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.

History of homebrewing

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 These laws were famously only repealed in 1933 after a period of bootlegging and illegal manufacture gave rise to organised crime.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.

Liberalization: post 1960

Liberalization began in English-speaking countries in April 1963, when UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Reggie Maudling removed the need for the 1880 brewing license. Australia followed suit in 1972, when Gough Whitlam repealed Australian law prohibiting the brewing of all but the weakest beers and wines as one of his first acts as Prime Minister.

In the US, when prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment, home wine-making was legalised.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.

Development of the craft

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.

General information

At present, several beverages are frequently brewed at home. These include foremost beer and wine, but also other fermented beverages such as ginger ale, kombucha, Chicha, Kumis, Pulque, Chhaang, Kvass, Sake, Sonti, Mead and others.

Beer homebrewing

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.

At present, homebrewing kits are commercially available which usually provide a (liquid or dry) malt extract, yeast and, depending on the kit, hop-extract.

Brewing culture

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.


Many homebrewing related articles and books mistakenly claim that, in 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed into law a bill explicitly allowing home beer and winemaking, which was at the time illegal as a holdover from the prohibition of alcoholic beverages (repealed in 1933). In fact, the U.S. Congress passed an Act in 1978 exempting a certain amount of beer brewed for personal or family use from taxation. President Carter signed the Act, which addressed other issues as well.

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.

Ala. Code § 28-1-1 - "In all counties of the state it shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to have in his or its possession any still or apparatus to be used for the manufacture of any alcoholic beverage of any kind or any alcoholic beverage of any kind illegally manufactured or transported within the state or imported into the state from any other place without authority of the alcoholic control board of the state, and any person, firm or corporation violating this provision or who transports any illegally manufactured alcoholic beverages or who manufactures illegally any alcoholic beverages shall, upon conviction, be punished as provided by law."

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.


In the United Kingdom one may produce an unlimited quantity of fermented beverages. They are not however permitted to distill liquor or sell their products.


In Australia individuals may manufacture their own alcohol provided that they do not employ the use of a still. Stills owned by Australians must be no bigger than 5 litres in size and may not be used to distill alcohol (they are intended to be used for distilling water and other products such as essential oils).

New Zealand

New Zealand lifted the ban on home distilling in 1996, and it is now legal to distill spirits for your own consumption. It is still illegal to supply or sell any alcoholic beverage without the appropriate license.

South Africa

In South Africa individuals may produce an unlimited quantity of fermented beverages at home. They are not permitted to distill, sell these beverages or give them to staff.


Making beer for home consumption is legal in most provinces. Liquor laws are regulated provincially, while the federal government has laws about taxation and importation of beer, wine and other liquors.


Making beer at home for personal consumption is legal in Germany. 200 liter of beer per household and year can be produced without taxation, but notification of the local customs office (Hauptzollamt) is necessary. Larger ammounts of beer have to be taxed according to law.

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