Homebrewing has been legal in the United Kingdom since 1963—16 years before the United States. So, why is the UK behind the US on the homebrewing and craft beer scene? It’s been legal for a longer period of time, and, unlike the US, you can brew unlimited quantities for domestic consumption.
However, homebrewing and craft beer has gained traction in the last few years. We had a chance to talk with Macclesfield Homebrew Club from Macclesfield, UK, about their club, the changing beer scene and what they love about the homebrewing hobby.
Name: Macclesfield Homebrew Club
Founded: September 2013
Location: Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK
Mailing Address: 82, Walker Lane, Sutton, Macclesfield, SK11 OHU, UK
Who We Are and How We Got Started
We’re a bunch of beer and brewing enthusiasts in a small town with a big beer culture. Our club was founded in September 2013 by the efforts of four dedicated homebrewers. We got started when Thomas Lewis (founding member) decided that he didn’t have any friends who homebrewed—at least as seriously as he did. Tom reached out on Twitter to people in the area to create interest and buzz. He then teamed up with brewer and owner of Redwillow Brewery, Toby McKenzie, to host the club’s meetings in the tap house. Tom set a date for the first meeting and was surprised when 25 people showed up. From there, monthly meetings were established and the rest is history.
Our Club Vibe
We’re a relaxed club. We’re a bunch of people that just want to brew, talk and drink beer (or any fermentable libation, really). We love it when new people come along, whether they’re just curious or are hardcore homebrewers—the more the merrier.
Meetings are the last Tuesday of every month at Redwillow’s Tap House and start at 7:30 pm. We tend to open homebrews one by one, allowing the brewer to briefly chat about it. There are usually enough samples to keep us going an hour or two. We then talk about other homebrew and club-related issues.
We try to have two competitions a year (one mid-year and one after Christmas). These are judged by all members and a guest brewer. We also enter homebrew competitions across the UK when we can. We’re also working on holding inter-club competitions, which will hopefully help strengthen the homebrewing community in the area, as well as create some fun rivalries.
Other than our monthly meetings, we’ll sometimes meet up for a beer here and there. We also use each other as an excuse to go to all the beer festivals in the area.
What’s homebrew scene in your area?
The homebrewing scene in England is well behind the US, however, it is growing, and people are beginning to take the hobby more seriously. There has been a transition from people using pre-prepared kits to people brewing extract and all-grain brews.
However, the overall mindset of the hobby in the UK is discredited. When you mention homebrewing to people, nearly everyone has a story about trying some terrible homebrew batch made in somebody’s basement. It’s our goal as homebrewers to change this attitude and mindset. It’s a slow, up-hill battle.
How does your club work with local breweries?
We’d just like to say, Redwillow Brewery has been fundamental to our club’s existence. Toby, the head brewer, shared our enthusiasm to create the club. Without him and his brewery, we would struggle to find anywhere as accommodating and relaxed for our meetings.
Last summer, we were lucky enough to brew a beer with Redwillow for a local cultural festival. We collaborated on a recipe and got to brew it at their brewhouse! It was a really fun and great day. We’re hoping to plan more of these events in the future.
We’ve also had brewers from Thornbridge Brewery, Buxton Brewery, The Runaway Brewery and Cheshire Brew House attend our meetings and talk with us on anything beer related.
Do you see a direct correlation between homebrewing and the craft beer industry in the UK?
One thing we’ve noticed is there has been a huge rise of homebrewers deciding to open breweries. For example, Toby from Redwillow was a homebrewer. We’ve seen numerous stories like Toby’s. Even some of our members are considering turning pro within the coming year. It’s a really exciting time to be part of the homebrewing and craft beer scene in the UK.
We’re quite behind you guys with our craft beer. It has really been in the last four years that craft beer has taken off over here. It has certainly seen a huge increase in the last two years, with a huge number of new breweries (some of those being homebrewers going pro), bars, bottle shops and homebrew shops popping up. The new interest in craft beer has had a direct correlation to homebrewing.
In the few years our club has been homebrewing, we’ve seen a lot of growing interest in the hobby. Younger people are picking up on it and really taking it seriously. As a result, more homebrew clubs are forming. However, the hobby is still young and fragile and there is much work to be done.
What is the availability of ingredients, equipment, knowledge, etc.?
Englad has some amazing quality malts and hops. However, the availability of these ingredients to homebrewers is a problem. There are a few great online homebrew stores in the UK (Malt Miller, BrewUK, the Homebrew Shop), but being able to go to your local homebrew store to pick up ingredients and seek out knowledge is very limited. The inconvenience of driving an hour to buy equipment or ingredients has a drastically negative impact on people becoming involved in the hobby. We hope to see an improvement on this in the future.
Any preview for 2015?
Other than tasting more great brews, we’re hoping to take this club to the next level by establishing more structure, events and collaborations with breweries. Most of all, we’re hoping to introduce the hobby of homebrewing to more people. We already provide a lot to people interested in the hobby. We share equipment, hops, grain, yeast, knowledge—anything to make it more convenient and fun for our members. However, we’re hoping with more involvement in the community, we’ll raise awareness of the hobby. We’re looking into creating grain kits, holding live demonstrations and partnering with a local bottle shop for our meetings to lure in more craft beer drinkers.