I bet if you asked the question “why do you home brew” to ten different brewers, you’ll end up with 10 different answers. There are of course overriding themes as to why people choose to make their own beer but it is a very personal experience. If you asked me, “what makes my beer special?” the answer I’d give you would be, “It’s simply because I made it”.
Like any hobby, home brewing can become an obsession. I know I have picked up more hobbies surrounding fermentation because of home brewing. It can take a while for it to reach that point, but home brewing is a hobby that requires time and patience. When it reaches the point where you’re knocking out brews every month or more, your reason for doing so may be completely different to why you started in the first place.
Reasons You Start Brewing
There are many reasons you might pick up home brewing in the first place. Maybe you’ve been given a gift, a beer kit for Christmas or a birthday present. I know that’s how many people start brewing and have even been given this gift myself. There are sometimes less obvious reasons.
It’s Cheaper Than Buying Beer
There’s nothing wrong or illicit in wanting to save money on beer. In the 1970’s when you could buy beer kits from Boots the chemist, it was largely motivated by the thinking that you could have a barrel full of beer for a fraction of the cost of commercial beer. Today there is still those cost benefits to home brewing. A decent beer kit costs around £25 – £30 and makes 40 pints. A pint in the pub where I live costs around £3.40.
It is true if you regularly buy a case of lager from the supermarket you’ll probably find there are no cost savings. If you drink unique beers, however, say Belgian Trappist beers, Double IPA’s or Smoked Porters the cost savings are dramatic. Even if you drink bottled ales from the supermarket you’ll save money.
Brewing Your Favourite Beer
When I first started brewing, cloning beer recipes was a major thing and it still is to a certain extent. Go on to any forum or recipe database and you’ll find the pages filled with clone recipes for commercial beers. Maybe your favourite beer is hard to come by or more expensive and then imagine being able to brew 40 pints of it, all created by you.
It’s not just a case of it being a way to have loads of your favourite beer on hand. It’s the thrill of being able to replicate the tastes and flavours of a beer brewed professionally. Knowing it is possible to match the big boys and all from the modest setting of your kitchen stove or shed. It is an homage to the brewery that makes the beer, BrewDog know this along with many other breweries and freely give out their recipes for home brewers to replicate themselves.
I know a few people who have started brewing beer simply because they have tried one of their friends batches, at a party or barbeque for example. The experience of trying someone else’s home brew can be revelatory in the sense that it is better than you might have imagined.
When you realise what is possible it can be the seed that means you start reading about brewing, buy the equipment and start making a few batches yourself. Being able to have your friends over and sharing a few beers you’ve made invokes a similar pleasure almost the same as having friends over and cooking them dinner for them. It’s about sharing and making people happy.
Outside of those who regularly brew their own beer, I don’t think brewing has that good of an image, here in the UK at least. It may be changing for the better but even I have heard people make derogatory comments about home brew. One of my favourites is on beer rating websites, you’ll see the comment that whatever beer they are rating, “tastes like home brew”. It is true home brew can be afflicted by off flavours especially when you are starting out. You will also find that some of the most popular and highly rated breweries around the world are started by home brewers.
Reason Why You Continue To Home Brew
Once you get a few brews under your belt, you build a little bit of knowledge and experience, the reason why you choose to brew certain beers is likely to change. Your plans for the hobby change and because, as a general rule, your beers get better as you brew you have a different outlook on home brewing.
The Home Brewing Community
You can end up spending more time obsessing with other people about home brewing than actually making beer. One of the greatest assets that home brewing has is the community that has grown around it. Thanks to the internet, you can learn from, share with and ask questions of hundreds of thousands of other home brewers around the world. Forums, recipe databases, competitions, websites (like this one 😉 ) and home brewing groups are all places you can talk to and share the hobby with people who have the same passion as you have.
If you do ever feel like you aren’t sure what you are doing and need advice or you just want to share how great your last batch is, there is an outlet to do it and those outlets are full of friendly helpful people.
DIY & Building Your Brewery
At some point you’ll get the bug, if you brew enough you sometimes think your equipment needs an upgrade. The building and upgrading of equipment becomes just as much a part of your home brewing philosophy as making beer.
You won’t be the only person that dreams of welding together a brewing sculpture, stainless steel pots and pumps to move wort throughout the process plus an electric control panel with automatic controllers and switches. This is where the money saved from brewing, instead of buying beer, tends to get swallowed up. It isn’t necessary to continually upgrade brewing equipment, plastic buckets and kettle elements will make a beer just as good as a £1000 custom made brewing rig. It’s the process of designing, building and tweaking that is enjoyable and if you enjoy doing something then, why not really go for it.
The Science & Technical Aspects
If you are really obsessive about brewing there are textbooks that could take you years to fully digest. Beer and brewing has it’s fair share of “you should do that, this way” and “you shouldn’t do that” parts. Whether that’s because it actually effect the beer or rather that it’s just how it’s always been done is another matter.
Experimenting and understanding brewing and beer is a major reason why some people brew. It can be in an effort to make the best beer you possibly can or it can be just to test something for example, like how one yeast strain behaves in comparison to another or getting water quality reports and adjusting your brewing water.
Creating a yeast bank where you prepare yeast cells on agar slants might not sound fun to everyone, but to others it definitely is.. Having 10 – 20 yeast strains on hand at a moments notice is great though, of course the yeast will need propagating up to a couple of hundred billion cells. That’s the fun part.
Home Brewing Because It’s Fun
As you progress through the hobby you take different aspects from it. You might enjoy delving into the technical details, others might treat home brewing as an art and throw in crazy ingredients. These aspects we all find enjoyable and you pick up different habits every time you brew. The only reason to do anything though is because it makes you happy.