US Homebrewing is in Decline

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This is a completely meaningless graph.


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.

If you enjoy Beer & Wine Journal, please consider supporting us by purchasing my book — “Home Brew Recipe Bible,” by Chris Colby (2016, Page Street Publishing). It is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also find the nearest independent bookstore that sells it on Indiebound

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Comments

  1. Way to bury the lead Chris… THERE’S A NEW RUSH DOCO???

    😉

  2. Come on you non-hirsute melanistic people with ovaries, you know you want to make beer too.

  3. Herb Meowing says:

    US home brewers declining
    Who are US
    Not me

    Brewin’ more than ever

  4. I figure there is always a decline in a DIY environment. Take home-brewing as the example. The popularity of the hobby attracts more people interested in said hobby. But, what happens is folks run out and buy a kit with a few supplies and reality sets in. They discover they like the idea of brewing but, not the actual task. Or another scenario: Home-brewing (like any thing else in life) has a learning curve. The learning curve gets ignored resulting in a terrible end product. These brewers never attempt a second brew and get rid of their stuff.

  5. Peter (pweis909) says:

    As craft beer becomes more available in my rural America market, I do find myself buying more beer than I used to. But my homebrewing hasn’t dropped off. In fact, the availability of quality products has inspired me to reach for new heights with my homebrewing, sometimes striving for originality and taking more chances. If my Mountain-Dew inspired beer turns out to be a bust, that’s OK because now I can grab a 6-pack of Lagunitas to sip while I mull over what went wrong. Of course, that is just a hypothetical example, stretching the boundaries of sanity to make the point; what kind of goofball would actually let Mountain Dew inspire a homebrew?

    I think there is a parallel in the foodie movement. A prevalence of great eateries may mean that some people cook less, but there will always be others who are inspired by that greatness and try to emulate it in their own cooking. They’ll buy magazines, support TV networks dedicated to their hobby, and seek out new kitchen gadgets and high-end and unique ingredients.

    • Herb Meowing says:

      Peter wrote:
      ” … what kind of goofball would actually let Mountain Dew inspire a homebrew?”

      ” I’ve also brewed a couple different beers using the soda pop Mt. Dew as part of the brewing liquor. I like this beer for a couple reasons. Firstly, it makes the joyless beer purists freak out. And oh my god (Odin), I live for that shit. And secondly, it’s actually good! Despite its green color — which carries through into the beer, BTW — the flavor of Mt. Dew is of oranges.

      http://brulosophy.com/2017/01/26/brus-views-w-chris-colby-on-adventurous-brewing/

  6. I’m only just about to start my brewing journey. How can it be declining? Trends are ever changing, this time in 2017 they’ll be saying it’s on the increase again. Add one to the home brewers please.

  7. Herb Meowing says:

    What’s been declining are BWJ posts.
    Nothing new in months.

    • Chris Colby says:

      New post yesterday. New post later today. There was a temporary lull while I finished some outside writing gigs I had landed and got started on my second book. Back in the saddle now,

  8. Chris Storey says:

    No decline in Canada. Beer prices are on the rise and so is homebrewing. I am brewing now more than ever.

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