Beer history homebrewing

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 replies on “Happy Maudlingsday, Home Brewers!”

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.

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.

I keep meaning to register, but I’m afraid they’ll come check the Stammw├╝rze ­čśë (I believe you’re not supposed to brew over a certain value, so a barley wine wouldn’t fit)

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.

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.

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.

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

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?)

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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