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 BoingBoing.com. 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 telegraph.com (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]