A few weeks ago, I attended the Dixie Cup. This is the annual homebrew conference held by the Foam Rangers, one of the clubs in Houston. As always, it was a great time. But, attendance was down. And, the number of entries in the associated homebrew contest was also down. A week or so after that, I went to a movie — the new Rush documentary — with friends, one of whom was in the BJCP and he mentioned that the number of exams he had to grade was down. This gave me the idea to call around to some sources and see if these were just random fluctuations, or if US homebrewing in general was in decline. That would make a good article for Beer and Wine Journal, I thought. As it turns out, Forbes already wrote that article.
So instead, I thought I’d give some commentary on the state of US homebrewing and its future. My main points in this article are going to be that trends don’t necessarily last forever, slight downward trends don’t affect an individual homebrewer much, and finally that US homebrewing currently covers a fairly narrow demographic. Homebrewing is on the rise worldwide, and I believe it will shortly bounce back here as more people discover it.
Fluctuations and the Future
Current trends do not always continue into the future. Prior to 2013, homebrewing was showing strong growth. That didn’t continue. So there’s no inherent reason to believe this period of contraction will, either.
Of course, sometimes downward trends do continue. As personal computers became more affordable, typewriter sales declined — and they never came back. These days, many people blame the decline in homebrewing on the upswing in craft beer. Why go to the hassle of brewing beer when you can just buy it? Using that logic, homebrewing could go the way of the typewriter — replaced by something easier.
However, that ignores the general resurgence in doing things for yourself. Why bake bread if you can buy a loaf at the bakery? Why grow vegetables if you can get them at the market? Why go fishing if . . . well, you get the point. Typewriters went away because they were just a way of getting words onto a page, and word processors simply do that better. Nobody was ever excited about typewriters themselves, whereas (literally) millions of people have been excited about homebrewing at one time or the other.
How Does This Affect Homebrewers?
It’s important to distinguish between a downturn and collapse, and I believe US homebrewing is simply in a downturn. Most of the effects of this won’t really have much impact on an individual homebrewer. The number of homebrew shops is down, and declining profits may mean that they will carry less inventory, but odds are you’ll still be able to go buy your ingredients and brew the beers you like.
Likewise, attendance at homebrew club meetings and conferences may be down, but most big clubs and conferences will hang on. Some may even thrive — it’s common for some subset of elements in a larger group to buck general trends. For example, although interest in homebrewing overall is down, the interest in brewing sour beers at home is up. And, as commercial breweries focus more and more on brewing just IPAs, brewing beers you can’t find commercially may become a thing again.
Narrow Demographic of US Homebrewers
US homebrewing is popular with college educated, bearded white males, and has made some serious inroads into the college educated, non-bearded white male demographic, but there are plenty more people in this country who can get involved. For example, women — roughly half of our population — like beer too. And, over the years I’ve been involved in homebrewing, participation by women has been increasing. Who else likes beer? Well, you know . . . everybody. And that’s another reason I think homebrewing will rebound soon and strongly. Around the globe, homebrewing is on the upswing. All sorts of people enjoy homebrewing — even non-hirsute, melanistic folks (including those with ovaries). These people will eventually find homebrewing, hopefully be welcomed into it, and we will all bounce back. And, with more diversity of thought and ideas in the mix, we will be better for it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stroke my beard and listen to the album Permanent Waves.
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