Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Negative Perception of Homebrewing

One thing that I have noticed when I began to homebrew was that there was an inherent negative perception towards it in Ireland, and I would guess in any country where it is not an established practice. The negative perception comes from a belief that homebrewing is all about making cheap beer with lots of sugar that will get you drunk for cheap. There was certainly some element of this in Ireland as elsewhere, however homebrewing is much more complex and rewarding than this belief suggests. In order to get a better understanding of this it is important to look at a country that has led the way in terms of homebrewing, the US.

The Homebrewers Association in America purports to represent a community of 20,000 homebrewers. This is a startling number for what is in essence a niche hobby. Couple this with the hombrewers in America who are not members of the association and you could be talking about a brewing community somewhere near the six figure mark. By contrast Ireland has probably a few hundred active homebrewers! When you read American brewing forums you are constantly met with the acronym LHBS, at first I struggled to understand what this was until I leaned it meant Local HomeBrew Store. In America it would seem that the large active homebrewing community is supplied by a large network of local bricks and mortar shops that provide everything from equipment to ingredients, again contrast this to Ireland where there are two bricks and mortar shops and a couple of online outlets. Now many will argue that it is unfair to compare Ireland to the US, however it is simply used to make a point. And the point is that in an environment in which homebrewing is actively practiced and supported, it creates the platform on which craft breweries can emerge and be very successful. This has been demonstrated very clearly in the US in the last twenty years.

Grains I used to make my recent
ISO Standard Stout
Homebrewing has come a long way from the kit and kilo days of college bedsits. Today in Ireland all grain brewers are experimenting with techniques and ingredients that produce beers that are the equal of commercial examples and certainly far more flavoursome than the majority of draft beer sold in pubs. People unfamiliar with homebrewing look at me disbelievingly when I tell them that what I do with my homebrewing is exactly how commercial brewers make beer but on a smaller scale. The ingredients are the same; grain, hops, water and yeast. The techniques are the same; mashing, sparging, boiling and fermenting. The main difference is that due to the fact that homebrewing is done on such a small scale that the homebrewer has a lot more freedom to experiment. 

I hope that the attitude towards homebrewing in Ireland is changing. Some homebrewers have made the leap from back yard breweries to commercial enterprises, Dungarvan Brewing being the most recent example, and hopefully this trend is set to continue. If you are a homebrewer, or craft beer enthusiast, you should make it your mission to evangelise good beer, whether that is your own creations, or some of the excellent beers on sale in Ireland from micro breweries. Only through spreading the word will we in Ireland who appreciate beer make the case for more quality beers being stocked in our local off-licenses and pubs.

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