Brewing beer at home changed the course of my life. At first it was merely a fun way to explore my drink of choice, and an excuse to hang out with friends. As time passed it became a larger part of my life, a side-hustle, a reason to travel, altered who I am. I always hated public speaking… unit I figured out that I’m engaging when I care about the material. I was never passionate about reading, researching, and writing, until they meant I could learn to brew better beer and share my passion. I met many of my friends at homebrew club meetings, through this blog, and homebrewing forums. I worked a boring government desk job for 12 years, until brewing allowed me to open a business!
Anecdotally over the last 30 years, American homebrewing has experienced three similar dips. Roughly the early-1990s, early-2000s, and the last few years. These coincide with three pivotal moments in commercial beer availability.
By the early 1990s most parts of the country had a selection of bottled craft beer from the likes of Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, not to mention a few local breweries. No longer were beer drinkers limited to macro lagers and stale impotrs, because hoppy pale ales, malty browns, and roasty stouts were available coast-to-coast. I’ve met a few former homebrewers who thought that was enough selection to make homebrewing superfluous. There were still plenty of people who wanted to drink a wider range of styles though, and that still meant brewing their own.
There have always been different types of homebrewers, different reasons they brew. There will always be homebrewers. Those who brew not to save money, or drink the “best” beer, but who love the process. Those who are passionate about recipe design, microbiology, botany, community. engineering, culinary techniques, and experimentation. For them craft beer is a source of inspiration, but not a replacement for the hobby!
I don’t view automated homebrewing systems as a threat to traditional homebrewing or a big boon for the hobby. If I hear one more new product that bills itself as the “Keurig” of beer… I’m going to lose it! It isn’t even like Keurig is synonymous with high quality coffee. I just don’t see any product that makes brewing that easy gaining a strong foothold because brewing beer involves more care than coffee and to-the-minute freshness isn’t as important. You can buy a six pack at the store for less than it takes to brew these, and enjoy a bottle each night. The automated systems will always make beer that isn’t as good as commercial, at a higher price-point. Not that automated wort production isn’t appealing (and useful) for homebrewers looking to devote less time to the process.
If this time is like the previous two lulls, homebrewing is due for another bounce. Maybe the continual push for novelty in craft brewing, extra-bold flavors, and lack of true originality turns people off. Lack of quality, high prices, poor quality control, beer that sits too long before being sold… honestly now that I know how good IPA tastes within a month of brewing, I rarely buy a six-pack off the shelf. Hopefully as more consumers become accustomed to really fresh beer at tasting rooms, they get interested in brewing it for themselves! Maybe the greater number of people drinking craft beer simply gets more people interested in brewing.
The second option is decline. As quality beer becomes more accessible the price will be pushed down, making it an even more attractive option for marginal-homebrewers. Homebrewing becomes an even more specialized/nerdy hobby, and we lose out on the vibrancy that new hobbyists bring.
My best guess is that we’re reaching stasis. There won’t be a return the levels of excitement and engagement we saw ten years ago. There will still be plenty of people who drink craft beer, and try their hand at homebrewing, but only enough to replace all of the homebrewers who stop to drink craft beer or join the industry.
Drinking beer wouldn’t have done the same thing for my life as homebrewing. An active engagement with brewing is the best way to really understand and appreciate beer. It caused me to learn and grow in areas that aren’t really connected to beer or brewing. I understand that drinking a beer and checking in on Untappd is no-risk (I wrote a couple hundred reviews on BeerAdvocate), but it doesn’t really lead to anything. Drinking beer is a diversion, brewing beer can change your life!