At a time when there are more than 3,000 breweries across the country, the options of finding a unique, tasty brew are easier than ever.
But it may be just as easy to find something novel in our own backyards – literally.
While breweries get plenty of worthy attention, there are now about 1.2 million Americans homebrewing beer scattered across the U.S., the most ever identified by the American Homebrewers Association. As the hobby has grown, it’s clear that there’s never been a better time to start homebrewing beer, and the AHA’s annual homebrew supply shop survey proves it.
“Now it is relatively easy to consistently brew beers that are just as good – if not better – than what you find on the store shelf or at the brew pub down the road,” said Ed Kraus, owner of E.C. Kraus Home Wine and Beer Making Supplies.
Here are three reasons why it’s a good time to start homebrewing beer:
1. It’s more accessible than ever
Many individuals began homebrewing beer because they’ve got a friend or family member who has been actively brewing. With over a million homebrewers now, there are more people to learn from.
Even better, gaining experience and learning about the homebrewing hobby is simple. Along with helpful websites like HomeBrew Talk, magazines like Brew Your Own or blogs like this one, people have access to answers to just about any question on homebrewing beer.
Some of this shows up in their purchases, too. Over the last three years, homebrew store owners have noticed a decrease in purchases for extract batches with an increase in all-grain. What used to be a big plunge for the beginner is now a first step when the they start homebrewing beer.
“All-grain is so much more fun than extract because you really get to dial in to every variable,” said Ashley Bower, a Columbia, South Carolina-based homebrewer who started with extract in 2010 and has made all-grain batches since November 2013. “Extract is a fantastic way to start homebrewing beer and you can make great beer as long as you have fresh extract. But if you want to dive a little deeper into the hobby, all-grain is the way to go.”
2. All ages are getting involved
According to the survey, last year saw a 24 percent increase in beginner homebrewing beer kit sales, but it’s who’s buying them that stands out. Homebrewers under the age of 30 have begun to decrease, while those 40 years old and up have seen a 5 percent increase in the last three years. The largest age range is still 30 to 39, which makes up just over half of all homebrewers, but that’s also changing.
“The hobby has become more mature,” Ed said. “I feel that it is only natural for the age range to become wider over time. We are to a point where many of the home brewers in their 50s were in their 20s or 30s when they started or tried homebrewing beer for the first time.”
Ed noted that’s made an interesting challenge for shop owners, as the range of ages and experiences between individuals homebrewing beer means homebrew shops need to be flexible in what kind of ingredients they carry. He said younger brewers have a fun time creating all sorts of experimental homebrews these days, while older homebrewers may hone in on more “classic” styles like a Russian imperial stout or English bitter to keep it simple.
3. We’re pushed by peers
Want to get better at homebrewing beer? You can get great feedback by entering local or national competitions, which homebrewers are now doing in droves. The most recent National Homebrew Competition was one of the most competitive fields of entries ever, with 8,172 homebrews judged in 2014 – a 45 percent increase in the number of competitors.
With more than 1,700 registered homebrew clubs in the U.S., more people are getting into the hobby and becoming more creative with the homebrews, meaning everyone has the potential to learn and become better at homebrewing beer.
“Meeting with other homebrewers who are homebrewing beer to taste and discuss your brews is a catalyst for competition participation,” Ed said. “Because of the clubs, homebrew competitions are easier to know about and easier to participate in than before, and the quality of ingredients and the availability of better brewing equipment has lent itself to the production of some outstanding homebrews.”
Now “is” a great time to start homebrewing beer, so why not celebrate? Find a new beer recipe, call a friend or two and raise a glass to the hobby of homebrewing!
Bryan Roth is a beer nerd and homebrewer living in Durham, North Carolina. You can read his thoughts on beer and the beer industry on his blog, This Is Why I’m Drunk, and send him suggestions on how to get his wife to drink craft beer via Twitter at @bryandroth.