Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Is American Homebrewing Dying?

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… until 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!

That’s why I'm sad that homebrewing is on the decline in America. I see it at DC Homebrewer’s meetings, where there aren’t nearly as many fresh faces as there were five years ago. The closures of retailers, like the recent announcement from Love2Brew. The surveys from the American Homebrewer’s Association gives hard numbers: from 1.2 million homebrewers in 2013, to 1.1 million in 2017.

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.

A decade later with the opening and expansion of breweries like Allagash, Dogfish Head, New Belgium and hundreds more, the selection and availability of craft beer had exploded. You could find wit, kolsch, imperial stouts, apricot pale, IPA and a multitude more everywhere. Most cities had stores where you could pick from hundreds if not thousands of bottles. Again, some homebrewers didn’t see the need to keep brewing when they could drink a solid example of pretty much any style. Still though, many homebrewers wanted greater variety, unique flavors, and ultra-fresh beer.

Now we’re in another slide. With more than 6,000 breweries spread across the country, most Americans can take a short drive to visit a different brewery tasting rooms every week for a few months without repeating. Not only that, but the old model of four core beers, four seasonals, and a couple special releases is  gone. Many breweries are producing 50 or more beers each year. The variety is staggering, and again many former homebrewers are happy to reduce their risk/effort and sample as many new beers as they desire. Not only is homebrewing suffering, but so are many of the breweries from those previous waves… Smuttynose, Green Flash etc.

In the chart below, the red line represents Google searches for "Brewery" the blue is "Homebrewing." December 2008 is the closest they have been (29 to 13), while July 2018 was the furthest (100 to 5). That's to say that while search interest in breweries has more than tripled over the last ten years, during the same time interest in homebrewing has dropped in half.

Where does homebrewing go from here?

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.

Homebrewing Matters

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!


Denny Conn said...

Mike, ya know I love ya, but you're off base on a coupe things. First, the reason Homebrewi g is declining has a lot more to do with lifestyle than availability of craft beer. Sure, that's a factor but loom at the rise of the maker culture. People are VERY interested in doing things for themselves, but it has to fit in with their busy lives. That's why you're seeing so many all in one systems out there. That's why (self serving plug) our next book is titled "Simple Homebrewing". People want any easy, fun activity that fits in with their lifestyles, not am all encompassing religion like it was 20 years ago. And in that respect, your bias is showing. Those all in one systems, whether the make 20 gal. or a 6 pack, are perfect for those people. Have you used any of them? When I first saw the Zymatic, my first words were DO NOT WANT! Then I tried one. I loved it. I giggled because it was so much fun. I've tried a few others with the same reaction. What you have to do is get over thinking that YOUR definition of brewing is the only definition. Dude, it's HOMEBREWING! Every person gets to define it for themselves. I would think you'd cheer anything that gets people involved in brewing and the enjoyment of craft beer. Those systems allow people with physical limitations or those who live in parts of the world where craft beer isn't available to get involved in the good beer world.

OK, I'm rmbiling now and you know how I can do that! But I urge you to expand your view beyond your own back yard. There are LOTS of ways to brew we need to embrace all of them.

Denny Conn said...

And I guess to make it a complete rant, I need to point out (as you did to some extent) that the Keurig comparison is only valid if you drink the wort straight out of these machines! Since they simply produce wort and you have to do fermentation, packaging, etc. they do bring people into the world of homebrewing and learning about beer.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

As I noted, the thought of automated wort production certainly has its appeal. I just don't see products that cost $1000+ being a large segment on the market. It's more then "pod" type models like the Pico-C that I don't seeing holding someone's attention long term. I hope that it and similar products fill the same role as Mr. Beer did for many years, an gateway to the hobby where you control more of the variables (whether that means turning a knob, or programming a set-point).

What's causing the "lifestyle" change though? Are other similar hobbies seeing the same drop?

Jeff Glackin said...

I agree Mike. I think the "machines", automation, and electric systems requiring additional electrical work at home, ect are scaring a lot of new people off. Many of these gadget whores are giving the impression that you can't make good beer without having a fancy system and stainless conical fermenters with glycol chillers etc.

I also think many of the homebrew stores are closing because they are poorly operated and failed to adapt to e commerce. Most of their website are hideous. I prefer to buy local but often times local creates frustration that sucks the fun out of the hobby.

In my homebrew club the guy that makes the best beer consistently and wins a lot of medals still uses a simple setup. Basic kettle, propane burner, and ferments in buckets.

I think the gadgets are really cool, I am sometimes even envious, but I try to spread the message that homebrewing doesn't require huge investments to have a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Being an economist, I find it strange you didn't mention anything about income. Homebrewing is expensive and has always been practiced by people with more expendable income. With the widening income gap decimating the middle class and a shrinking proportion of qualified people becoming retirees, it seems odd that nothing was mentioned about that.

Anonymous said...

"Drinking beer is a diversion, brewing beer can change your life!"

Love this comment Mike. So true and well said.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'm sure that is the issue for some of the businesses (in the same way some breweries close despite the overall trend of growth in craft beer). That said, I've heard about the sales dip across such a wide-range of stores that it is hard to blame individual businesses for the overall trend.

The usual argument is that homebrewing does well in times of recession as people look for ways to save money (make beer instead of buy beer). The added wrinkle could certainly be that more people are renting apartments in cities rather than buying houses, which makes homebrewing more difficult. At least around here it seems like plenty of people have enough money to go out and drink beer at local breweries (thank goodness) and that is money and time that could be dedicated to making beer at home.

Dave Lindberg said...

This is the main reason I stopped. I used to own a home, but recently needed to get in an apartment. My friends are now asking for my craft brews. I may start again. Home brewing can be a low cost way to make craft beer.

Unknown said...

I don't think the availability of craft beer is a factor for most home brewers. Certainly not for me. Home brewing is a creative endeavor and trying to brew beers that match or exceed those of my favorite craft beers is the goal. I do agree with another commenter about more people renting apartments which makes it harder to brew, Many young people who in my generation started brewing after renting our buying their first home. Now the job market is such that these same young people don't have as much disposable income and home brewing is not a cheap hobby. So I think means may play a bigger role than a lack of interest. The growth in BIAB electric brewing systems should help. I know I brew a lot more often now that I use a single vessel brew in a stainless basket induction-based system. This allows me to brew indoors and there is less cleaning and sanitation time

Chris G said...

In my 20 years of homebrewing there seems to be a common thread that what is available in the craft world does not really match what styles I'm brewing and drinking at the time. Obviously there are some exceptions. I'm so bored with NE IPA dominating every taplist (and I'm in New England) but I can't get a quality West Coast Pale on tap from a local brewer, so I brewed one. No one make Milds, no one around me pushes out a solid English Bitter, so I brew them b/c it is what I want to drink. Belgian styles were all the rage but just 5 years ago - try finding a well made Belgian Blonde at 5% at your local brew pub. I love those, so I brew them. I'm reading that wine/beer blended beers are going to be all the rage this year - I don't care at all, I'd rather have a well made British Golden brewed with Golden Promise & EKG. Having control of what I want to drink and freshness is what will always keep me in this hobby.

Ryan Donnelly said...


A nice article, but I would call out a couple of things:

1. Almost all retail is struggling, and the move to e-commerce being the largest driver. So to single out local home brew supply stores, is not necessarily fair. I don't have the data, but my hypothesis would be that their closure occurs at a rate similar to other retail closures.

2. I agree with you that with so many great commercial examples available to us as beer consumers now, that there will be some loss of active home-brewers as it's much easier to get your hands on great beer. Probably not a huge driver, but fair to say it most affect some.

3. Regarding less attendees at home brew meetings, I think what you're quantifying is actually behavioural changes in the younger generation. Again, this is extremely well documented, and lots of hand-waving arguments made. I hate to speak in generalisation, but lack of human interaction with a focus on digital fora is a well known problem. I'd encourage you to read The Atlantic article called "The Sex Recession" which goes into great depth on one such human interaction in decline vs. prior generations (I will not say more!).

4. I think there could be general market forces in play here with so many local breweries. Eventually the market must become saturated with small scale breweries, no? When/if this happens, this could favour an uptick in home-brewing.

Alistair Reece said...

In a similar vein to Chris G, I brew mainly to have something to drink that I can't get in a brewery or bar. Given that so few breweries bother with styles like bitter, mild, altbier, or Czech lagers other than pilsner, what choice do I have, other than drinking stale versions of Landlord or Uerige for example?

I have also garnered something of a reputation as the guy that brews for house concerts hosted by my wife's fiddle teacher and regularly such events go through a couple of 5 gallon kegs.

While I don't brew as much as I used to, or would like, as a result of having toddler twins, it is still probably my number one hobby.

I don't get people who spend thousands of dollars on their homebrew kit, my kit is as basic as I can get away with and I still make perfectly good beer that stands up to stuff made on automated systems.

Once upon a time I brewed for competitions as well but that became boring after a while, and I couldn't be bothered to learn how to bottle off a keg.

Unknown said...

I started brewing in Columbia, MD in 1990 and had to travel all the way to DC to join a club called BURP (which is still around). Homebrew shops were far and few between. Within 5 years they were just about everywhere. Gathering equipment to brew all grain was tough, but now we've hacked the brewing process with automation and all in one systems. Unfortunately, I took a long hiatus from brewing and jumped back in about 5 years ago (kids and jobs). I was amazed at the equipment and the easy in which you can brew now. Unfortunately, with ease came the expense. Grainfathers, eBIAB, PicoBrew etc are expensive! Plus, who has the time anymore? I think what you are seeing is the general decline in hobbies around the world. People are working harder and spending less leisure time on on things they like. I have to admit one of the reason I got out of brewing about 15 years ago was how long it took to make a batch of beer (That has changed with BIAB and automation). Of course the big thing is the craft brewery explosion. I suspect when times are good, the hobby declines and when times are bad it goes up. I bet the next recession brings in more homebrewers and kills off 1/2 the craft breweries.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...


1. Love2Brew had a pretty big online presence (I am an affiliate for them and often ordered East Coast Yeast through them). Certainly could be that more people are flocking to the biggest online stores, or ordering through eBay/Amazon.

3. Certainly could be younger people aren't getting into the club-part of the hobby, but that doesn't explain why we aren't seeing new folks in the 30-70s joining. It's also just one piece. Hard to quantify total online homebrew-forum participation (especially since so much has moved to Reddit, Facebook Groups etc.), but as I noted generic web searches are down.

Sliprose said...

As someone who has homebrewed off and on for 30 years, I often think about the topics you've addressed. I sometimes wonder if the decline in homebrewing is due to the fact that commercial breweries are producing variants faster than consumers can try them. A few years ago, homebrewers were creating beers that were never available for purchase. Now, there are rare instances when a commercial brewery produces something that I haven't had before. There's been a decline in attendance at the 30+ year old MidAtlantic Homebrewer's Campout (MASHOUT) that doesn't track with the growth in recent years of craft beer. Why don't people go to an event where there is unlimited free beer, maybe because of the homebrew stigma? I'll file that in things I don't understand.

Anyway, homebrewing has been around for thousands of years, it will survive in some form - that I guarantee. Like all things, it will change. The past few years, I've rarely brewed beer over 5% and less hoppy. A trend or personal preference?

Unknown said...

As a damn millennial, I was certainly brewing a lot more 3-5 year ago, after the craft beer boom got me interested in craft beer, I was involved in several different homebrew clubs, and even served as an club officer. I got good at brewing all-grain and made lots of it for my friends. But somewhere along the way the craft cocktail boom got me more interested in cocktails, after all the beer and cocktails I noticed the development of a slight beer belly, not good, so over time I found myself getting more interesting in craft whisky and Scotch. It turns out that the craft cocktail movement has led to a bourbon/whisky boom, which we are currently experiencing. At this point there is so much great craft beer on the market I don't need to homebrew in order to get an interesting novel beer. I'll still be involved in various homebrew clubs for social reasons, and will continue to occasionally brew my favorite recipes, but homebrewing doesn't hold the same passion that it once did. Also, in this economy where the middle class continues to erode, I find my self needing to focus more time on career advancement. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Is a difference of 100,000 people really a decline? That's less than a 10% difference and who knows how accurate the AHA data gathering is . . .

Anonymous said...

I own a homebrewing store, and I can chart the decline. 2014 was the most I ever made, and it has declined every year since then, by about 15% a year.

Same with the local homebrew club. There was 100 people in 2012, now it is down to 40.

You have seen it with hop prices too, those are getting smashed as people overproduced hops thinking beer would take off as it did in the past.

Small breweries will close. People are drinking less beer, even though you can get a brew at the barber.

I don't know what the future will hold, but if you are in the beer business, get ready for more pain today, and probably more pain tomorrow.

Sorry boys, party is over.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The big difference with the AHA numbers is that it is a decline after many years of growth. The 2009 to 2013 numbers suggested that there were many more new brewers, shops were selling more, membership was up etc.

Unknown said...

I have brewed 450+/- batches over the last 13 years and my total equipment cost including kegs and chest freezer kegerator is under $1,000

Unknown said...

Totally different hobby, but I read recently that golf is experiencing a similar decline, mostly due to time commitment. More people are getting into mountain biking and other hobbies that fit into their schedule better. Golf courses are offering shorter packages, like five holes that can be squeezed in after work, as an alternative.

Murray McCain said...

I'd disagree with one assertion in your well put post. We are not working more, we are working less. Just 150 years ago no one except kings and dukes or some such had the means to vacation. Now people on varying degrees of assistance, as in the poorest of American society, manage occasional vacation albeit with family help often playing a part. In 2014 iirc we passed the threshold of more dollars being spent on eating out than on home cooking/food. People are at home less, but it's due to disposable income rising, not working more hours per se. Generally as you point out economic strain boosts homebrewing which the data supports, but you also argue that due to economic strain people are working more with less true. They can't generally be true can they?(not to make a binary argument it's clearly a sliding scale)

I say this as someone who works 2 jobs while planning a brewery, studying for tests to keep my job, serving a family with an autistic child, and a child and wife with autoimmune issues. I've got a lot on me but it isn't the reason I homebrew. I homebrew to save money and because it's a passion. Like Mike homebrewing changed my life!

Murray McCain said...

It's cyclical, most of the human experience is. Economies are. Nations are. However Papazzian's hbc address strikes at the root, one root of many, the hobby is often seen as nerdery, work, expensive, clannish, or a plethora of other things that are not what a hobby should be... FUN! To that end I'd say shops and clubs should be focused more on fun simple beer and less on the humongous gadgety home brewery and triple hopped imperial double decocted lacto infused lactose sweetened ginger carrot imperial Berliner pastry weiss. Fun, make it fun, simple, rewarding, and not so clickish/clannish.

RW said...

I feel that the major decrease in homebrewing is that fact that everyone is out for instant gratification today. Everyone has gotten so used to having everything at their fingertips. (That is why all the new fully automated brewing systems have hit the market, making is faster and easier). Well home brewing is not an instant gratification hobby. Brewing beer is 75 to 80% cleaning and sanitation, 10 to 15% waiting (fermentation) the remaining time is brewing.

You also must have room to homebrew and a place to ferment. Living in an apartment does have limitations, but I know several great home brewers who live in apartment.

I love to brew beer! I dream about brewing. Yes, I dream about brewing! Home brewing has became a very large part of my life and has been a rewarding hobby.

At the end of the day it all falls back on us. We must continue to homebrew, share our knowledge and educate others in homebrewing.

Mike, I have always enjoyed your page and have learned a lot from you page, and many, many others out there. Keep up the great work my friend.


Humebrew said...

"triple hopped imperial double decocted lacto infused lactose sweetened ginger carrot imperial Berliner pastry weiss"

I'd try that :-)

Anonymous said...

Homebrewing is getting expensive. It's easier to buy beer then to make it. Even Target and Walmart sell craft beer now. I have a better job and make more money than in 2007. I cut way back on homebrewing as a result.

Jose Quinones said...

Hi Mike! As usual, this is a well-reasoned commentary with supporting empirical data behind it. I would also add that Ron Rivers from Love2Brew discusses all the market forces specifically in homebrewing and in the larger information economy in Episode 042 of the Brulosophy podcast

I own a LHBS and we deal with all of the same issues Ron discusses, and also many of the issues you bring up in this post. Our HBC has solid membership but we only seem to recruit one or two new, relatively young members per year.

Unknown said...

All good points. Much truth in them all, but let me add this. As a 3rd generation home brewer, I have turned many people onto the fun of home brewing, met many who used to homebrew, and met many more who want to but are scared to start. My local homebrew shops are well staffed and friendly. I have served my beer at craft beer festival's and it seems the homebrewers section are always the busiest area. That said, I went to the meeting of the largest homebrew club in January of this year and was one of 3 new people, yet not a soul other than one other new guy even spoke. The president of the club took time to speak since I know him and that was about the hard press I was giving to the Craft Beer Assoc to let in homebrewers. The next week he announced his club would be serving THEIR homebrew and the fight was over for the club because THEY had gotten in, leaving all others out. Part of the problem is the homebrewers themselves are not as welcoming as many in the past. Just my 2 cents......brew..

Unknown said...

I agree with MF to an extent but, if my homebrew club is any type example (THIRSTY HOMEBREW, Iowa City, IA), we continually expand and contract, but mostly expand. Tastes change and brewing techniques seem to get more involved, but the interest and growth is still there.

Some homebrewers who were members of my club did cite the availability of more styles/craft brews as reasons they brew less or stopped brewing, but at least double that number said they were inspired to start or continue to brew by the craft brewing industry. I know that I am continualy amazed at the ingenuity and creativeness of my fellow brewers. I have been brewing for over 20 years and still learn new things at every meeting/gathering of homebrewers, or brewery tour that I take. Although this might make my wife cry to hear it, I plan to brew (and drink the beer I brew!) until I am physically unable to do so.


Gary Gavin

Marcos Junior said...

I don't that Homebrewing is at decline. Instead I think that, as you said, the diversion is over.
You can learn anything on the Internet, from play guitar to make cheese at home. But , man, you'll never make quality music or divine homebrew without inspiration and love for it!
That's why I think who loves the process will never give up.

Brew North said...

RE: automated wort production, if only there was a cheaper way to EXTRACT that sweet goodness from grain...

Also, I think the next big wave in homebrewing is going to be just that, home brewing. Why do we need to be replicating commercial brewing. ( Who cares about mash efficiency when all you're talking about is +/- a pound or two of grain. What more important is consistency between batches. ) It may be milking the regional funk or replicating Scandinavian brewing techniques or brewing with regional ingredients. We'll be creating regional variants of farmhouse or country estate beers based on local water, available fermentation temps, and available ingredients.

For me, a home without fermentation is just a building that you sleep in.



Unknown said...


I am not in a position to comment on the community at large. I am one of the little people. My personal experience aligns with some of what you suggest. I started brewing in the late 90's. I was motivated by an interest in the process and trying beer styles I could not easily purchase. At the time I lived in the southeast which meant I had the space to brew and relatively limited access to a variety of styles. I moved to Germany. I didn't have the space to brew and I figured, "hey, I am in Germany...why brew?". After about a year I had to figure out a way to brew a few batches because I missed "West Coast" style beers. I moved to the deep south. Again, I had the space and less access to craft beer. That was my most productive homebrewing period but I was totally dependent on online shops. I moved to California. I had limited space, my job demanded more of my time and I had nearly unlimited access to great beer. I brewed one time in three years and that was only because I could actually drive to MoreBeer and I figured I had to do it at least once. After that I returned to the south....well, Texas. I have the space and I am brewing again but these days I brew 3 or 4 core house beers and the rest is as you said; grocery stores, specialty bottle shops/bars, and probably at least 30 tasting rooms within a few hours. I still love the hobby. I read all the books/blogs/mags and listen to all the podcasts but when the weekend comes it is just too easy to try (buy) something great I heard about rather than devoting a big chunk of the weekend to brewing.

I started with Mr. Beer. Quickly moved to Denny's stainless braid cooler and a bayou classic pot. Then on to Blichmann Boilcoils, chillers, grainmills, 6 tap keezers, computer controlled ferment chambers, etc., etc. Last year my wife bought me a Grainfather for my birthday. I probably would not be brewing today if she didn't (perhaps accidentally) realize that I needed to simplify my process in order to continue enjoying the hobby. Brulosophy Short & Shoddy and Basic Brewing Video quick 6 packs episodes motivate me the most these days.

Sorry, don't know why I am spilling my brewing life story on your page. I really appreciate your work.

Unknown said...

OK so I'm going to preface this with the fact that I'm drunk. I home brew 10 gallon batches around 5-6 times/yr. I agree that there are a million choices for commercially made beer and I see that could be a reason for not homebrewing but when I go to Binnys or wherever I feel so overwhelmed that I usually don't pick up anything at all! Sure there may be tons of amazing beer waiting for me there on the shelf but I'm in an analysis paralysis mode. I'll just pick up a pack of beer from a brewery I know and trust and leave the other (probably awesome) beers behind. Plus I wish more breweries would list their "packaged on" date, esp for IPA.

I'm still very interested in making my own beer and it's never crazy bret or fruit. I just want to make good beer that's FRESH!

As far as why the hobby waxes and wanes, I'm not sure and I'll leave that up to smarter people like you. I do tie homebrewing in with the DIY culture. I smoke meat, make my own pizza dough, extract herbs for tinctures, and garden like a mfker. I lump that all in with homebrewing.

Sorry for the nonsense post. Love your site!

Unknown said...

Stimulating post. I am enjoying the comments as well as the original post. I am in my 4th year of home brewing and it is definitely a big part of my life.

Personally, this past year, I did not brew nearly as often as previous years. I think maybe 4 or 5 times total vs once a month previously. Part of this was due to moving to night shift. This puts a lost day in every weekend and leaves me scrambling to meet personal obligations (obligations may be the wrong term) to my wife and home.

To my motivation for commenting: I love brewing! I love the quiet diligence it requires. I love the art of creation and learning from the failures. My greatest reward is not that of my own palate, but the palate of those who try my work. When I pour my beer for someone and they ask if there is enough for another.

I love learning different styles and know that brewing one specific style as an exercise is a strong learning/training practice but find myself all over the place just because there are so many wonderful styles out there and I want to crack the process.

Process; this, I believe, is the driver for the trend. I don't feel many have the patience for the process. Even in my work place, there SOP's for a reason. I find fewer and fewer are familiar with these processes.

Back to brewing: brewing requires process. Processes take time, focus and diligence. And most of all- patience.

I believe patience may be the ultimate reason. In the 90's there was a sort of 2nd generation hippie thing- the non-political parts. Being mellow, creating art, etc. It was everywhere.

Now it seams everyone is focused on themselves and their need to be wherever (physically or existentially) immediately.

So, I'll ask, is patience a player in the decline?

Unknown said...

Great post!

I’d like to add some thoughts if that is ok.

The decline in homebrewing, I believe, is most linked with the proliferation of craft beer. The homebrewers of yesteryear, who were making unique and interesting beers at home that could not be found on shelves or taps, are now brewing these beers commercially.

Today’s average homebrewer can find almost any beer they can dream up either at one of the local breweries or on store shelves at their closest Total Wine or BevMo.

The craft brewery marketspace has grown exponentially faster than the growth of craft beer as a whole. It has become an extremely crowded brand space that accounts for 13% of the total US beer market share.

How do craft brewers stand out from the pack in such a crowded space? How do they generate attention, notoriety, and brand novelty that lead to increased sales? By being the LOUDEST in the room. By producing the most unique, sometimes insane, beers possible. See “glitter beer”, “pancake beer”, most “pastry stouts” in your search engine of choice for examples of this. Just so happens that these LOUD beers also garner the highest ratings and sell the fastest. Compare highest ratings of “Extra Special Bitter” and “Imperial Stout” on any ratings website/app… highest rated Imperial Stouts brewed with adjuncts and aged in spirit barrels will consistently pull in 4.5-5 stars, whereas the highest rated classic styles will be lucky to pull in 3.5-4 stars.

This arms race to produce the most insane beers to garner the most attention has, in my opinion, usurped the creative fun of the homebrewer. Craft brewers chase notoriety, social media followers, Untappd beer ratings, and taproom sales projections by utilizing such extreme forms of creativity. It just is not as exciting for most people to reproduce a product that has already been made. It is not as exciting for most people to travel previously charted territory. Most homebrewers, I would venture to guess, did not get into homebrewing to produce the most technical beers they could produce. They got into homebrewing to produce beer that nobody else was producing.

So, in a craft beer industry that pushes the creative limits at an exponential race to madness… what draw does the current homebrewer have to dive deep into the hobby?

For me… I hope to make the quietest beers in the room. What brings me the most joy is, giving the middle finger to the creative arms race, brewing beer that reminds me of the American craft beer market circa 2008. Core styles of beer brewed exceptionally well. Simple beer. Fresh beer. Beer flavored beer. Social media following, beer ratings, sales figures be damned!

Unknown said...

I grew up in a very culinary family, as well as one that appreciated fine beverages. So to me homebrewing seemed like the logical step, and for me it is hopefully a stepping stone to brewing professionally. But more than anything the two main reasons I brew are 1. Pride in making a well made product. I traded for a while because I really enjoy craft beer. But I just found I couldn't really take pride in posing with someone else's hard work, and acting as if that makes me special. And 2. And the more important reason is I don't always want to drink a certain style. I may want to drink a beer that doesn't fit any current trending style guidelines, and it might not fit into any known BJCP category, so that no one is brewing it. But I can see the beer I want to drink in my mind, so I brew it. And on the other hand finding the exact beer you're in the mood for isn't always something you can do, even in the case that the styles already exists. Just like 15 years back if someone wanted an IPA, but specifically wanted an NEIPA you most likely couldn't go to a brewery and get one, but you can always brew the beer you want Yourself!

Daddy0 said...

My favorite "local" homebrew store was a 50 mile drive. My last purchase from them was $200 worth of grains and yeasts that I was going to use for upcoming brew sessions. About 2-3 weeks later they announced they were closing up shop. This was a shop that was worth the drive and was heavily supported. Shortly after they closed the news broke that INBEV bought Northern Brewer. So I think a lot of these homebrew shops closing is due more to INBEV getting into the homebrew supplies business (even Amazon is selling more and more homebrew stuff). After 10 years of homebrewing, I too have become a brewer that is more interested in "Quieter" beers that can be enjoyed. I think some of the breweries are starting to pay more attention to the older style of beers, because people who will come back are more interested in a beer that they can enjoy. Too many of these breweries miss the mark with their outrageous beers that are over hopped or don't even resemble beer. Ya you might get me to try one pint of it, but am I going to try another one (or even come back)?

Anonymous said...

Homebrewing "trended" upward and now falls back to someplace between where it was 10 years ago and where it was at the apex. It's a trend - not a change. This is the way people work. They get excited about something and then move on. Those that have not moved on and are not likely to are wondering, "Where did everyone go?" and those that moved on are wondering, "What's next?" Both POV make sense to me.

m said...

Liked the article loved the comments. Been homebrewing for 30+ years. For me it's a great hobby. Interestingly enough right now I'm drinking one of Mikes pre-Sapwood recipes: Saison 'Merican - Hoppy Funk, using the Bootleg Biology yeast that bears his name. Delicious.

Anonymous said...

All over the world, alcohol consumption is expected to decline as the drinking habits of young people are changing. If they do not drink, why would they start homebrewing.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Certainly if someone doesn't drink any alcohol it would be unlikely for them to be interested in homebrewing. However, more people seem to be interested in doing things for themselves. Rather than drinking a six-pack of mass-market pale lager, they might drink a single homebrewed IPA.

Junkyard Jesse said...

This was an interesting read in hindsight, knowing it was written right on the eve of an event that affected society pretty significantly over the past two years. I know that working from home and being able to drink and brew beer more or less whenever I wanted really had an impact on my homebrewing habits.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Talking to a couple local homebrew stores they certainly saw a big bump last spring, but it doesn't sound like many of those people stuck wit the hobby. I'm sure it hasn't hurt, but I'd guess that breweries shipping, delivering etc. has distracted some people from brewing their own. There are also all those people who like the social aspect of the hobby, not as many parties and meetings to bring beers to the last year or so!

David Moberg said...

Interesting article. I stumbled upon it as I was researching homebrew suppliers since I'm getting back into the hobby after a 12+ year hiatus.

I first starting brewing back in the mid 90s for several reasons; taste, freshness, variety, and the science (I'm a Medical Laboratory Tech). Back then, because there were several homebrew supply shops in the Twin Cities in competition, prices for equipment and ingredients were such that I could brew two cases of high quality stout for less than the cost of Guinness. Not to mention Sierra Nevada or Doghead.

I had to quit because I was finding myself living in places where I didn't have the room to brew and store equipment, nor the time to dedicate. I'm now own my own house and have more free time.

Since I have to start over (lost my old stuff in a divorce) I have to buy everything again. Thankfully I have a really decent job and therefore have the luxury of getting everything at once and don't have to step up gradually. However, I am amazed at how expensive things have gotten over the past 20 years.

15 bucks for a case of bottles!!! 50 bucks for a carboy!!! Kegs are over a C note used!!!

If homebrew suppliers want to attract more hobbyists into the craft, they should think about prices. A decent beginners kit will set someone back $250 to $300. Much more if someone wants to do full mash. I opted for a "Deluxe Beginners Kit" (two glass carboys, bottling bucket, caps, capper, tubing, bottle brush and extract kit), bottles, brew kettle, spoon, hydrometer, extra 5 gal carboy, bottle washer, bottle drying stand, carboy handles, etc... and I'm over $600 in already just on equipment!

Entry into the hobby shouldn't cost half a paycheck.

Perhaps that's why there's a dip in membership at a time when one would think MORE people would be getting into it because of a "pandemic" closing people off from bars and shops.

And to think so much of this thread is about automated mashing which is too expensive for the average homebrewer and really not necessary for most people to enjoy homebrewing. I know I would rather set up a couple of coolers like I had before...

...which now cost $300!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

David - your prices are off. Try Northern Brewer. Decent prices. I recommend plastic carboys. MUCH lighter, safer, and easy to clean. Get the Big Mouth bubbleres, they are easier for dry hopping and such.

Join a homebrew club and buy in bulk with them. Your costs will go down exponentially. And explore the new homebrewing systems. They are great. I use a BrewEasy as I have had 2 back surgeries. The equipment is much lighter and compact. You can get much cheaper all-in-ones, just look around. The web has made homebrewing much easier in a lot of ways!

Unknown said...

The post above says a lot. (try northern Brewer).

I personally feel like homebrew stores grow the market. Most homebrew stores host or in some major way support the brew clubs. If brew stores and brew clubs are on opposites of supporting the brewing community then one of them has to go. There isn't enough customers to support buying cheap at your club and hoping your store stays alive by spending very little.

Maybe the old brew store model is just dead. I actually wouldn't advocate either way. The advent of internet shopping may have taken too many customers from the delicate balance. One way or another, ingredients need to be localized to grow brewing communities. Last thing you want is one missing ingredient the day before brewing when amazon is three days away.

Will the classic brew store go away and be replaced by a much wider growth of brew clubs?

One way or another it benefits us all if there are more brewers.