am trawling the internet for affordable ingredients. I get about $30/batch for my simple pale ale recipe from Northern Brewer, which is some cheaper than the store, but I have to order $50 to get free shipping. Hmm. On the other hand, the Mrs. likes red ales, so maybe I should get a recipe for one of those...
If you're interested, here's my recipe for Horatio Pale Ale, which is a light-bodied, crisp, fairly hoppy pale, which is pretty good on a summer evening:
3/8 lb American Carapils
3/8 lb Crystal 60-L
6.4 lb Pale Malt Syrup
Heat ~2gal of good water to 160F, add brew salts if desired
Turn heat off, soak grains 20 min, sparge with hot water
Add syrup and stir to dissolve completely
Turn heat on, bring to boil, and boil 15min
Add the Chinook hops
Boil (gently, not hard) for another 45min
Add 1oz Cascade and some Irish moss for flocculation if desired
Add 1oz Cascade
Turn heat off, stir gently for ~5min (don't aerate when hot!)
Gently add about 3gal of very cold water, or sub 8 lb clean ice for one gallon of water. The goal is to cool the liquid down to below 80F pretty quickly. Some people have fancy equipment to do this, but did they make it themselves? (if so, awesome)
Once cooled, pour the liquid into your fermenter (I use a 6gal bucket). It's OK to aerate it now, the yeast will need O2. Pitch the yeast, close up the fermenter (USE AN AIRLOCK!), and let sit at ~68-70F for 7-10days, then gently rack to secondary fermentation, let it stand for 2 weeks, then bottle using NO MORE THAN 3/4cup sugar, fully dissolved in water and cooled. You add this to the beer prior to bottling so it can bottle condition. If you're kegging with CO2 (how did you manage to make that apparatus?) you don't need to prime. Bottle condition for 7-10days, then pop a top.
It's all the sweeter for having made it yourself! (except this beer is not sweet, so perhaps it's crisper? hoppier?) Cheers!