Happy Maudlingsday, Home Brewers!

Reginald Maudling as proud mother of the 1963 budget.
Regi­nald Maudling as proud moth­er of the 1963 bud­get.

Fifty years ago today, Con­ser­v­a­tive Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer Regi­nald Maudling made this state­ment as part of his spring bud­get speech:

Under the present law, peo­ple who brew beer either for their own con­sump­tion or, in the case of farm­ers, for con­sump­tion by their workpeo­ple are required to take out an Excise licence and, in some cas­es, to pay duty based on the Sched­ule A val­u­a­tion. The amount of rev­enue involved is very small indeed, and is prob­a­bly less than the cost of col­lec­tion. The abo­li­tion of the Sched­ule A val­u­a­tion sys­tem pro­vides a con­ve­nient oppor­tu­ni­ty for get­ting rid of these licences. So the pri­vate cit­i­zen will have the same free­dom to brew beer as he already has to make wine.

He did­n’t legalise home brew­ing in Britain, but he did remove the require­ment to reg­is­ter and pay for the priv­i­lege.

What effect did this have? It led to a boom in home brew­ing sup­plies avail­able on the high street, instead of through a hand­ful of spe­cial­ist sup­pli­ers. It meant that home brew­ing ceased to be a clan­des­tine activ­i­ty (few peo­ple actu­al­ly reg­is­tered – they just did it in secret) and prompt­ed a flood of books and columns.

Among the first hand­ful of new British brew­eries in the sev­en­ties, one was based on a back-room plas­tic fer­men­tor, and anoth­er was found­ed by the own­er of a home brew­ing sup­ply shop.

Now, years down the line, there are quite a few new British brew­eries being start­ed by home brew­ers. Would many of them have even got start­ed if they’d need­ed a licence? Even if they had brewed, in secret, would they have become as good as they are with­out the option to talk open­ly with their peers online?

12 thoughts on “Happy Maudlingsday, Home Brewers!”

  1. You need to reg­is­ter as a home-brew­er here in Ger­many. As I under­stand it there is no licence fee but if you brew more than 2hl (44 gal­lons) a year you are sup­posed to pay duty. It does­n’t seem to stop peo­ple – I’ve met sev­er­al pro­fes­sion­al (or semi-pro) Ger­man brew­ers late­ly who start­ed out as hob­by brew­ers. What’s more like­ly to stop them is that beer is so cheap in the shops – so the real incen­tives to home-brew are the craft aspects, and/or mak­ing some­thing that you can’t buy in the shops.

    1. I’ve just spot­ted that 2hl is almost exact­ly a pint a day – is there a Ger­man Cus­toms offi­cer with a non-met­ric sense of pro­por­tion, I won­der?

      1. Bryan – thanks for the insight. The six­ties were a per­fect breed­ing ground for home brew­ing: beer in pubs was, as var­i­ous peo­ple report, a shad­ow of ‘the real thing’, *and* it was expen­sive. You gen­uine­ly could brew some­thing at home for pen­nies a pint that was bet­ter than Whit­bread Tankard, with a bit of skill.

      2. I keep mean­ing to reg­is­ter, but I’m afraid they’ll come check the Stammwürze 😉 (I believe you’re not sup­posed to brew over a cer­tain val­ue, so a bar­ley wine would­n’t fit)

  2. My rec­ol­lec­tion is that there was a boom in home brew­ing in the 60s and 70s, but it very rapid­ly devel­oped a neg­a­tive image either as “rock­et fuel” or as some­thing irre­deemably naff done by mid­dle-aged men in sleeve­less pullovers who liked pot­ter­ing around in the shed. In the 1970s it (and home wine-mak­ing) was a sta­ple of jokes in sit­coms and stand-up com­e­dy.

    As a mass-mar­ket activ­i­ty it was to a large extent killed off when the super­mar­kets realised there was a mar­ket in sell­ing slabs of beer at bar­gain prices, and by the advent of the “booze cruise” which I think was in the mid-80s.

    1. I won­der if the super­mar­kets killing it off as a mon­ey-saver was actu­al­ly what made it ben­e­fi­cial in the long run, because it meant that the only only ones who both­ered were those who want­ed to be good at it – and do some­thing dif­fer­ent.

  3. Ire­land’s equiv­a­lent seems to have been in 1992 when the require­ment to pay excise duty on home brewed beer was removed. Not, I’m sure, that any­one ever did. Odd­ly, they left the home brew­ers’ licence on the books: they cost noth­ing, there’s no penal­ty for not hav­ing one and I reck­on you’d get a seri­ous­ly flus­tered Rev­enue offi­cial if you actu­al­ly applied for one.

    1. Of course, it is still, we think, tech­ni­cal­ly ille­gal to share your home brew with oth­ers! Luck­i­ly, no-one ever does that.

    1. There’s a great bit on home dis­till­ing in Derek Coop­er’s 1970 book The Bev­er­age Report which implies that every­one was doing it in secret, par­tic­u­lar­ly freeze-dis­till­ing.

      I guess the rea­son they don’t change the law is because, unlike home brew­ing, it can actu­al­ly be dan­ger­ous if you screw it up. (Or am I buy­ing into a scare­mon­ger­ing urban myth, there?)

  4. When my dad retired, my mum bought him a home-brew kit and the asso­ci­at­ed equip­ment believ­ing it would give him some­thing to do, which it did. In a way this was a lit­tle strange as my mum was always a bit cen­so­ri­ous about drink­ing.

    He kept this up for about ten years, always just brew­ing a gal­lon at a time and bot­tling it. It was always from kits, but the end-prod­uct could be very palat­able, although the typ­i­cal­ly high atten­u­a­tion and high alco­hol con­tent might have had some­thing to do with that. I would say that the end prod­uct was prob­a­bly about 5.5–6% ABV.

    Even­tu­al­ly it became too much like hard work, while super­mar­ket beer prices became more attrac­tive. In his last years, my dad favoured canned (non-wid­get) Tet­ley Bit­ter. He did enjoy a good pint of real ale in the pub, but that was what suit­ed him as a reg­u­lar tip­ple at home. Reli­gious­ly, one can a day, before lunch.

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