Throwing in my tuppenceworth, and getting change back…

I went to the pub last Saturday – a little trip out for the afternoon to Derby, where I met with a group of about 20 other like-minded people.  The common link between us all?  Home brewing.  The point I’m making?  Well I’ll come back to that later…

The most recent issue of the CAMRA members’ magazine, Beer, contained the latest in a series of debates – two contributors argue for and against a given statement on a beer-related subject.  This time round the topic under discussion was home brewing, and in particular whether an increase in home brewing results in greater presssure on pub profitability.

Even before I’d gone to Derby, I’d very defintely taken one side of the argument, and could see via discussions taking place on Twitter that I wasn’t the only one to come down very firmly in the camp that thinks that more home brewing is a good thing for pubs, not a bad thing.  However I can see how the easy, obvious answer ought to be quite the opposite.  Inevitably the debate in Beer was limited by the space constraints, so I thought I’d add my own thoughts to the argument.

Make and drink your own beer, and you don’t go out to the pub and buy someone else’s.  It’s obvious, right?  And in times of increased hardship through recession, coupled with the increases in the cost of going to the pub, I can see how more people are going to turn to homebrew as a far cheaper alternative to the pub.  But is it really that simple?  I suppose it is in some cases, some people will be happy enough with the results they get from a few kits and the cost benefits will be enough to make up for the time and effort (and please don’t think I’m suggesting that there is anything wrong in only being a kit brewer, it’s all horses for courses) .  However, for most people a drink down the pub is more than just the pint in your hand.  It is a social activity, and even if you’re happy to sit at home drinking your homebrew, your drinking buddies might not be.

And that’s just those who take up home brewing and are happy with the cheap beer they can get quickly and easily from kits.  However, lots of home brewers take the hobby further.  Many home brewers move on to (or even start with) all grain brewing, which involves a much greater investment of time and (usually) money, but gets you far more involved in the process.  At this point it is questionable whether the cheap beer which results is the driving factor any more – certainly all the home brewers I know are far more interested in turning out quality beer than turning out cheap beer.

On a personal level, I’ve found that during the time I began brewing for myself, I’ve also been developing my interest in drinking beer into something of a passion for beer and brewing. Learning how to put together ingredients, flavours, techniques, has given me a new understanding of the raw materials that make up a good (or bad) pint.  That has helped me to better understand the beers I drink at the pub, and to want to seek out more.  It has encouraged me to push back the boundaries, and try a wider and more diverse range of beer styles, utilising my increased understanding and at the same time developing my understanding further.  That has seen me arguably going to pubs more, not less, although there is the obvious counterbalance to that in that I am perhaps also drinking more than I did before I started brewing myself!  As well as pubs I’m also buying more, and more varied, bottled beer too.

Seeing some of the conversations triggered by the debate in Beer, especially those triggered on Twitter by David Bishop (@BroadfordBrewer / broadfordbrewer.wordpress.com), it is clear I’m far from alone in this.  And that takes me right back to my opening paragraph – 20+ homebrewers gathered together in a pub, where between us we must have got through the best part of a firkin of beer in all, maybe more, not to mention the buffet that we bought too.  That seems to me to be a reasonable contribution that home brewers have made to that pub’s takings for the day, and while it is fair to say that was a one-off, it is an example of how an interest in beer, and brewing it for yourself, is far from the end of your interest in drinking in pubs.  How many of us would even have gone to the pub that afternoon if it wasn’t for the meeting?

Another good point made in the Beer debate was that a significant number of the rising stars in commercial brewing have started from home brewing origins.  Again I can relate to this, as a home brewer who is aspiring to brew in a more commercial form, and one for whom the dream has a real chance of making it to reality over the next year or two, if plans work out.  Demonise home brewing as a threat to the survival of professionally-made beer and you risk cutting off at least part of the supply of adventurous and talented brewers who can make a real difference to the commercial brewing scene.  And if you really side with the “Yes” vote in the Beer debate, surely that is saying CAMRA shouldn’t support home brewing – so that’s one regular article to remove from Beer and a few books to stop publishing at the very least!

Finally I’ll pick up a point I recall originally seeing made via Twitter though apologies to whoever it was as I can’t remember or find out who to attribute it to.  Through home brewing, and particularly the level of interest and understanding of quality beer it can generate, as it has for me, surely we raise the profile of good beer, and become more demanding consumers.  We introduce others to good beer, hopefully pass on some of our own passion, and with a bit of luck we create even more interest and demand.  No matter how much beer you brew yourself there is always that need to compare, contrast, explore new beers and old favourites.  Whether it is to see how close you’ve got to that beer you’ve just cloned, to find out what your favourite brewers have done with a style that you’re going to make yourself, or to see what new ideas there are out there to expand your repertoire, there is always a reason to keep seeking out great beer from pubs and shops to keep yourself developing as a home brewer.  If that means that you’re asking more of the pubs you visit, then all this can only help put the pressure on, in a good way, for breweries and pubs to produce and sell the best beer they can.

Now, to be honest I’m not sure that I’ve added a great deal to the arguments in the Beer debate, and when I set out to write this post I had hoped to do more than just reinforce the arguments that had already been made.  I think I’ve been able to give some personal perspective on why I agree with the “No” view, and some practical examples of that.  I do accept of course that for some people brewing at home will result in them drinking less in the pub, but for plenty of others the opposite applies.  But have I really contributed much to what has been said already?  Possibly, possibly not.  But as I wrote this, I found my thinking moving more and more towards the post I was already planning to follow this with, as a precursor to EBBC12 next week.  To the extent that I think now this post has become much more for my own benefit than for that of anyone reading it, so apologies for that.  It’s had the benefit of clearing the mind a little, providing me with some focus that hopefully you’ll get the benefit of in a few days.  I’m afraid that for now you’ve just had the pleasure of sitting here watching my thoughts develop, though I’ve not really told you all that much of what I’m thinking.  This post has to some extent effectively become a scene-setter, part 1 to next week’s part 2, in which I think I’m ready now to delve a little deeper into my own recent surge of interest in beer and brewing and how that has developed.  I hope you enjoy that one when it comes, and forgive me the indulgence that this post became!!

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2 Comments to “Throwing in my tuppenceworth, and getting change back…”

  1. Nicely put. I had a lot more to say in that article – you’re right about the space constraints in ‘Beer’, but glad you got the drift of, and agree with what I tried to put across. Cheers!

    • I think you made your point really well in the space available, and it all rang true to me. I know I wasn’t the only one to think that either. Thanks for checking out my own take on it – appreciate the comments, cheers.

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