On any given weekend, in backyards and garages across the nation, amateur brewers fuss over kettles of boiling grains and water in the process of becoming delicious homemade beer.
While some news outlets have reported a downturn in the hobby’s popularity, brewers are still plentiful. Proof can be found in membership numbers for the American Homebrewers Association (AHA)—more than 46,000 in 2016, a record for the 36-year-old organization. The AHA advocates homebrewers’ right to brew beer and hosts events promoting beer, hard cider and mead production. AHA statistics show there are more than 1.2 million homebrewers enjoying the fruits of their labors.
The right to brew at home was taken away from U.S. citizens during Prohibition. That shortsighted action taken by a reactionary government put an end to centuries-old traditions instrumental in the very founding of our nation. Indeed, one of the reasons the Mayflower pilgrims landed where they did was that the ship’s stores were running low on beer, a necessary staple when the drinking water supply was dangerous.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter set the nation right again by signing a bill containing an amendment sponsored by California Senator Alan Cranston. Essentially, the amendment created an exemption from federal taxation of beer brewed at home for personal use. Once the federal obstruction to homebrewing was lifted, states began to drop restrictions. It took time, but the last two holdouts, Alabama and Mississippi, legalized homebrewing in 2013.
It can be argued that Carter’s signature on that bill was the boost craft beer needed to reemerge after more than 50 years in the dark. Homebrewing took off and soon, after gaining expertise, some parlayed their enjoyable weekend pastime into profitable businesses.
In 1978, there were only two craft brewers—defined as breweries producing fewer than six million barrels a year. That number jumped to 37 in 1985, with Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman and Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company—both homebrewers before turning pro—emerging along with many others. By the end of 2016, the Brewers Association, the AHA’s mother organization and craft brewing industry advocate group, reported more than 5,000 breweries were operating in the United States, many begun by homebrewers with the hope of making a profit from a hobby.
Locally, many of Northeast Florida’s craft breweries were started by homebrewers from the membership of Cowford Ale Sharing Klub (C.A.S.K.). The club meets every second Saturday of the month at breweries in the area. Each meeting features an interclub competition—members enter brews to compete for bragging rights—a social hour and a formal meeting. The club is a gathering place for local homebrewers to socialize, exchange ideas and get details on upcoming competitions.
At the recent Homebrew Con convention, two C.A.S.K members, James Moore and Jesse Johnson, brought home second and third place medals, respectively, for their amber lagers, beating 262 other entries in the category.n its bid to remain at the top of the hops heap.
Learn more about the joys of homebrewing and C.A.S.K. at TheCask.org.