The enticing malty aromas drifted through my kitchen while I watched the grains soak away in a pot. I didn’t know what was going on, but I followed the instructions in the same way my grandmother would watch a YouTube video on how to send a WhatsApp message. Little did I know that there were processes taking place, taking raw ingredients and transforming them into (what was not surprisingly, below average) beer. This was the beginning of my involvement with beer on a different level, besides attempting to get my PhD in its consumption while at University.
This episode of me hacking my way through my first homebrew was actually part of the interview process for Beerguevara, a great homebrew store in Cape Town. I managed to get the job, and during my time working at Beerguevara, I dealt with homebrewers from all corners of the homebrewing spectrum. It included everybody from first time brewers, to regulars, to brewers with more pumps, filters and false bottoms than the inside of a Kasper Schultz showroom.
I was asked a range of questions: from simple sanitary solutions to complex starch conversion equations. If I didn’t have the answer to a question (which, at the beginning was often), I would do research in whatever way I could. In addition to that, I had access to all of the Cape’s top commercial brewers because they were constantly coming in for supplies. I could outsource all the questions I had been asked, to the people who actually knew the answers. The constant pursuit for more knowledge from the homebrewers was always something that amazed me. Fast-forward a few months, and I was attending South Yeasters meetings.
Let’s go clubbing
Homebrew clubs such as the South Yeasters, Helderberg Homebrew Club and the Worthogs (to name a few), are the hub and center point for real development and education in a rapidly growing industry. Homebrew clubs in such a young industry, with so much interest and fanaticism, often act as incubators for brewers. Through the process of brewers learning about techniques, equipment, ingredients and, recipes, the standard of beer rises not only amongst home brewers, but also their friends and people they interact with. This impacts what people are willing to drink from the commercial breweries, and further fuels their passion for more knowledge.
A knowledgeable homebrewer/drinker holds the commercial brewer accountable for the beer they produce. The time for beer that is riddled with faults, has unwanted fermentation characteristics, or that is just not good enough, is rapidly running out.
Furthermore, the knowledge and passion that comes with a lot of homebrewers puts them in the position of having a trusted and reliable voice. In this way, they can and often do become content creators for the industry, keeping things exciting, interesting, and current. Examples range from these beer fundies getting the latest and greatest beers from around the world and then reviewing them in an incredibly accurate, in-depth, and informative manner. Without this, something like a New England IPA could literally be just a murky fruit juice with nothing to compare to.
Homebrewers are the ‘come rain or shine’ fans of the industry: growing knowledge, expanding expectations, holding big and small breweries accountable, making rad beer, and essentially growing the beer business into something that drinkers will enjoy more, and producers will be even more proud of. The natural selection of beer is currently happening, and people with knowledge of what good beer is are acting as the foot soldiers in improving beer across every aspect of the industry.