Phew, 2020, am I right? This year is shaping up to be an unprecedented 366 days around the sun. (Can you even remember Feb. 29?)
We find ourselves smack dab in a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal these days. And if there’s one word I feel certain most of us can identify with, it’s this: uncertainty.
Yet, even as almost everything has changed, some things stay comfortingly the same.
One is the immeasurable joy that our hobbies can bring us. This might be through familiar routines that established interests provide. (Puzzles anyone?)
Or possibly we find delight in new hobbies and the challenges they add to the unnaturally limited range of current experience. (Shout out to all the new gardeners and chicken-keepers we’ve welcomed into the fold over the last few weeks.)
Another thing the coronavirus hasn’t changed? The delirious pleasure a cold, well-made beer can bring to an otherwise humdrum day.
As bars, restaurants and breweries across the nation adjust to a new normal, and many of us find ourselves with a lot more time on our hands, one might wonder if the hobby of home brewing, too, is gaining followers.
According to American Homebrewers Association (AHA) president, Gary Glass, home brewing is, in fact having a moment. From sea to shining sea, people are taking to the kettle to batch and bottle their brews.
On this 2020 National Homebrew Day, we talked to Glass about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected home brewing. He also has some tips for anyone who’s on the fence about taking the plunge.
Q: So I know from trying to order supplies myself, there seems to have been a massive uptick in home brewing interest. What are you hearing from your contacts?
A: We’ve definitely seen an uptick in interest in home brewing. My conversations with some of the distributors that supply the home brew supply shops have indicated that their sales are up. So we’re definitely seeing an increase in interest as more and more people are stuck at home.
Q: Obviously nobody’s happy about the situation this has arisen from. But what are your feelings about all this new interest in a hobby I assume is a passion for you?
A: It is exciting, and I do hope that it will be sustained. Something that we’ve actually noticed in the past is that there does tend to be basically a reverse relationship between the economy and home brewing. And I think that’s true of a lot of hobbies as well. With higher levels of unemployment, people have more time to dedicate to hobbies. So we’ve seen in the past where unemployment was up, that home brewing also went up.
Obviously I’m not going to be hopeful that we continue to have a large portion of the population unemployed. But, depending on how quickly the economy turns around, there will probably be a long-term impact on home brewing. We’ve gotten a lot of people into the hobby that in the past were thinking about it but never did it. Now, being stuck at home, they don’t have the excuse to not get started with home brewing.
Q: I wonder, do you think this is because it’s more economical to make 50 bottles of craft beer at home for the cellar? Or do you think it’s because people now have more hours in which they can brew a batch?
A: I think it’s a combination of both. If you’ve got the time, particularly now when you don’t have as many options because you are at home, home brewing does fit in very well with that scenario.
And I think it’s something that a lot of people have been thinking about. If you’ve got a local brewery that you go to regularly—well, now it’s a lot harder to go there. But taking up home brewing makes sense.
Q: So you’ve seen more people taking up the hobby, but how about those who are still on the fence because they feel intimidated? What would you say to those people?
A: I’d say that it’s actually a lot easier than people think. There are methods of brewing, particularly brewing with malt extract as opposed to just starting out with malted barley, where you can skip the whole mashing process. That really does make brewing easy.
You can brew a batch of beer in an hour and a half and you’ll have it ready a few weeks later. So it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be very, very simple. And the end result of having beer that you made and having it come out good is very rewarding.
And it increases your understanding of beer. Your level of appreciation for the craft beers you might already be drinking will go up. As you get the individual ingredients in making beer and the brewing process, it just expands your knowledge of beer.
Another aspect of home brewing is it makes you part of the larger community—the community of home brewers as well as the community of craft brewers, since almost all the craft brewers in this country got started as home brewers.
Q: How can someone who wants to take up home brewing get started? Should they swing by a supply shop for a socially distanced conversation with the staff?
A: It depends right now on whether their store is open. We actually have a directory of the stores that are impacted by COVID-19. And a lot of them are doing call-in, curbside pickup. So we recommend checking that out.
And for when we can be social again, we also have a list of home brew clubs all around the country listed on our website. So that’s another great way to connect with other home brewers. Being able to interact and share your beer with other home brewers is a great way to learn more about the hobby and improve your beers.
Q: How’s your beer cellar looking these days?
A: I’ve definitely been brewing a lot more than I normally would!