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A connoisseur's guide to scoring cheap booze

With the economy slowing, gas prices racing skyward and a general feel of unease about the United States' economic future, I've seen a flood of stories full of tips on saving money in the last month.

Here is another one — kind of — about beer.

First things first. Beer is not a necessity. It's a luxury. A very affordable luxury all things considered, but still a luxury.

Since no one needs beer to survive — and if you do, you need professional help, or to graduate from college immediately — it falls into that category of non-essential extras that makes life better. Sometimes much better.

So when it's time to have a beer, it's worth spending a little more. Especially if you rarely partake.

So here are my tips for saving a few bucks on beer while still procuring a quality brew.

Brewpubs

Join the mug club at your local brewery. Brewpubs do not have to buy their beer from distributors, which means they cut out the middleman's profit. Since you're basically buying the beer wholesale, you can get great beer deals. Typically, brewpub beer is 25 to 75 cents cheaper per pint than brewery-packaged beer of similar quality.

On top of this, most brewpubs offer a Mug Club membership program. For a small initial fee, you get benefits including sick discounts on fresh locally brewed beer. For example, Tampa Bay Brewing Company's club, which is limited to 750 people, is $55, and you get a ceramic half-liter mug, which you can decorate any way you like; a T-shirt, a 10 percent discount on merchandise, 10 percent off food Sunday through Wednesday, and of course discounts on beer.

Brew your own beer

Brewing your own beer is simpler than you might expect. In fact, much of the equipment you'll need is probably already sitting in your kitchen, waiting to be put to a more glorious use.

A large pot and a stovetop will suffice as a kettle and burner. For malt, hops, yeast or more specialized equipment, a local or online homebrew supply shop will get you up and brewing. Starter kits range from $50 to $400, depending on how much equipment you want.

After that initial investment you can produce quality beer for pennies an ounce. A typical 5-gallon batch (about 48 12-ounce bottles) of homebrew can be made for an ingredient cost of $17 to $30. And you can brew most any style of beer that suits your palate.

If you are interested in home brewing, but are not sure how to get started, most larger cities have homebrew clubs dedicated to teaching new members the art of brewing. Tampa's is BEERS (Beer Enthusiasts Enjoying Real Suds), and they meet the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. Mr. Dunderbaks in University Mall. For more clubs, visit beersouth.homestead.com/brewclubs.html.

Youtube is also a great source for video tutorials on home brewing, if you can't find a local club.

Regional favorites

Due to reduced shipping costs, larger regional breweries are usually able to put a beer in your hand for less than overseas or out-of-state breweries.

In Florida, look for Yuengling products. Much of the Yuengling consumed in Florida is brewed in Tampa, at the old Stroh's Brewery on 30th Avenue between Busch and Fowler. Six-packs of Yuengling's smooth, caramel-accented, amber lager, or the lightly roasted Black & Tan, are less than $6. Yuengling Porter, the brewery's most robust offering, retails for around $6.29 a sixer.

Regardless of where you live, there are values galore in the world of beer. Whether you chose to brew your own or support your local economy by drinking at a brewpub or from a regional brewery, you can still be happy with the taste of your beer and the size of your wallet.

— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.

A connoisseur's guide to scoring cheap booze 06/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 9:50am]

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