Is Your Home Brew Beer Worth $60?

bourbon county stoutHow much is too much to pay for a beer? £5, £8, £12, £20, £40?

I would guess everyone would answer differently but there has to be an upper limit, right?

A friend told me about the latest release of Goose Islands Rare Bourbon County Stout. It costs $60 or around £38. Is that too much? Oh and they aren’t that easy to get, you need to win a lottery and pay to attend.

How Much Should A Beer Cost?

Beer is following a similar path to fine wine. The products with limited availability, matured for longer and often with fancy packaging become more expensive.

You may say that the limited availability is artificially created by the brewer. They are purposefully releasing the beer once a year. Whereas, the winemaker has a limited availability. Their plants produce a limited yield of grapes in any given year.

It may just be a case that commercial breweries are rarely willing to produce such complex and technically challenging beers like Bourbon County Stout. Thus you have small, limited releases.

I wouldn’t part with that much money for one beer. There is no doubt that there are many who would because they want the exclusivity of having something that’s so hard to get your hands on. I know if I did have a bottle that I wouldn’t think twice about drinking it.

As a home brewer it is not hard to put a value on your own beer because you know exactly how much the materials cost and the time that went into brewing it. For many home brewers the cost of making a batch of beer isn’t really taken into consideration.

Making something for yourself that doesn’t need to turn in a profit means I can put as much of any ingredient as I want. Whether that is hops, malt, specific yeast strains or even extra flavourings. In this case Bourbon barrels.

Time is also not a factor if you are brewing because you enjoy the process. The whole point of a hobby is doing that activity because you love it. You choose to do that thing in your free time and an added benefit may arguably be that you save a little money as a byproduct.

The costs of making beer at home don’t really add up to much on such a small scale. Brewing on a commercial scale is a different matter. A small increase in the price of ingredients for example will hardly affect the home brewer who is making 20 litres. The commercial brewer making 20 barrels (3200 litres) however will have to take this into consideration.

The overheads of operating a brewery are high. All the raw materials that go into making the beer need to be calculated, the cost of packaging and distribution. Marketing plays an important role. Just look at the videos that have been filmed for the release Bourbon Brand County Stout.

Brewing commercially poses different problems limiting what can be released. Over the summer the price in the UK of some US hops climbed to over £150 for 5kg whereas the majority of UK hops was below £50 for 5kg.

If you consider the difference between the two, it’s a fairly large amount. A definite impact on the profit margins of a commercial beer, but at a home brew scale it’s not really something I would think twice about.

I have had a chance to try one of the earlier more widely released Bourbon County Brand Stout (priced £6 for a half pint in a beer bar) and I enjoyed it. It was incredibly sweet, viscous and the blend of bourbon was great. It was a fantastic beer.

Looking at the Goose Islands Rare release. At such a high markup, It’s hard to see where the added value comes from other than it’s a severely limited release and it’s been aged for 2 years. The recipes for each of the Bourbon County beers are there on the website. All the malts and hops are listed and if you want you could easily come up with your own version of something pretty similar.

In fact there are many interpretations of the recipe already out on the internet. Created by home brewers who know that it’s entirely possible to make a similar beer at home. It’s not that exclusive.

Bourbon County Stout Recipe

So here is the recipe information taken directly from the Goose Island Website

Style: Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 14.5%
International Bitterness Units: 60
Color: Midnight
Hops: Willamette
Malts: 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black

Working with this information we can create a grain bill that roughly follows Goose Islands. Assuming the malts are listed in order of amount used, highest to lowest then we can start constructing the base recipe.

Hops are Willamette so you could decide to go with just one addition at the start of the boil. Or maybe maybe two, one at the start of the boil and one with 20 minutes left for example. I have put Target in as higher alpha bittering hop in to push the IBU’s without using a ton of hops.

Barrel aging for the home brewer isn’t going to be exactly the same as Goose Island. Unless you have a complete Bourbon barrel the easiest way to achieve the same end is to use oak cubes (not chips) soaked in Bourbon. Adding the cubes during secondary fermentation is going to impart the Bourbon barrel characteristics. Depending on how long you are willing to age the beer (Goose Islands Rare Bourbon County Stout is aged for 2 years!) you can adjust the amount of cubes to use. The longer you age the beer the less you’ll need. Chips will impart so much more oak flavour, a lot quicker. If you do use them use sparingly!

This amount of grain is going to need a big mash tun. Consider doing two separate mashes or scaling down the recipe if you don’t have a big enough mash tun.

Bourbon County Stout - Russian Imperial Stout
Batch Size: 19.000 L
Boil Size: 23.470 L
Boil Time: 60 min
Efficiency: 70%
OG: 1.138
FG: 1.028
ABV: 14.5%
Bitterness: 60.6 IBUs (Tinseth)
Color: 48 SRM (Morey)
Name  Type    Amount Mashed Late Yield Color
Pale Malt (2 Row) UK Grain 10.000 kg    Yes   No   78%   3 L
Munich Malt Grain  1.500 kg    Yes   No   80%   9 L
Chocolate Malt (UK) Grain 400.000 g    Yes   No   73% 450 L
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L Grain 400.000 g    Yes   No   74%  60 L
Black (Patent) Malt Grain 100.000 g    Yes   No   55% 500 L
Roasted Barley Grain 200.000 g    Yes   No   55% 300 L
Total grain: 12.600 kg
Name Alpha   Amount  Use       Time Form  IBU
Target 14.0% 60.000 g Boil 60.000 min Leaf  53.0 
Willamette  5.0% 40.000 g Boil 20.000 min Leaf  7.6
Name Type Form    Amount   Stage
Danstar - Nottingham  Ale  Dry 11.001 mL Primary
Danstar - Nottingham  Ale  Dry 11.001 mL Primary
Name   Type       Use    Amount      Time
Oak Chips Flavor Secondary 25.000 g    3-4 weeks

Home Brew Cost

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