Why Homebrew?

Elspeth enjoying a glass of wine after a hard evening's illumination

Why should I make beer, mead, and wine at home?  It’s a heckuva lot of work, and takes weeks at best and sometimes years I have a product to show for my labors.  There are increasing numbers of small breweries out there making just lovely things to drink, and it’s fun to “discover” them.  So why do I bother with the bottle washing, yeast coaxing, temperature controlling, recipe balancing, and all the rest of the fuss and flather of making brews at home?

It took some serious heart-to-heart with other homebrewers to get really clear on this.

I brew for the craft of it first.  I love to make things in general.  If I didn’t have specific goals to turn out high-quality products, I’d be making tacky hooked rug kits from the craft store.  For me to want to achieve and improve, I have to like the end product.   I love the beauty of the brews – the look of them in the light, the aroma, really well-balanced flavors. It’s just delightful.

I’m finally getting to the point where I’m comfortable arguing for freshness and quality control in my own beverages; my results are getting more and more predictable. I have a sense of pride in my achievement there.

I don’t drink much, myself, but if I’m going to do all the work to brew a batch, it’s rarely less than 5 gallons at a time.  That’s way more than I can drink by myself, and there’s always something else I want to make.  I accrue stockpiles.  Hence I always have something to share, and am always welcome at parties.  That’s awfully nice.

Having a hobby is good: if you’re a tinkerer, there’s plenty of opportunity to build perfectly reasonable, very useful equipment, which of course can always be improved upon.  I probably spend as much time reading and researching as I have actually brewing.   It turns out I love to read and write about brewing history.  I’m not sure I can tell you why, other than it’s a window into every day life in other times.  It’s given me a way to reach out and meet new people, and brewers tend to be pretty nice and definitely laid back.  C’mon, the motto of the national organization is “Relax, have a homebrew”.  You can’t beat that for attitude.

That’s pretty much it, for me.  My friend Misha says that a good reason for him is the satisfaction of having something hand-made, hand-crafted.  He loves being able to point at something and say, ‘I made that’.

Quality control is a reason I hear a lot.  If you’re reasonably careful, you can make better beer than you can usually buy.  It’s certainly fresher, and hasn’t been shipped and shipped again and left sitting on a shelf for a while until you came along.  Not that I wish to sneer at our amazing food-distribution system, which is a marvel in and of itself.  The old Soviet Union never figured that one out.

Maybe price matters.  Misha figures that, not counting equipment, he can make his beer for around 25 cents a bottle without much effort at cost-saving.  The tools of home brewing are one-time purchases, which amortize pretty quickly if you want to look at that angle.

I think there is a certain percentage of home brewers who do it to keep The Man at bay, though I’m not at all sure how many that is.  We have national laws on how much alcohol you can produce in a year, laws that say you can’t distill your own alcohol, laws that say you can’t put alcohol in the mail;  That last one is a shame, I periodically want to send someone a gift bottle, but even a commercially purchased, sealed bottle of wine is verboten.   If you make your own beer or wine you’re one step further away from someone else controlling what you drink or what you do, I guess.  This argument doesn’t call me, but I do see the sense in it.

Then I come back to the point that if word gets out that you make pretty good beer, you get invited to lots of parties…

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