In a funny sort of way, homebrewing has come full circle. Thirty-four years ago, our country’s 39th President, Jimmy Carter, signed H.R. 1337 which effectively legalized homebrewing nationwide. And now, shortly after another presidential election, our 44th President, Barack Obama, has released to the public his recipe for the first beer ever brewed on the White House grounds. The fact that this presidential beer—a honey ale—was made with honey gathered from the White House’s own hives is emblematic of what homebrewing has become today, a craft, like cooking (or beekeeping), that empowers people to do for themselves and rely less on packaged, processed, mass-produced food and beverages.
Were it not for Prohibition early in the 20th century, homebrewing may well have been the kind of basic home skill passed on from generation to generation like baking, pickling or hunting. But as we know, that dark period for imbibers had a lasting hangover that affected both the making and consumption of alcoholic beverages for decades. The craft beer revolution, which not coincidentally was kick-started by Carter’s pro-homebrewing legislation, put the artisanal craft of making beer back into the peoples’ hands (basically the definition of craft beer) and opened adventurous beer drinkers’ eyes to the flavor possibilities out there in the many different styles of beer that were increasingly becoming available.
Back in 1980 there were only eight craft breweries in the U.S., but after three decades of strong, steady growth, there are more than 2,000. While macrobrew sales are flat, craft beer continues to grow, even in a terrible economy. The rise in popularity of homebrewing has not only mirrored this growth, it has been further invigorated by the do-it-yourself, locavore foodie movement where people have discovered the satisfaction and challenge of making things from scratch. We don’t know if Martha Stewart has ever homebrewed, but it’s the kind of skill she’d surely approve of. If we can make bread from scratch, how much different or more difficult is it to brew our own beer?
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