That Was 2012 : Homebrewer’s Nation
Does it still have low-rent connotations outside our community? In our little bubble we know full well that homebrewing is not only alive but seemingly powered by a titanium heart, stomping across beer-drinkers psyche with beers as tasty – if not more – than a large portion of ‘commercial breweries’ out there.
The term still seems dated, though. This week, I found myself in a discussion at work with a colleague ‘whose dad homebrewed when I was a kid‘, and ended up exasperated and out of breath at trying to get across how the homebrewing landscape is today; the sheer experimentation of style, cross-pollination of technique, the collaboration with professionals. In much the same way I find myself trying to explain to vibrancy of Real Ale to someone whose notion of Cask Ale is all the clichés, I find myself describing modern homebrewing. It’s not homebrewing anymore; it’s Amateur Brewing, it seems.
What of the homebrew shop? There’s not that many any more; replaced by excellent direct suppliers like The Hop & Grape (Yes, I know they operate out of a shop) or The Malt Miller. The massive amount of archive material online, Recipes banks and forums coupled with the access to malt and hops of pretty much every hue is encouraging some amazing experimentation and innovation.
Of course, breweries are noticing too. Actually, they’ve always noticed, but the bar has been raised so high in the last couple of years that they are actually studying it. I’ve been involved in another project during the first part of this year that led me to interview a number of breweries, and the amount that started out as homebrewers goes without saying; the amount that still keep a hand in that scene and actively encourage the ‘amateurs’ is just as high. You only need to look at the excellent prizes offered by The Leeds Homebrew group to see that; a society with true links to professional brewers in their region. Homebrewers seem to have a level of influence not before enjoyed; and thus are being offered a level of access that perhaps would have only been dreamed of five years ago.
London Amateur Brewers are another example of a modern homebrew society, throwing off the 70’s stereotypes of ‘beer-in-a-bucket’ kit brewing and presenting something altogether more professional. Less Ken Shales – more Garret Oliver – seems to be the overarching feel of Homebrewing right now. This year’s National Homebrew Competition received over 400 entries. There are excellently organised societies – co-ordinating and working alongside Breweries – literally everywhere you look.
What’s behind this surge in popularity in homebrewing at the moment? Simply a greater interest in Beer, by a crowd of perhaps younger people, with more means to homebrew (Disposable income?). A simple thirst for knowledge, perhaps; best achieved by getting your hands dirty and getting stuck in? People used to extol the cost savings of Homebrew as a major justification; that hardly gets mentioned anymore – don’t you think? People are doing it for the love, no? Why do you do it?