BrewingTechniques
From the Editor
Rumors of Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

The scuttlebutt in the home brewing industry these days holds that the hobby is in decline. Reports of homebrew shop closings abound, and original manufacturers and suppliers lament the loss of growth -- or even actual declines -- in sales. Although these observations have some basis in fact, it is an exaggeration to leap to the conclusion that home brewing is near the brink.

On the surface, it is true that some homebrew shops are closing. What is also true is that in the past three years an incredible number of new businesses entered the market to cash in on this fast-growing industry. In many cases, the new start-ups overestimated the growth or size of the market they were entering. A community that used to support one thriving homebrew supply store soon had three. When one closes in 1998, however, people infer gloom and doom for a declining industry. Not true.

The same is true for the manufacturers and wholesalers. They may indeed be seeing a lessening of growth or even actual declines, and for the same reasons as the homebrew retailers. Not only do new manufacturers and distributors enter the market, but new distribution channels further shrink the slices of the pie. Home brewers often find creative ways to find and buy cheap ingredients through breweries, for example, and a certain amount of business is siphoned off through cut-rate, retail-at-wholesale suppliers.

The retail-at-wholesale issue bears specific mention because it undermines the vitality of its suppliers. No company selling to the general public at wholesale (or near wholesale) prices can make the profit margin needed to operate a viable business. More important, these fly-by-night distributors threaten the livelihood of bona fide homebrew retailers, whose retail prices reflect the costs of overhead, personal attention, and accessibility (consider the last time you had to run out for hops or yeast on short notice).

In fact, home brewing is thriving. As Deb Jolda reports on page 15 of this issue, the Southern California brewfest provides ample evidence of not only the interest but also the brewing skill and organizational acumen of today's home brewers. Other similar homebrew events are springing up around the country: The Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing came to life this year as a new national competition concept, and the HBD Palexperiment, reported on page 40 of this issue, brought home brewers together from around the country for an innovative national experiment.

So the truth about home brewing is that a dedicated core of home brewers continues to push the limits of the hobby while the suppliers' side is seeing many adjustments ("market corrections") that result directly from growth, increased competition, and gray market activities. Clearly, this scenario is not one of imminent demise.

Those of us closest to the community, however, still have reason for concern. Any volunteer association will lose members simply through attrition. For countless reasons, each year some home brewers let their brewing hobby languish. The growth we've seen in home brewing over the past 20 years reflects the net increase in brewers, which means the influx of new brewers has outpaced the loss of brewers to attrition. The concern today is really that the hobby is failing to attract new members at a rate that exceeds losses through natural attrition.

Why are we not renewing our ranks? The answer is simple -- lack of awareness in mainstream society. Clearly home brewers can make beer as good or better than anything brewed commercially. Clearly home brewers, even paying full price for ingredients and supplies, can brew beer much more cheaply than anything they can buy in the store. And clearly home brewers have fun.

I firmly believe that tens of thousands of people would take up home brewing with gusto if they only knew they could. Most simply lack the awareness that they can produce their own stellar beer and that it can easy and fun. If we will show them, they will brew.

Currently, no national publicity campaign exists to promote the existence of home brewing to the general public. For this reason BrewingTechniques is advocating with the Home Wine & Beer Trade Association to organize such an effort in the near future. Merely taking our hobby out from hiding will swell its ranks as people learn how satisfying brewing their own beer can be.

Home brewers are the original innovators of craft beer in North America. They and the industry that services them deserves our wholehearted support.

Stephen Mallery
Publisher

Issue 6.4 Table Of Contents
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