Since I started ramping up my homebrewing two or three years back, I’ve been brewing at least 20 times a year. At five gallon batches, that adds up to a lot of supplies! I soon realized that it might make sense to start buying in bulk as a cost-saving measure, for things like hops, base malts, and some cleaners. But I also realized there are a number of cost/benefit factors that need to be considered. In this post, I outline my thought process.
- Do you brew often enough?
- If you’re the sort of person who only brews a few times a year, it probably doesn’t make sense to buy bulk supplies. They’re likely to go stale before you use them up, and thus are just a waste of money.
- Do you have space?
- I’m fortunate to have plenty of storage space to store bulk supplies. Back in the days when I was an apartment brewer, that wouldn’t have been the case.
- Is the particular supply or ingredient something you use frequently and in large volumes?
- I brew with American 2-row a lot, so it makes good sense to keep a supply on hand. I can save around 40 to 50% by doing so, which adds up over a few batches. It would not make sense to buy 50 pounds of chocolate malt; I only use a few pounds per year, and a bulk sack would go stale before I could use it all up.
- What’s the shelf life?
- A 50 pound bucket of PBW cleaner is nearly two and a half times cheaper than buying the equivalent in 1 pound increments. It will probably take me several years to use this up, but I can’t imagine this stuff ever goes bad, as long as I store it properly. For stuff like yeast or bulk malt, a multi-year shelf life isn’t likely in the cards.
- Can I pick it up in person or does it have to be shipped?
- I buy bulk at my local homebrew shop whenever I can. In general, I have found that shipping can swamp out any potential savings otherwise. On those occasions when I do order online, I do a quick calculation on shipping to see if things still add up.
- Do I really want that in bulk?
- Although buying in bulk saves money, it also potentially constrains creative exploration of new ingredients. For instance, if I have 50 pounds of a particular brand of pilsner malt, I’m probably not going to try out other brands, at least until I’ve finished out that supply.
Overall, I find bulk purchases to be a good value given my brewing habits. Everyone’s situation is different, though. Think carefully; it might be right for you, too!
I’m currently at a crossroads myself. I do a lot of small batch experiments (1.5 to 2 gallons at most), but I am cranking out a batch nearly every other week. I’ve already made a bulk hop purchase, so it seems natural to gravitate towards buying grain (at least 2-row) in bulk as well.
The only thing I need is a mill. I have read that a Corona Mill works great (and is also very cost effective). Cranking out a couple pounds of grain by hand wouldn’t bother me much. What do you use to mill your grain?
Sorry for the delayed response — your comment got caught in spam! I use a Monster Mill 2, but then I’m doing 10-15 pounds of grain at a time at least twice a month. Personally, I have found it to be worth the investment–it’s a great mill, very reliable, made in the USA by a small business, etc. I’ve heard good things about Corona Mills, and if you’re doing small batches, anything else probably would be overkill!