Homebrewers are a resourceful breed. Whether it’s constructing brew equipment from a stack of buckets and a few yards of tubing, or designing recipes based on foraged ingredients and long-forgotten processes, they meet challenges with creativity and determination. So, when Simon Pipola, a young London homebrewer, decided he was going to stage Britain’s first homebrew conference, nothing was going to stand in his way.
British homebrewing does not have the same history of prohibition as that of the USA – British people have always been able to brew beer at home, though they have sometimes been taxed for the privilege. The scene has perhaps been slower to embrace some of the more creative elements of contemporary brewing. When brewing at home was first legalized in the USA back in 1978, many new homebrewers looked to the British scene for inspiration. But things changed and, in recent years, the British homebrewer has been unfairly stereotyped as an older man (always a man!) making beer from basic kits, or choosing recipes based solely on their alcohol %:cost ratio, rather than any consideration of taste.
Of course, contemporary British homebrewing is a long way from this, with homebrewers, increasingly diverse in gender, age, and experience, now experimenting with just about every style of beer. Folks are brewing up almost anything but the “boring brown beer” people seem to expect. By way of illustration, the winning beer in the 2017 Great British Homebrew Challenge was a sour and salty watermelon-infused Gose! And although there are a growing number of regional homebrew clubs, several great competitions, and a strong online community, there is no national homebrew association like the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and, until now, no national homebrew conference.
But Pipola has changed that and, on a crisp, London-gray, November day, more than 500 amateur brewers headed to a warehouse venue in Bethnal Green for the inaugural Brew Con London. Some were members of brew clubs, competition organizers, or beer bloggers. Others were individuals, just dipping a toe in the liquor of homebrewing for the first time, only to find a lot of other people in there, already up to their necks.
Stu McKinley, the warm, self-effacing co-founder of innovative New Zealand brewery, Yeastie Boys, set the optimistic tone of the event with a heartfelt keynote address in which he reflected on his journey from amateur to pro brewer. A succession of further presentations by brewers, writers and brewing scientists framed the rest of day, with many referencing elements that make British brewing distinct in terms of styles and ingredients.
As every homebrewer knows, understanding more about how beer is created enhances the enjoyment of each and every glass. The emphasis on learning threaded throughout Brew Con London, from the presence of educators like Brewlab and the Beer & Cider Academy, to the stalls showcasing homebrew supplies, and the folk just coming together to talk brewing. The British homebrew scene is clearly growing, in size as well as proficiency.
The inaugural Brew Con signals a growing enthusiasm for amateur brewing in Britain. To reference the title of Stu McKinley’s keynote address, British homebrewers undoubtedly “face a shining future.”