Homebrewing typically refers to the brewing of beer and similar alcoholic beverages (and sometimes soft drinks) on a very small scale as a hobby for personal consumption, free distribution at social gatherings, amateur brewing competitions or other assorted generally non-commercial reasons.
Alcohol has been brewed domestically throughout its 7000-year history.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the history of homebrewing was circumscribed by taxation and prohibition, largely due to lobbying by large breweries that wished to stamp out the practice. One of the earliest, modern attempts to regulate private production that affected this era was the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 in the United Kingdom; this required a 5-shilling home-brewing license. In the US, 33 states had prohibited the production of alcohol by 1920. These laws were famously only repealed in 1933 after a period of bootlegging and illegal manufacture gave rise to organised crime. Following the privations of World War II, the cost of the license to citizens still on rationing severely restricted the pursuit of home-brewing as a pastime in the UK.
In the US, when prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment, home wine-making was legalised. Homebrewing of beer should have also been legalised at this time, but a clerical error omitted the words "and/or beer" from the document which was eventually passed into law. Thus, the home-brewing of beer remained illegal for several decades.
In November 1978, Congress passed a bill repealing Federal restrictions on the homebrewing of small amounts of beer. Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, signed the bill into law in February 1979, and many states soon followed suit. However, this bill left individual states free to pass their own laws limiting production. For example, homebrewing is still illegal in the state of Alabama.
The opportunity to produce alcoholic beverages at home was seized upon enthusiastically, although brewing cultures developed differently with trends dictated by the legal and commercial situation of the legalised territories at the time.
In the United Kingdom, many pioneers were home winemakers owing to the greater availability of information and ingredients. These included C.J.J. Berry, who founded wine brewing circles in Hampshire and three other English counties; began producing Amateur Winemaker magazine and eventually published First Steps in Winemaking. Perhaps the most vocal proponent of home beer making was Dave Line, who after also writing for Amateur Winemaker wrote The Big Book of Brewing in 1974.
The United States, having an established home winemaking culture, moved rapidly into the brewing of beer. Within months of legalization, Charlie Papazian founded the Association of Brewers. In 1984, Papazian published The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.
This and Line's work remain popular texts to this day alongside later publications such as Graham Wheeler's Home Brewing: The CAMRA Guide.
In general, beer homebrewing is identical in process to commercial beer brewing. Home brewers can select from ingredients identical to those used in commercial brewing, in addition to a wide range of post-market customization as well.
Sometimes referred to as craft brewing, the culture surrounding homebrewing has many strands In the US, homebrew radio stations and brewpubs have become popular over the last 20 years; both have a tradition of promoting live, unpasteurised beers. In the UK, the Campaign for Real Ale and homebrew circles have helped to promote the craft and cask-conditioned ale over pasteurised keg beers. This having been said the vast majority of beer consumed on both sides of the Atlantic is keg beer.
Patience is required in homebrewing. The whole brewing process can take from two weeks to several months or even years, depending on the style of beer. Some enthusiasts brew beer in far larger quantities than the typical 5-gallon batch, sometimes as a prelude to commercial production. It is not unusual for a homebrewer to have several batches in different stages of completion to permit the dispensing of quality homebrew at short notice.
People homebrew for a variety of reasons. Homebrewed beer can be cheaper than commercially equivalent brews; however most homebrewers customize their recipes to their own tastes, which tends to be more expensive. For instance, hopheads, or fans of beer with prominent hop flavors, can hop their beer far beyond what would normally be considered excessive. Dark beer enthusiasts can create beers, such as Russian Imperial Stout. or Porter, that are the antithesis of the paler style that is commercially dominant, particularly in the US. Additionally, homebrewers are able to create ‘specialty’ beers that are either extremely rare or entirely unavailable on the open market. Moreover, homebrewers have complete control over the amount of alcohol produced (based on the amount of fermentables placed into the wort), allowing for the production of beers containing very low amounts of alcohol or very high amounts of alcohol. Finally, some homebrewers also try to make low-ethanol content beers, which are almost always much less calorie-dense (as less ethanol or sugars are in it). This allows them to make beer which will not heavily affect their weight.
Some homebrewers strive for perfection of specific styles of beer and enter their products in competitions. Others simply brew to have styles of beer on hand to drink and share that are otherwise commercially unavailable, or in an unacceptably poor state when they are available. Others, with access to extremely large quantities of bio-materials (grains, rice, beets, potatoes, etc.), produce their own alcohol fuel for powering farm equipment, as well as cars and trucks, at a considerable cost-savings relative to paying for fuel at the pump.
One of greatest draws of homebrewed beer is the opportunity to enjoy beer that is 'live'. Since almost every beer available is pasteurized, it is almost impossible for the average beer drinker to enjoy beer in its natural state. Pasteurization requires the beer to be cooked, which results in the disappearance of natural carbonation. Commercial brewers collect the boiled off alcohol, mix it with the pasteurized beer and force carbonate the brew. The disadvantage of this is the fact that all of the yeast is killed in the process. Therefore, the beer tastes considerably dissimilar from ‘live’ beer (that is, beer containing live yeast). Moreover, the beer will not age properly without live yeast. Homebrew is almost never pasteurized, therefore the carbonation present is naturally produced by the yeast, the taste is a more natural flavor, and the beer will age, changing in taste, texture and color over time. Homebrew is one way the general public can enjoy beer in its natural state, although some draught beer offerings are not pasteurized. Another exception is a type of beer occasionally offered by pubs and breweries known as cask conditioned beer, which, like homebrew, is not pasteurized.
Homebrewing beer is legal so long as it is only for personal use and not for sale.
States remain free to restrict, or even prohibit, the manufacture of beer, mead, hard cider, wine and other alcoholic beverages at home. For example, Ala. Code § 28-1-1 addresses the illegal manufacture of alcoholic beverages in Alabama, and no other provision of Alabama law provides an exception for personal use brewing.
Interestingly, several homebrew stores operate in Alabama, so the status of homebrewing as an enforcement priority with the Alabama Alcoholic Control Board is unknown.
However, most states permit homebrewing, allowing 100 gallons of beer per person over the age of 21 per household, up to a maximum of 200 gallons per year. Because alcohol is taxed by the federal governments via excise taxes, homebrewers are restricted from selling any beer they brew. This similarly applies in most Western countries.