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?