I'm working on a series of articles on popular beer culture (mainly reactions to Ken Wells's book Travels with Barley which was reviewed by Alan a while back) that will appear on The Spirit World over the next few weeks. My audience over there is mainly mixed drink people; the sort of folks who occasionally have a beer but don't think too much about beer culture since they have their own well developed mixological culture. There's one issue that I want to tangle with and need an audience that's more beer savvy to appreciate what I'm talking about. The issue that concerns me is this: why should anyone brew their own beer at home when commercial craft brewers supply so many different kinds of beer already that no single beer drinker can possibly taste everything even if they quit their day job and did nothing by circumnavigate the planet drinking as much craft brew as possible?
Wells is aware of this strained relationship that homebrewing has with commercial brewing, even if that commercial brewing results in craft beer. In Chapter 13 of Travels with Barley Wells acknowledges the complexity of homebrewer's perspective on commercial brewing; homebrewers admire and envy commercial brewers because lots of people drink a commercial brewer's beer, and simultaneously homebrewers pity the commercial brewer who must sacrifice "their creative edge" to market forces and the palates of their consumer base. After all, commercial brewing is a business, and businesses are primarily concerned with making money, and less so with "creative brewing." (Of course, there are a few breweries whose business model is a successful combination of money making and creativity.) Wells also points out that 85 percent of commercial craft brewers began their brewing careers as homebrewers. Just about every homebrew I know dreams of opening their own brewery some day.
Recently, on one of the craft beer podcasts I listen to I heard a commercial craft brewer describe a second rate beer as tasting like "homebrew." I was a little surprised this brewer said that since the podcast is nominally a forum for homebrewers, but I know that "we" all know what he means. "We" have all tasted homebrews that have had some significant defects (especially those of us who have judged in even a few homebrew competitions). However, anyone who brews their own beer at home on a regular basis knows that a successful batch of homebrew blows away anything you can buy at the beer store and is arguably better than most of the brews served from the fresh taps at brewpubs. But to make successful batch after successful batch requires a significant time investment even beyond the six hours (on average) brew day for your typical all-grain batch. Brewing your own beer at home is like having a part time job. But quality and taste are in the mouth of the drinker, so my assertion about homebrew's superiority is ultimately indefensible in the abstract, and likely to be disputed.
I'm not going to answer my question here. I can't. I couldn't. There's too much to say. I suspect that it would take a book length inquiry into the homebrew culture on the scale of Wells's broad-strokes view of American beer culture.