National Homebrew Day! We Celebrate the History and Culture of Homebrewing in America

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American culture is often defined by the music, TV and movies coming from California and the capitalistic energy from New York. But the true American spirit runs much deeper and older than those superficial, but oft-stereotyped, images. Americans are innovators, inventors, do-it-yourselfers who enjoy taking raw clay and sculpting art. Brewing is one of the oldest art forms we know, brought to America by our immigrant ancestors and honed by our founding forefathers. We now see the hobby blossoming into one of America's most exciting pastimes, driving the craft beer craze, and responsible for re-inventing the beer industry worldwide. In 1988, National Homebrew Day was formally recognized by the U.S. Congress as the first Saturday of May (tomorrow!). On National Homebrew Day, we celebrate beer's contribution to the American culture, and America's contribution in the evolution of beer.

Early Homebrewers in America
Colonists in Virginia started brewing beer as early as the late 1500's. By the time of the revolutionary war, early Americans had built many small breweries in the East. By that time, George Washington was an expert homebrewer - he'd been brewing his own beer for at least 22 years, based on his own recorded recipes. Thirteen years after the war, he would announce allegiance to only American brands of beer by proclaiming he would only drink beer brewed in America. Thomas Jefferson, who learned from his wife Martha, was an avid homebrewer, using hops and malted barley grown by his neighbor. Martha had been supplying the Jefferson household at Monticello with 15g of homebrew every two weeks during his presidency. In fact, Jefferson became such an accomplished homebrewer, he began teaching others, including James Madison and James Barbour, governor of Virginia. Ben Franklin also homebrewed a spruce beer that was popular at the time; the army issued a quart of his spruce beer as a daily ration to regulars. Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and undoubtedly many other of those revolutionaries were fermenting more than colonial rebellion in those times.In 1840, America's first lager was brewed by a homebrewer in Pennsylvania named John Wagner who brewed in a large kettle behind his house over an open hearth. Hundreds of small breweries, and some that would grow very large, were opened over the next 70 years.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention - Homebrewing Explodes
With prohibition (1919 - 1933) however, most breweries were shuttered. Although commercial beer production had come to an abrupt halt, homebrewing became immensely popular. Malt extract and hops were scant before prohibition, barely useful in baking, but during prohibition sales were 50x; during the dry years, there were hundreds of shops in New York City alone specializing in homebrew supplies, normally under the guise of baking goods. Woolworth's (that day's Wal-Mart) stocked bottling equipment. By 1929 the Prohibition bureau, using sales figures for hops, malt, and other ingredients, estimated that Americans brewed 700 million gallons of beer at home. Compare that to only about 16 million gallons brewed at home today and you'll see that homebrewing isn't new at all.

New Age of Enlightenment
Today, homebrewers brew for many reasons. A form of cooking, homebrewers create unique beers as an outlet for creative expression. Enginerds, normally tied to a PC and droll technical work, use chamomile and beets and treacle to artfully create masterpieces of zymurgy. Home from a day of paperwork, the office worker rolls back his sleeves and builds a shiny automated garage brewery, stretching his knowledge into new areas he never considered before. The postal worker, obsessed with brewing, dabbles in microbiology as she yearns to understand the metabolic processes of yeast.Homebrewers are primarily responsible for the craft beer explosion in recent years. Consider how many of the craft breweries today were founded by homebrewers. It's no coincidence that the craft beer movement, so prominent today, began shortly after homebrewing was legalized in 1978. This craft beer craze is now a worldwide phenomenon.
Everything Old is New Again
Homebrewing remembered its presidential roots when, in 2011, the White House crafted several homebrewed beers for the president. White House Honey Ale, Porter, and Blonde were famously brewed, served, and given away. In fact, current president Barrack Obama is an American Homebrew Association (AHA) member.

Brothers in Arms, We'll Survive the Zombie Apocalypse
Thanks to the work of the AHA, the efforts of some homebrewing advocates like Charlie Papazian, and forums like HomeBrewTalk, homebrewing is a hobby known in all parts of the country. Homebrew contests and events are common and have raised the awareness of the art. One thing in common with all brewers is an esprit de corps among them. Brewers are bound by a common appreciation for the magic of fermentation. Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of brewing, watches over our efforts and wills us to work together to teach the new generations to brew. Camaraderie is a core tenet of our hobby. On National Homebrew Day, there are many events across the nation for homebrewers to get together. Check out the AHA website to find one local to you.We make beer with knowledge and attention to detail, not magic. It's something we can whip up any time we wish. To our neighbors and friends, though, this might look like alchemy. Certainly, when the apocalypse is upon us, they'll be camping out on our doorsteps, begging us to conjure a new brew.

Raise a Glass!
So, fellow homebrewers, as we move into the weekend, let's remember all the homebrewers who preceded us. Let's appreciate the role homebrewing has played in the creation of an American culture of ingenuity. Let's brew some beer.
Grab a homebrew. Watch this video, made right here by your own intrepid HBT friends. Have a great National Homebrew Day. One... Two... Three.... Cheers!

Note: National Homebrew Day is Saturday May 2nd.
Cool article! Another fun fact, Pumpkin beers came from the Pilgrims and early New England settlers.
The grain they grew had to be used for actual food and pumpkins were abundant, so the beer got made from them.
I will be out brewing my (hopefully very banana-y) dunkelweizen in my Samuel Adam's cosplay outfit on Satuday, cannot wait.
Cool article. I like the mad max kind of man stands alone against a world gone dry! Nastarovie!
Great article. Happy Homebrew Day to all! I hope you can spend it brewing or at least enjoying some homebrew.
Fantastic piece of work. Made me want to shout huzzah! or something equally fitting. Thanks PP for this, and thanks to all the HBT members in the video. Would love to know the avatar names, kind of like the bits in " Band of brothers" where we see the real heroes at the end. Happy homebrew day to y'all. I'm so vey thankful to be a small part of this great community and to have discovered the joys of homebrewing. Happy National Homebrew Day! Huzzah!!!
Yeah I recognized your mug from the pool chilling wort/dog/not much headspace video. Great stuff. I'll check out the link. Cheers
Brewed a saison with a North Carolina grown grain bill today. Happy Homebrew Day!
I missed this! I was working, and then out camping so I was out of the loop for a few days. This is wonderful- thank you so much!!!!!
Thanks for the article. I've been brewing since 2012 and never knew there was an actual National Hombrewer's Day. Turns out, my first brew session I ever had was on Homebrewer's day back in 2012! How's that for irony? :)
Great article and an inspiring video. Thanks to all of those involved!