History of Homebrewing
The Dawn of Beer & Civilization
In the beginning, there was beer. It was good. Well, maybe not that good, and maybe not quite at the beginning, but there are some who argue that agriculture and civilization came about because people wanted beer. In any case, people were brewing beer in small batches 12,000 years ago, at about the same time and geographic locations where people started to transition from nomadic lifestyles to agriculture.
Ancient Sumer Brew
Beer was so important to the ancient Sumerians that they actually had a goddess of beer named Ninkasi—yep, that’s right, a goddess, in Sumerian society, women were the primary brewers.
Beer in the New World
Fast forward to the year 1587 in colonial Virginia; Europeans produced the first homebrew made from corn in what would become the United States.
In 1620, pilgrims from England landed at Plymouth Rock, well north of their intended destination. Who could blame them? They were out of beer, so they had to get off the boat and brew. In fact, beer was deemed so important that one of the first buildings constructed at Plymouth was a brewery. Remember that when preparing your next Thanksgiving dinner.
The Wisdom of the Colonists
During North America’s colonial period, homebrewing was a common household task. Back then, people had a distinct distrust of water, but thankfully water could be transformed into beer, which not only tasted better, but, unlike water, beer was not hospitable to pathogens. Oh, and in colonial America, as with the ancient Sumerians, women did most of the brewing.
We Hold this Homebrew to be Self-Evident
Did you know many of the United States’ founders were homebrewers? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both homebrewers (although, in the case of Jefferson, his wife Martha did more brewing than he did).
When Homebrewing Is Outlawed, Homebrewers Will Be Outlaws
When the United States enacted Prohibition in 1919, making beer and wine at home became an illegal activity. Despite their new status as outlaws, few homebrewers took to wearing cowboy hats and six-shooters.
Celebrating the 21st Amendment with an Outlaw Brew
In 1933, Prohibition came to an end with the passage of the 21st Amendment. However, a clerical error resulted in the absence of the two very important words “and beer” from the statute that legalized home winemaking. Homebrewers would have to wait several more decades to shed their outlaw status.
Brewing Knowledge Takes a Leap Forward
In 1969, beer writer and early proponent of craft beer Fred Eckhardt released A Treatise on Lager Beer, followed five years later by Quality Brewing, written by Byron Burch, future owner of The Beverage People homebrew supply shop in Santa Rosa, CA.
The Birth of Homebrew Clubs
The Maltose Falcons homebrew club, which is still going strong to this day, was founded in Los Angeles in 1974.
On October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Senator Alan Cranston creating an exemption from taxation for beer brewed at home for personal or family use. This exemption went into effect February 1, 1979.
The American Homebrewers Association
Just weeks after President Carter signed the bill that legalized homebrewing, Charlie Papazian and Charlie Matzen launched the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in Boulder, CO on December 7, 1978, with the publication of the first issue of Zymurgy magazine.
Inaugural AHA National Homebrew Competition and National Homebrewers Conference
The newly founded AHA held the National Homebrew Competition and Gala Homebrewers Ball on May 5, 1979. Twenty-four brewers submitted 34 entries into six categories in that first year's single-day event.
Complete Joy Released
In the fall of 1984, Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, was first published.
First Beer Judge Certification Program Exam
On May 31, 1985, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) held its first exam at the AHA Conference in Estes Park, CO. There were 51 people who took that original exam. Established as a joint project of the AHA and the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association (HWBTA), the BJCP is now an independent organization.
Homebrew on the Net
In 1986, homebrewer Rob Gardner founded The Brewersletter, the predecessor to the venerable homebrew internet forum now known as the Homebrew Digest.
National Homebrew Day Recognized in U.S. Congress
Representative David Skaggs of Colorado announced May 7th as National Homebrew Day before Congress on Monday, May 2, 1988. The AHA celebrates National Homebrew Day every year with Big Brew, held on the first Saturday of May.
Homebrew by Design
In 1996, Brewers Publications released Ray Daniels’ book on how to formulate homebrew recipes, titled Designing Great Beers.
How Do You Brew?
In 2000, John Palmer self-published his popular How To Brew. Now published by Brewers Publications, How to Brew is the all-time bestselling book from Brewers Publications.
Legal in Oklahoma!
Oklahoma bill H.B. 2348 is signed by the Governor on May 10, 2010, making homebrewing legal there as of August 26, 2010. Alabama and Mississippi remain as the only states in the Union where homebrewing is not yet legal.
2012 Homebrewing Stats
- There are more than 1,000,000 homebrewers in the United States.
- There are more than 37,000 American Homebrewers Association members.
- Nearly 1,500 homebrew clubs exist in the United States.
- 300+ homebrew competitions are scheduled to be held in the United States.
- 1,802 attendees at the 2012 AHA National Homebrewers Conference.
- 7,823 entries were judged in the 2012 AHA National Homebrew Competition.
- Alabama is the only state where homebrewing is not yet legal.