As with tying your own flies, justifying home-brewed beer on financial grounds requires some fuzzy math, like ignoring start-up costs. And it's not necessarily better than a pint from a good brewery. But it's your pint. Make it definitely so with a partial mash kit, which requires more craft than the instant brew kits out there, but is far cheaper than a tedious all-grain process.
Here's how I brewed up two cases of Blood Light from a red chile chocolate porter kit purchased at Santa Fe Homebrew Supply. It came with the hops and malt extracts (the big time-saver), and I bought the jugs, hoses, and bottling kit. Total: $150.
1. Crack open a beer.
2. Browse Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing ($15, Harper Paperbacks).
3. Remove the label from your malt can and soak the can in hot water to soften the syrup.
4. Boil two gallons of water and add the malt extracts, stirring until dissolved.
5. Add the hops pellets and stir the malt mixture (now called the wort) for 30 minutes.
6. Pour three gallons of water into a fermentation carboy.
7. Pour the wort into the cold water and sprinkle yeast on top.
8. Let the wort stand for ten minutes and then stir in the yeast.
9. Insert your airlock cork into the neck of the carboy.
10. Let it ferment for ten days, then siphon it into bottles to condition for two weeks. Enjoy. (If that first batch puckers your lips, set it aside for a few weeks. Like wine, beer mellows with age.)
For Overachievers: Make Moonshine
When I was 15 and fixated on Prohibition arts, my grandfather T. Walter Brown introduced me to George, a former coal miner from Marion County, Tennessee, who, while smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, explained the process for concocting "ruckus juice."
1. Build a red-clay furnace along a lonely creek.
2. Add a half-bushel of white cornmeal to a boiling still, cook sufficiently, pour into a wooden barrel along with a gallon of uncooked meal, and go home.
3. The next day, return and thin out the mash. Add water, stir, then add a gallon of malt and sprinkle a double handful of rye on top.
4. Cover the barrel and go home.
5. Return five days later and pour your brew into the "thump" barrel. Build up a fire and stir the mash. Steam will hit the barrel's cold brew, causing it to bubble and thump (it can be heard for several hundred yards through the woods on a cold day). Place a container under the end of the condenser. Insert a funnel lined with a clean, fine white cloth and a double handful of washed hickory coals, the latter to remove "bardy grease," which can make you ill.
6. When the thumping stops, ignite a spoonful of your product. If the flame burns mostly blue, it's ready to pour. Remember to tie yourself to a tree before imbibing—so as not to wander.