The History of Home-brewing in the UK

This arti­cle first appeared in issue 9 of Hop & Bar­ley mag­a­zine, a home-brew­ing spe­cial pub­lished in 2018, and avail­able to buy at £10 from the web­site.

Before 1963 if you wanted to make your own beer in Britain you either had to pay the government for the privilege, or do it secretly, thanks to the lingering effects of Victorian legislation.

In 1880 Prime Min­is­ter William Glad­stone, seek­ing to appease the farm­ing lob­by and urgent­ly raise mon­ey, replaced the long­stand­ing malt tax with a duty on the fin­ished prod­uct – beer. As a side effect, house­holds that brewed their own beer for ‘domes­tic use’ (that didn’t sell it) were sud­den­ly sub­ject to reg­is­tra­tion, reg­u­la­tion and inspec­tion, and were required to pay for a licence.

This didn’t stop home-brew­ing alto­geth­er, espe­cial­ly not in cas­es where it was part of com­mu­ni­ty life, as at Blax­hall in Suf­folk where, accord­ing to the rec­ol­lec­tions of one elder­ly vil­lager, almost every house­wife brewed her own beer before World War I. They shared equip­ment and formed a ‘yeast chain’ with each woman col­lect­ing yeast from whichev­er of her neigh­bours had brewed most recent­ly. [1]

But as the 20th cen­tu­ry wore on, and peo­ple were dragged into court for mak­ing beer at home with­out licences, home-brew­ing as a vital tra­di­tion all but dis­ap­peared. Offi­cial num­bers sug­gest­ed that by 1961–62 only 250 peo­ple in the entire coun­try had licences to brew beer at home. [2]

Of course there was plen­ty going on with­out licence behind closed doors and one 1963 news­pa­per col­umn described a home brew­er ‘who wish­es to remain anony­mous for obvi­ous rea­sons’ run­ning a sub­stan­tial brew­ery out of his garage to which ‘the Cus­toms and Excise have nev­er found their way’.  [3]

The cost of inves­ti­gat­ing and pros­e­cut­ing hard­ly seemed worth the effort which is why, on 3 April 1963, Con­ser­v­a­tive Chan­cel­lor Regi­nald Maudling announced the abo­li­tion of the 1880 law, with its ragged Vic­to­ri­an trousers, in his bud­get speech to the House of Com­mons. On the day of Regi­nald Maudling’s announce­ment, the garage home-brew­er men­tioned above drank a toast to the Chan­cel­lor, rais­ing a mug of his own strong ale. Free­dom, at last.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The His­to­ry of Home-brew­ing in the UK

Another Round of #BeeryLongreads: 18 Dec 2015

We’re going to post something longer than usual (1,500+ words) on Friday 18 December, to give our readers something to chew on over the Christmas lull.

If any oth­er beer blog­gers fan­cy join­ing us, that’d be great – just post on or around the same date.

We won’t be putting togeth­er a round-up this time but will be shar­ing links on Face­book and Twit­ter using the hash­tag #Beery­Lon­gReads.

Also, by way of encour­age­ment, we’re going to send the best UK-based entry this pile of good­ies:

Prize bundle feat. Mikkeller book, Brew Britannia, Watney's half-pint glass, BrewDog keyring &c.

And, because of the cost of postage, the best from out­side the UK will get an Ama­zon vouch­er or sim­i­lar.

We’ll decide the win­ners entire­ly sub­jec­tive­ly and our deci­sion will be final.

PS. Alan at A Good Beer Blog is run­ning a writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion at his blog; if you also want to sub­mit your #Beery­Lon­gRead as your entry for that, make sure it is more than 2,500 words long and meets the require­ments set out at the link above. He’ll be for­mal­ly launch­ing the con­test, along with his annu­al pho­to com­pe­ti­tion, fair­ly soon – we’ll update this post when the announce­ment goes live.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Anoth­er Round of #Beery­Lon­greads: 18 Dec 2015”

The Lure of Luxury, The Call of Craft?

Why do people buy ‘fancy beer’ – because it tastes better, or because it ‘signals’ status?

Psy­chol­o­gist Paul Bloom’s arti­cle ‘The Lure of Lux­u­ry’ men­tions beer only in pass­ing – ‘the attrac­tive stranger in a bar is aroused by your choice of beer’ – but any­one who’s been called a snob for drink­ing a £6 pint, or rolled their eyes at the glitzy pack­ag­ing of a lim­it­ed edi­tion IPA, will get the rel­e­vance.

Dr Bloom sets out two oppos­ing points of view:

  1. Peo­ple want lux­u­ry goods because they look, feel or taste good – they give plea­sure in and of them­selves.
  2. Lux­u­ry goods are sta­tus sym­bol designed to impress oth­ers and sig­nal ‘intel­li­gence, ambi­tion, and pow­er’.

The truth, he argues, lies some­where in between:

Now, only a philis­tine would deny Postrel’s point that some con­sumer pref­er­ences are aes­thet­ic, even sen­su­al. And only a rube would doubt that some peo­ple buy some lux­u­ry items to impress col­leagues, com­peti­tors, spous­es, and lovers. Per­haps we can divvy up the con­sumer world. An appre­ci­a­tion of beau­ty explains cer­tain acces­si­ble and uni­ver­sal con­sumer pleasures—Postrel begins her book in Kab­ul after the Tal­iban fell, describ­ing how the women there rev­eled in their free­dom to pos­sess burkas of dif­fer­ent col­ors and to paint their nails—while sig­nal­ing the­o­ry applies to the more extrav­a­gant pur­chas­es. A crim­son bur­ka? Aes­thet­ics. A $30,000 watch? Sig­nal­ing. Aris­to­tle Onassis’s choice to uphol­ster the bar stools in his yacht with whale fore­skin? Def­i­nite­ly sig­nal­ing.

He goes on to con­sid­er why an exact repli­ca of an object isn’t as desir­able as the real thing; why when peo­ple buy a celebri­ty’s jumper in a char­i­ty auc­tion they don’t want it dry-cleaned first; and whether any­one needs six mechan­i­cal wrists to auto­mat­i­cal­ly wind their col­lec­tion of Rolex watch­es.

Let’s attempt to trans­late those ques­tions: Why do peo­ple con­tin­ue to hunt down and pay through the nose for West­vleteren 12 when none but the most refined palates can tell it from St Bernar­dus Abt 12? Why is beer brewed under con­tract less appeal­ing than oth­er­wise? Does any­one need a £168 six-pack of beer?

When you choose a beer is it real­ly ‘about flavour’ – the defen­sive cry of the craft beer drinker accused of extrav­a­gance – or some­thing else? And, of course, some­thing else might be fine, depend­ing on your val­ues, and the plea­sure it brings is just as real.

We found Dr Bloom’s arti­cle via If you can’t be both­ered to read it you can see him speak­ing on relat­ed top­ics at the TED Talks web­site.

All the #BeeryLongReads from November 2014

Once again, our fears that we would be going it alone on #BeeryLongReads day proved to be unfounded – thanks, everyone, for taking part. Here are all the posts that we’ve spotted or been told about.

→ Old Fam­i­ly Brew­ers of Britain. Part Sev­en – Brak­s­pears of Hen­ley-on-Thames by Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion) recounts the his­to­ry of a brew­ery and the author’s own long expe­ri­ence of drink­ing its beer: “I had learnt of the com­pa­ny’s exis­tence late in 1973 after read­ing Christo­pher Hut­t’s excel­lent and pio­neer­ing book, The Death of the Eng­lish Pub… [but]it was not until the spring of 1975, dur­ing my stu­dent days, that I first had the chance to sam­ple them.”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “All the #Beery­Lon­gReads from Novem­ber 2014”

Beery Long Reads, August 2014

These are all the respons­es to our call to ‘go long’ that we know about so far. If we missed yours, com­ment below, and we’ll add any strag­glers to this list and when we find out about them either in the com­ments below or through Twit­ter.

Bulimba Gold Top

A Brief History of Bulimba Gold Top

by Drunk­en Spec­u­la­tion (@DrunkSpec)

[This] is the abridged his­to­ry of a local beer that was dis­con­tin­ued before I was born but holds my inter­est for rea­sons I can’t quite fath­om. It might be the notion of brew­ing beer in Brisbane’s inner river­side sub­urbs, some­thing that has only recent­ly become a thing again. It might be the roman­tic fil­ter through which I view late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Bris­bane. It might just be the name: Bulim­ba Gold Top.

[Read more at Drunk­en Spec­u­la­tion…]

[ezcol_1third]Bolivian Flag (detail)[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Cerveza at 11,000 feet in Bolivia

by Bre­wolero

My first arrival to La Paz made for a weird epiphany, but a rev­e­la­tion nonethe­less. Of course, head-pound­ing and dehy­drat­ed is not quite a state of mind that screams for beer. Nonethe­less, we head­ed for what to any beer-mind­ed per­son was the promis­ing­ly-named Adven­ture Brew Hos­tel, although the cranky old­head lurk­ing in me was a tad wary.

[Read more at Bre­wolero…][/ezcol_2third_end]
[ezcol_1third]Beer in Lille.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Lille: a Beer Odyssey and Much More

by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY)

I sus­pect that many of you, as I have done, gazed unin­ter­est­ed­ly out of the win­dow as your Eurostar train pulled into Lille sta­tion, a seem­ing­ly unnec­es­sary stop on your way to Brus­sels and maybe beyond, with your head full of all the good things that Bel­gium, where beer is almost a reli­gion, will have in store for you.

[Read more at Get Beer, Drink Beer…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]London Beer City.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Lon­don Beer Peo­ple

by Matthew Cur­tis (@TotalCurtis)

What Lon­don beer city did was cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that made beer more acces­si­ble to every­one else. I watched onlook­ers, strag­glers and casu­al passers by not only stop and look what was going on but wan­der in and start a beer jour­ney of their very own.

[Read more at Total Ales…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Brewdog beers.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Inter­view with Baron Dick­ie of Ellon

by Matthew Lawren­son (@seethelizards)

Arti­cle tak­en from (3rd March 2034): View­ing Lord Dick­ie today, it’s hard to imag­ine him as the flat-cap wear­ing fire­brand enfant-ter­ri­ble of British Brew­ing. Repos­ing on an antique Chester­field, dressed head-to-toe in tweed, he looks every inch the mid­dle-aged Scot­tish coun­try gent.

[Read more at See­ing the Lizards][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]BeerBud[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Beer­Bud Beer Club

by Glen Humphries (@26bear)

Unlike a num­ber of oth­er journos, I didn’t both­er writ­ing any­thing for the paper because I knew it was noth­ing spe­cial. I knew the media release head­line “Aussie barons brew ale rev­o­lu­tion” was sim­ply not true.

[Read more at Beer is Your Friend…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Vintage beer glass illustration.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Who Will Save the Idea of Craft Beer?

by Alan McCormick (@GrowlerFills)

Papaz­ian is exact­ly right. A craft brew­er is a sub­jec­tive idea, some­thing neb­u­lous left to each of us to define as relates to our own expe­ri­ences and val­ues. But Papazian’s orga­ni­za­tion defines it any­way.

[Read more at Growler Fills…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Hop farming in Idaho.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Farm­ing Hops, Ida­ho Style

by Stan Hierony­mus (@StanHieronymus)

This was by no means a del­uge. You could almost count the ear­ly morn­ing rain­drops hit­ting the tent roof. There’s one where Ori­on would be locat­ed, a cou­ple by the Big Dip­per. Rain and wind can be a very bad thing at a hop farm this time of year. A few days ear­li­er rain and wind in Wash­ing­ton and south­ern Ida­ho had knocked down about 140 acres of hop trel­lis­es.

[Read more at Appel­la­tion Beer…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Some beer books that we've used for research.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Rec­om­mend­ed Brew­ing His­to­ry Books

by Ed Wray (@TheBeerFather)

Back in May when Chris March­banks gave a talk on brew­ing his­to­ry he gave out a list of books he rec­om­mend­ed. Here’s the list with com­ments and some sug­ges­tions of my own. I’ve pro­vid­ed links for the books which in some cas­es link will take you to the com­plete book online, in oth­ers it’s to an online retail­er. Some of the books are dirt cheap and some are dead expen­sive.

[Read more at Ed’s Beer Site…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brewery door.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Mel­low Brown vs. the Amar­il­lo Kid?

by Boak & Bai­ley (@boakandbailey)

The ten­sion between new world and old school is being played out at Spin­go Ales in sleepy Hel­ston, Corn­wall, but which side has the upper hand?

[Read more…][/ezcol_2third_end]

ADDED 31/08/2014

[ezcol_1third]James Watt of Brewdog.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Inter­view with BrewDog’s James Watt

by Chris Hall (@cshallwriter)

I asked var­i­ous Beer Peo­ple I know what they would ask Brew­Dog if they had the same chance as me… What fol­lows is a series of ques­tions put to James Watt on Fri­day 22 August, some from me, some from oth­er peo­ple.

[Read more at the Beer Diary…][/ezcol_2third_end]

[ezcol_1third]Upper Hudson Valley Beer cover (detail)[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_2third_end]Upper Hud­son Beer From 1700 to 1750

by Alan McLeod (@agoodbeerblog)

On Feb­ru­ary 15, 1700, one of the church’s poor died. She was Ryseck, the wid­ow of Ger­rit Swart… There were more than a few expens­es in addi­tion to the cost of the cof­fin and the fee paid Hen­drick Rose­boom, the doo­d­graver. In addi­tion to 150 sug­ar cakes and suf­fi­cient tobac­co and pipes… twen­ty-sev­en guilders were paid by the con­gre­ga­tion for a half vat and an anker of good beer.

[Read more at A Good Beer Blog…][/ezcol_2third_end]