A Look at American vs British Home Brewing

Note: The Professor, being a bit anal, did correct a few minor spelling and capitalization errors: hopefully they weren’t culturally based. And this may seem an odd entry: but think only 20 or so years ago how far behind we were compared to the Brits when it comes to beer. A bit of perspective on how much things have changed provided from across the big pond.

Posted by Neil at mashspargeboil.com

Recently I read a forum post on the brilliant Jims Beer Kit Forum about the differences between American vs British Home Brewing. It’s something I have thought about a bit so I wanted to write a post here inspired by that forum topic.

Let me clear up something straight away, I am British, so naturally my point of view is as a British home brewer. I picked up a few key points from the discussion and want to add my view about them below.

Equipment

It’s plain to see that America has better equipment available to the home brewer than us Brits. Pretty much everything my beer touches is made out of plastic, from the fermentor, the mash tun and even the boiler. Yep, that’s right the boiler too. I’ve listened to the Brewing Network quite a bit and have seen the equipment Northern Brewer supplies and the ridiculously fancy stuff Blichmann Engineering makes. I know some stuff of similar quality is available in the UK but a massively inflated prices. Therefore I would rather be an American home brewer to get better equipment.

Community

Like any hobby regardless of where it is in the world a sense of community builds around it. Home brewing has competitions, clubs that meet to taste and critique each members home brew and that sort of thing. Now I don’t know whether it’s because there are many more home brewers in the US (whether that’s proportionally or because it’s more popular there in general) but that community is much more evident. Take a look at American Home Brewers Association website and then compare that to what is available in the UK (if anyone has any resources then post in the comments below). I live in Cornwall and couldn’t tell you my nearest club or competition and this may be due to the fact you have to spend time trying to track one down. In the forum post I read that US home brewers are better at marketing and organizing and I say this is definitely true.

Celebrities?

Graham Wheeler or Charlie Papazian – I’m not even going to start on that. However I don’t think its good to take anybody’s word as gospel. In the US I would say the home brewing “personalities” are Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer and there really are no equivalents in the UK, but then there is no Brewing Network in the UK either and the amount I have taken away from those podcasts is amazing, so it’s a shame that there really is no equivalent here in the in my eyes.

Tradition and Ingenuity

I’m not going to criticize any beer style or anything like that but try to look objectively at the kind of beer being brewed in each country. My first book on home brewing was Graham Wheelers – Brew Your Own British Real Ale so the first 4-5 beers I made were clones of Traditional English Bitters. I have read Charlie Papazians, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and I would say if this was my first book on home brewing my first four or five beers would not of been Bitters and I would say the same would be the case had I have bought How to Brew by John Palmer first.

If you are new to any hobby you buy a book, right. That book will largely influence how you go about that hobby. America has a much more diverse range of beers than the UK in part because they have a relatively short history of brewing compared to Britain influenced by many more countries and cultures. I’m not going to go deeper into the differences here because I think this topic could create a whole essay of it’s own.

One more thing I would like to throw in about home brewing in the UK is that I think previously it was greatly influenced by economy. The whole reason for the boom in the early days of home brewing (in the UK) was because people like my dad wanted to make beer he could buy down the pub for a fraction of the cost. I think it tailed off a bit after those early days and now is resurfacing with influences other than economy. In the US and now more so in Britain you get the impression people are brewing with an eye on experimentation and creating something brilliant and unique rather than something you can get down the pub.

I think it’s only a matter of time before American influence becomes more widespread here in the UK and you can already see it has set in with some of the beers being made by breweries like Brewdog. This can only be good for the beer drinker in my opinion and will only serve as inspiration to the home brewer to go out of their way to innovate and make something unique.

Feel free to add your comment below. Feel free to shoot me down any input is welcome. Forgive my spelling and grammar.