Misconceptions about Homebrew
One thing I notice with people of my generation and younger is that there is a certain fear that homebrewing is unsafe. This is not just an aversion to hard work or whatever strawman newspaper comics about the damn youths, it is a general uncertainty about: is it safe to make alcohol. Right now we are seeing a return to hobbies like baking and knitting. Things once seen as stuff only an older generation would do are becoming really popular.
But a big difference between this and homebrew is that baking and knitting were never made illegal. Before 1963 you could not brew your own beer without a licence (Winemaking was OK??), and while I am very sure many still did, this was a serious thorn in the side of any would be homebrewer. This means the market for homebrewing even after legalisation was small. These issues put homebrewing on the back foot, it is not as common or widely accepted as many other hobbies. The foundation of the Campaign for Real Ale 10 years later was to provide a welcome boost.
This is not the only factor though, despite the problems I have brought up many people used to brew themselves, thus shouldn’t the kids have been around to see that? Likely not, everyone I have talked to who was once a homebrewer has a story such as “I use to brew a lot but then it exploded.” Accidents are never a pleasant thing especially when you have bottle shards sticking out of your wardrobe door, that is the type of failure many don’t come back from. This is part of the reason we supply plastic buckets with high quality airlocks instead of glass with a shoddy cork. This mixed with low quality ingredients like bread yeast instead of proper brewing yeast meant many simply found it not worth the effort and have never learnt how far modern homebrewing has come. These two factors mean many were not brought up around homebrewing, didn’t take advantage of the new freedom to do so or were put off.
This leads to my third big reason, ignorance about alcohol. This is not meant to be condescending but to point out how detached we have become from alcohol despite its enduring popularity for millennia. Most people will be able to tell you the basic ingredients for an ale, they may even have heard of a Fuggles hop, but how many know the smell and taste? How many even know what a hop looks like? People just don’t know because they don’t need to know, and what people don’t know scares them. If something has always been presented to you ready made by experts we assume it is so technical and delicate that us plebs just can’t make it ourselves. This is also likely linked to just general stigma around alcohol as the intoxicator and drug. People put it on a pedestal where it shouldn’t be touched, but that cake you baked in the same kitchen is perfectly consumable despite it actually being a much more complex, difficult and time consuming process.
In summary, ridiculous laws hurt what once was a common practice which mixed with mistakes, ignorance and the preference for store bought products changed what homebrewing was to our society. But things are changing and have been for a while. People have gone back to wanting to make their own things and support smaller businesses like craft brewers. In a way the consumerism that hurt homebrewing has now shifted it’s focus towards us because people realise they can not only exceed store bought but have fun doing it too.