“Man I'm just so bummed that I have to pay a visit to the homebrew store.”
Said no one ever.
However, there does come a day in the evolution of every homebrewer when storing some or all of your ingredients at home just makes sense.
For me, that day came when I made the move to all-grain and started creating my own recipes.
By no means do you need to be an all-grain brewer to store ingredients at home, however this article is geared more towards that style of brewing
Why Buy Ingredients in Bulk
The “why” will be different for every brewer. Myself, I live quite far from the nearest homebrew store. I love to visit when I can swing it, however I really have to stock up when I do. As I started to brew more and more the repeat trips started to get tiresome.
I was also completely taken off guard when I found out the price per pound difference you get when buying a full bag of grain (.50 cents per pound in some cases). When stretched over a full bag, that can be upwards of $25 saved, per bag!
Lastly, I love being a cook in my kitchen… well, garage. I will, at times, look at my inventory, see what has been there the longest, and use it before it goes bad. This will lead to some pretty unique creations. So having a large inventory of ingredients at your disposal can bring out more creativity in your recipes.
Let's get to it!
Grain and Malt
Grain is the easiest ingredient to get in bulk. Most homebrew stores sell full bags of the same grain they sell by the pound, which is how I get my bulk grain.
Some other ways of obtaining grain include buying in a group (e.g. through your local homebrew club ) or contacting a local brewery and asking if they would let you “piggy-back” off of their order.
Regardless of how you get them, grain and malt are a no-brainer, simply because they come with the highest “bang for your buck.” However, consider the fact that you will need something to store them in and enough room in your brewery to do so.
Grain should be sealed air-tight and stored in a cool dry area. Generally your grain should be stored below 70ºF-75ºF.
Dry malt extract should be cared for just like grain and liquid malt extract should only be stored in the original container (liquid malt should come with an expiration date).
Living in a place like Texas makes it a little hard to store grain and malt at home, especially if you are using your garage. I typically move my ingredients into the house during the hotter months (e.g. March – October).
A lot of people use plastic containers such as this dog food container from Amazon:
Another popular option is to use five gallon buckets to store grain. Food grade buckets are ideal, but not all brewers follow that recommendation.
Whatever you choose, be sure it has an airtight seal. Gamma seal lids should be used with buckets for the airtight seal:
My setup for grain storage consist of three main components:
- 5 gal buckets (two per 50 lb bag)
- Gamma Seal lids (one per bucket) (Also found at Home Depot)
- Oxygen Absorbent packets (optional)
- Clean the inside of the bucket thoroughly.
- Install the Gamma Seal Lid ring onto the bucket.
- Fill bucket with grain.
- Place oxygen absorbent packets in the head space of the bucket.
- Seal the bucket with the lid and record the date.
Here is a link that explains how to use oxygen absorbent packets.
With this list you should be able to store grain upwards of one to two years. I sample my grain before using it in a batch just to be sure it has not gone stale. (Mix it up first to be sure bugs didn't get in it.You will know… )
You can see that the more grain you store the more storage space you will need. DUH right? Since I move my grain inside and I have a wife and child in the house as well, I have a limited amount of storage space. I therefore typically only store my base malt of choice and enough specialties for a few batches.
So really think about the beer styles you plan on brewing before you make a bulk grain purchase. If you rarely use pilsner malt, it doesn't make sense to buy a 50lb bag of it.
Finally, if buying malt in bulk it's going to come uncrushed. So you'll need to invest in a grain mill. Here's Billy's review of the Barley Crusher.
Hops are a huge investment and the prices vary drastically from varietal to varietal. If you can justify it, buy hops in bulk can give you a big ROI (the prices comes to < $1 per .oz in some cases).
Where you get bulk hops will depend on where you live. My local homebrew store is the only place I have seen hops for sale locally. You can also buy them online at places like Hops Direct and Fresh Hops.
If you do buy a bulk order of hops your next task is to store them properly at home.
I will say however, that after many conversations and a lot of research, it is my opinion that you should only store your bittering hops. If stored correctly, you should be able store hops for at least six months.
You should always store hops in a freezer. Hops come in air-tight opaque bags for a reason. My process for storing hops is:
- I leave leftover hops in their bag
- Place them in a Ziploc with some oxygen absorbent packets
- Write the date on the bag
- Place them in the freezer
But keep in mind Ziploc's are not airtight. If you want to get the most longevity from your hops, a vacuum sealer is the way to go.
Hops loose their alpha acid over a given period of time. How long depends on storage conditions, type (whole / pellet), and the hop variety itself. This is true even for unopened hops.
Due to the complexity, I say once again store hops only for bittering. Aroma and flavor hops should be as fresh as you can get them.
Yeast is probably the easiest to store. Dry and liquid yeast should be kept in the fridge and always use a starter for the best possible fermentation.
As far a buying in bulk goes, unless you are using the same dry yeast over and over buying in bulk does not make a lot of sense to me. The cost and the amount of work that goes into buying bulk yeast vs washing or buying new packs makes it not worthwile to this homebrewer.
If you are using the same yeast over and over, consider washing and reusing your yeast (I do). I will keep washed yeast when I know I will be using them again soon.
I only keep washed yeast for six months or for four re-washes (whichever comes first).
Is buying and storing ingredients in bulk right for you?
Storing ingredients at home can be a lot of work. Whether the rewards outweigh the work depends on you. The methods above are by no means the only way to store ingredients. They are just the way I do it.
Do you already store your ingredients? Tell us your experiences (good or bad) in the comments below.