Are Homebrewers Driving the Current Craft Beer Explosion?

Eno Sarris, November 13, 2013

The American Homebrewers Association released the results of their first nation-wide study on Tuesday, and appropriately for an organization with the moniker AHA, there were some eye-opening findings.

The number that might make the rounds today is 1.2 million. That's the estimated number of homebrewers in the United States today, according to this census. But just as important to that large number is the fact that two-thirds of them began brewing in 2005 or later.

Remember this table from an investment bank report on craft beer, which we referenced in our discussion of the current (non) bubble in the craft beer market?

  • Sub premium — 3.9 percent decrease
  • Premium — 2.3 percent decrease
  • Super Premium — 1 percent decrease
  • Imports — 2.8 percent gain
  • Craft — 13.9 percent gain

That details the growth in each beer sector from 2009 to 2011. It's fair to ask how much homebrewing has helped fuel some of this interest.

Other numbers from the report make this suggestion seem less ridiculous. Look at the regional breakdown of homebrewers: "Homebrewers are fairly evenly spread across the country, with the slight plurality congregated in the West (31 percent), followed by the South (26 percent), Midwest (23 percent) and the fewest in the Northeast (17 percent)." The West leads the country in homebrewers, and also in markets with the highest craft beer saturation. It's fair to ask which came first, but it's also fair to say the two come hand in hand.

An argument against the idea that homebrewers are driving much of the craft beer explosion might be that homebrewing is expensive, and if you're drinking your own beer, you're not drinking commercial craft beer. The study did find that homebrewers spend about $800 a year on equipment and supplies and that they produce two million barrels a year. On the other hand, that's a dedicated consumer you're talking about there, collectively producing only one percent of total domestic beer production. If the average American household spends $1300 on beer annually, that leaves $500 for beer at the store... and you know the homebrewer won't be spending that on Big Beer. (And they probably spend more than the average household on beer if you count their homebrewing supplies.)

One thing that's no surprise is that the average homebrewer is a 40-year old in a marriage or domestic partnership (78%). It was the transition from living the night life in New York to suburban child-rearing that spurred this correspondent's love of beer, for example. And along with that move came more room -- room for storing equipment, and an outdoor space for homebrewing.

Maybe the link is just in my head, or in my second and third fridges.

Thanks to Wiki Commons user Andrew Martin for the header image.