In a funny sort of way, homebrewing has come full circle. Thirty-four years ago, our country’s 39th President, Jimmy Carter, signed H.R. 1337 which effectively legalized homebrewing nationwide. And now, shortly after another presidential election, our 44th President, Barack Obama, has released to the public his recipe for the first beer ever brewed on the White House grounds. The fact that this presidential beer—a honey ale—was made with honey gathered from the White House’s own hives is emblematic of what homebrewing has become today, a craft, like cooking (or beekeeping), that empowers people to do for themselves and rely less on packaged, processed, mass-produced food and beverages.
Were it not for Prohibition early in the 20th century, homebrewing may well have been the kind of basic home skill passed on from generation to generation like baking, pickling or hunting. But as we know, that dark period for imbibers had a lasting hangover that affected both the making and consumption of alcoholic beverages for decades. The craft beer revolution, which not coincidentally was kick-started by Carter’s pro-homebrewing legislation, put the artisanal craft of making beer back into the peoples’ hands (basically the definition of craft beer) and opened adventurous beer drinkers’ eyes to the flavor possibilities out there in the many different styles of beer that were increasingly becoming available.
Back in 1980 there were only eight craft breweries in the U.S., but after three decades of strong, steady growth, there are more than 2,000. While macrobrew sales are flat, craft beer continues to grow, even in a terrible economy. The rise in popularity of homebrewing has not only mirrored this growth, it has been further invigorated by the do-it-yourself, locavore foodie movement where people have discovered the satisfaction and challenge of making things from scratch. We don’t know if Martha Stewart has ever homebrewed, but it’s the kind of skill she’d surely approve of. If we can make bread from scratch, how much different or more difficult is it to brew our own beer?
A handful of homebrewers from around North America—of varying different skill levels and expertise—shared their experience and knowledge to encourage others to follow their lead.
From Drinker to Homebrewer
It’s not a given that just because we love to drink craft beer, it will inevitably lead us down the path to homebrewing. However, for an increasing number of people that is indeed the case. Their motivations and inspirations may differ, but their gateway generally started with wanting to peer behind the curtain, as it were. “I had been working in beer-centric places and having been a [craft beer] aficionado, I eventually wanted to know, ‘How do you make this?’,” Tim Fukushima, a 36-year-old homebrewer and lead brewer for Driftwood Brewery in Victoria, British Columbia, says. “I wanted to know more.”
For some that interest and curiosity follows a natural progression. “I started by drinking craft brew up here in the Pacific Northwest,” Troy Robinson, a 38-year-old stay-at-home dad who works part-time as a brewer at Mill Creek Brewpub in Walla Walla, WA, explains. “Friends who had family members who were homebrewing said it’s not that hard to do, you should check it out. I was super-excited to be able to make the same sort of beers I like to drink.”
Jeremy Tofte, whose Thai Me Up restaurant in Jackson Hole, WY, features a modest three-barrel nano-brewing set-up in the back, had a similar motivation, though it was one specific beer that set his homebrewing adventure in motion. “When I was 21 I lived in Bend, OR, and every Wednesday Deschutes brewery would have Obsidian Stout on tap. We could only get it every Wednesday because they didn’t bottle it yet and they didn’t have it on tap anywhere else. So my roommates and me started making beer because we wanted to have an Obsidian Stout every single night.”
Sometimes, though, it’s actually a killer homebrew that provides the inspiration. “I had a friend at Western Washington University that was a homebrewer,” Jonathan Perman, the 2012 Homebrewer of the Year at the National Homebrewing Competition says. “He let me try some of his beers and I was blown away by the quality of what you can make in your kitchen. I decided to try my hand at it.”