The Most Common Question I Get About Homebrewing

by Billy Broas

Brewing on the 3-Tier

"You Should Really Come Down and Smell This!"

Without a doubt, the 100%, undisputed, #1 question I get about homebrewing is:

“Is it good?”

Hell yes it’s good!

I mean it’s not world-class or anything. Some batches are fantastic, while some are just ok. But I can honestly answer that question by saying, “Yes, my homebrew tastes good.”

If you’re a homebrewer, I’m sure you give the same response. OK so no one is going to say “No, it actually tastes like shit, but I brew and drink it anyways.” But I really bet yours is good. Why? Because I know most of my readers and you guys and girls know your stuff.

Let’s stop tooting our own horns and be honest though – it’s not that hard to make beer you would call good. Especially since the person asking the question is usually a drinker of light fizzy stuff. Not their own fault, they’ve simply been brainwashed. Please bring them back to reality. Thank you.

Let’s think about this knee-jerk response for a moment – “Is it good?”

Why are people so skeptical? What from their experience leads them to doubt that making great beer is possible?

One of the problems with understanding why is that I’m a bit of a youngster at 26. In this regard I’m pretty lucky that I hit drinking age when homebrewing was in full swing and it was easy to get high-quality ingredients and information. But a homebrewing historian I am not, and I don’t know what it was like before these golden days.

From what I’ve heard, it hasn’t always been this way. In fact there seems to be an idea about brewing beer in bathtubs. Will somebody please tell me where this came from? I think my Dad mentioned his aunt brewing something in the bathtub. My Dad reads this blog. Hey Dad, what was that stuff about a bathtub and why do people ask me if I make beer in a bathtub?

It’s ridiculous. I always laugh when I hear that. I’m not insulted at all, but fascinated that this notion has been ingrained in our culture, even with people my age or younger.

Why We Make Good Beer

Before we go too far wondering why they ask, why don’t we answer the question why it is good. I don’t think most non-homebrewers understand that you can make commercial quality beer. The beauty of the hobby is that we’re not at that much of a disadvantage, and in some cases we have advantages over the pros.

The key thing to realize is that we can closely mimic the probrewers, just on a smaller scale. Here’s why:

  1. Ingredients – The pros don’t have access to any better ingredients than homebrewers do. In fact, this is where we’re at an advantage. It comes down to cost. Many brewers simply can’t afford say, organic fruits, because they need to buy them on such a large scale. There is a much greater financial risk if their beer doesn’t sell. Homebrewers don’t have this concern. Because we’re typically brewing in 5 or 10 gallon batches, we can afford to spend a little extra on premium ingredients.
  2. Equipment – Most of the fancy equipment you see at a professional brewery is there because they brew in such large volumes. The pipes, pumps, and huge tanks are necessary when you’re brewing a million gallons per year. For the rest of the equipment, they do have some advantages over homebrewers, but not too much that really affects the beer quality. They’ve got us in temperature control, yeast handling equipment, and mash tuns that optimize efficiency, for example. But homebrewers are an intelligent bunch and they’ve created gadgets to rival the pros. At the end of the day, a boil kettle is a boil kettle. Our equipment allows us to make very good beer.
  3. Information – There are plenty of options for homebrewers to learn how to brew, from books to on-campus classes. The beauty of the hobby is that it doesn’t take years of studying to make a batch that you would call “good.” In fact, after learning homebrewing from a buddy, my first homebrew turned out excellent. If you know what you’re doing, any of the pre-assembled ingredient kits that most of us start out with are going to turn out “good.”

Let’s not forget the ultimate advantage homebrewers have over the pros: freshness. Unless you’re drinking at the brewpub, your homebrew will be fresher than any beer you buy. And remember what Michael Jackson said about fresh beer?

One of life’s great but simple pleasures, widely recognised, is the aroma, taste, and satisfaction offered by truly fresh bread. Another, less well acknowledged, is the same sequence of sensuous experiences brought forth by really fresh beer. – Michael Jackson

So those are my main reasons why we can make good homebrew. Astute readers will notice that they are the same three factors I list in my 3-Legged Stool analogy on making beer. Here it is again:
3 Legged Stool
Fun graphic, eh? If one leg is missing, you fall on your ass.

So let’s move this discussion down to the comment area. If you’re a homebrewer, what is the most common question you get? Is it just that people are only skeptical that I, personally, could make good homebrew? Could be. For my non-homebrewing readers, what are your questions about it? Are there things you assume about the hobby from your experience? Bathtubs?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike November 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Billy,

this was a fantastic read. As a homebrewer, “you made this?” is often the most common question I get. This is typically followed by “Maybe. Do you like it?” I tend to be modest about my beers because I find that this is one of the greatest qualities about the beer community, both professionally and on a homebrew scale. When you make something good, you know its good, its a great hobby to practice objectivity. Also, because tastes vary so much. To some Pliny is the holy grail, to others it tastes like cat piss.

I recently ran into a homebrewer in Fishtown, Philadelphia. He actually uses 20 gallon food-grade trashcans as primary and secondary fermenters. Typically he does open-air fermentation. I was totally blow away. As sanitation tends to be the bogeyman of choice in my homebrew nightmares, I was both put off and completely turned on by how great his confidence was in his set up. Another one of my favorite things about homebrew: the proof is in the pudding. Methods may vary and can be debated but a tasty finished product can make even the most anti-beer, oenophile say, “I respect that.”

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OtownPyle November 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Yes I get the “Is It good” most of those people usually expect for it to be just home brewed Bud Light I believe. And I think the bathtub thing has to do w/ where people ususally see my carboys when they’re fermenting! In the bathtub & usually in a swamp bath! Ha Gonna take some more brews home for the holidays and interested to get responses to them… Haven’t made anything for the Light American Lager Palate in quite awhile!

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Adam November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I tell people I’m a homebrewer, and a lot of them say, “Yeah, I did that once.” Turns out they got some crappy Mr. Beer kit and made some soupy mixture of warm water and syrup. Then in their minds’ the beer I make is the same garbage “beer” they made. I think that’s why a lot of people are skeptical of our homebrew.

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Edlikesmusic November 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I think the bathtub connotation actually comes from moonshine and not home brewing. People don’t typically separate amateur beer makers from people who were distilling gin and other liqours. According to wikipedia the term comes from prohibition:

Bathtub gin refers to any style of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions. The term first appeared in 1930, in the prohibition-era United States, in reference to the poor-quality alcohol that was being made.[1] As gin was the predominant drink in the Roaring 20′s, many variations were created by mixing cheap grain alcohol with water and flavorings and other agents, such as juniper berry juice and glycerin. Contrary to popular belief, the spirit was not made in a bathtub. Rather, because the preferred sort of bottle was too tall to be topped off with water from a sink, they were filled from a bathtub tap. Many other cocktails owe their life to bathtub gin, as they were also created in order to mask the awful taste.

Maybe its not too big of a leap to suggest that homebrewers get the bathtub line because until recently the quality of ingredients and the general depth of knowledge available to the average home brewer were relatively poor and that reminded a lot of people about the shitty booze being served during prohibition (aka bathtub gin / moonshine, etc).

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Jorge November 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

“How and what do I use to make beer” is a question I get as much as “is it good?”…

I recently met a person who is older and home brewed back in the day and was surprised to hear me mention some of my equipment (basic stuff like siphon, counter-pressure filler, etc.)… apparently back in the day they never invested much money into equipment and beer was commonly placed in the bathtub to keep temperature constant…

I just turned 27 myself, so I know about as much as you do about people doubting that making good beer is possible…

My two theories is that good home brew equipment and it’s availability is something recent (last 10 to 15 years) which goes along with information and the internet explosion… Second, kits like Mr Beer and other similar ones are more commonly found by people and it appears these are the guys going around saying “yeah, I tried home brewing…. it tasted ok/like crap but it was watery, etc.”

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Shane November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I just brewed my first batch of homebrew a few weeks ago and tried it for the first time this week. I even surprised myself with how good it was. When I brought a growler to a family function on Sunday, the initial response to my question of “Want to try my homebrew?” was met with a quizzical and somewhat cloying look (as if they were preparing to drink some unpalatable crap but not wanting to offend me). After the first tastes by the family, the compliments started rolling in. When the growler was emptied, they were disappointed that I didn’t bring more. I measure that as succes. So to answer your question, Hell Yes it’s good!

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Vanessa November 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm

The most common question I get is more a reaction to my admitting I homebrew…”YOU homebrew?” closely followed by “Are there many girls that homebrew?” Makes me laugh every time :)

There is nothing better than the “if this was for sale in a store, I’d buy it!”, I love that.

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DenverHBC November 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I like that I am a bit past that. Some people look at me weird when I discuss it around new people but, among my friends, homebrew is expected and everyone knows where the taps are. Yay!

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Jerry Bon November 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm

The main question I always get is “how long does it take” – which of course is a 3-fold answer:
a) an hour to boil
b) 2 – 3 weeks in fermenters
c) 4 weeks in bottle or 1 week in keg to carbonate

My pet peeve is not the question, but instead the 1st words out of 90% of the people who drink a sample. They get the looks on their faces of “hmm” followed by “wow”, then a second later they almost always say (with a pleased look on their face) “NOT BAD, NOT BAD AT ALL” – My response is “I know it’s NOT BAD, I don’t brew to make BAD beer” or “did you expect me to give you a BAD beer to try?”

NOT BAD is not a compliment, even though I know they don’t mean it to be anywhere near as much of a “blah-sey” comment as it actually is when you break down the words and their meaning. The one thing this has taught me is to never use the words NOT BAD as a compliment.

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Jason Harris November 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I agree with Edlikesmusic, I think the bathtub thing is a relic from the moonshine image people have in their heads.

Weirdly, the number one question I get when I talk about homebrewing is “Are you going to sell it?” This isn’t from people who tried my beer and think I should sell it, they just hear I’m brewing and assume I am doing so to sell beer.

I also am in a weird position where everyone else likes my beer more than me. I gave my mom a case of a really weak wheat beer I made because I hated it and she loved it. “Please, take more!”

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Billy Broas November 24, 2010 at 11:29 am

I love all these responses. So great to see all the homebrewers chiming in. It looks like a common theme is that in the past, homebrewing was much more primitive. They didn’t take the sanitation precautions and even brewed in things like bath tubs (although it seems it was more common for liquor). Or, what is more common, is that people tried brewing beer in something like Mr. Beer, as a few of you mentioned. The beer came out pretty crappy, which is not too surprising, and they swore off homebrewing as a result. Then whenever someone brings up homebrewing they are quick to recall their failed attempt and discourage the other person. THAT really pisses me off.

Ok now some individual responses:

@Mike The “you made it?” question is pretty common too. I’m modest about my beer like you. The “hell yes” response is what I say in my head but what I say to the person is usually more like “People tell me it is.” That’s crazy about the trash cans. I wouldn’t dream of doing it, but you’re right, the proof is in the pudding.

@OTownePyle Yea you’re right the swamp coolers and cooling in a tub could lead people to believe we brew in those. Silly people. The holidays are always interesting because you get a large crowd’s opinion on your beer. I see them as a challenge and opportunity for winning over the group to craft beer. It’s not always easy though!

@Adam You hit the nail on the head. There are so many horror stories about brewing beer that those people would have you believe it’s impossible to make something worth drinking. There’s been a lot of great homebrew made and a lot of crappy homebrew made, and unfortunately, the crappy batches get more publicity. That’s a problem because it put these preconceived notions into people’s minds and likely discourages some from trying it.

@Edlikesmusic Thanks for posting that, it was a interesting read. I think your right about bathtubs being more closely related to moonshine than beer, but people tend to lump all of it together. You’re also right about the historically crappy homebrew that has shaped peoples opinions. Adam made a similar point. I think this is changing though. I have noticed when people think about getting into homebrewing they already know to get a real kit from a place like MoreBeer vs. a Mr. Beer. There is still education to be done on that front however.

@Jorge Yea we’re in the same boat. To some old-school homebrewers the idea that you can keg you beer blows them away. We’re fortunate we had “How to Brew” on the internet and all of the other great books when we got started. Like the people who commented above you, you’re 100% right about Mr. Beer. While a lot of great homebrewers got started with it, it’s not something I would recommend. Many of them simply didn’t know better and they quickly moved on to a real kit. As you know, it’s not that much harder with a real kit and not even much more expensive.

@Shane I love every word of that comment. That is the homebrewing experience in a nutshell. Thanks buddy.

@Vanessa Ah yea the female homebrewers have a whole different slew of questions to deal with. Us guys have it easy! The “I would buy it” comment is great to hear, but sort of tears at you too. You immediately start day dreaming and wonder “How many other people would buy it?” I bet a lot of pro-brewers heard that comment one too many times lol.

@DenverHBC Yea my friends are used to it too. It’s always the new people that are surprised. It’s fun seeing all of their different reactions.

@Jerry Bon Yup,” how long” is a common. Also “how much does it cost” and “how much room do I need”. Haha you’re right about NOT BAD. That is a true backhanded compliment. You’re right, I don’t think they mean it, but would it hurt you to say “it’s good”?

@Jason Yea the selling it thing is common too. It’s funny because they people that ask it always assume you can set up a lemonade stand and sell it the next day. Most people don’t realize how tough it is to sell your own beer. That’s funny about your mom. Very true though. We’re typically the harshest critics of our own beer.

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Denise Dochnahl November 24, 2010 at 11:54 am

I’m not a home brewer, but I should be. I also don’t have silly questions about the process, or the reasons behind doing it because I come from a family that considered prohibition more of a suggestion than a law. (I will say no more to protect the guilty… GRANDMA & PAPA!) Home brewing is an art. Not everyone will appreciate your effort and talent, but consider that they probably don’t know a damned thing about what you’re doing anyway. I’m sure a few art museum visitors have said that there should be a copy of Dogs Playing Poker on the wall… hand those folks a Bud Light, and leave them be. You know you’re good, and you know your brew is good…. probably even great. Share it with those that appreciate! You can share it with me by sending your bottles to… JUST KIDDING!! Oh, and for the record, I got to try Billy’s home brew a while ago – LOVED IT! It was not “not bad”, it was not “pretty good”; it was great! Smiling just thinking about it. Happy Thanksgiving all!

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Billy Broas November 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm

@Denise Thanks for the compliment on the homebrew! I loved how that pale ale turned out and will have to make some more. Yes, you SHOULD be homebrewing seeing as how it’s in your blood. lol.

My main issue with people being so skeptical isn’t that they don’t appreciate my beer, but that there are so many preconceived notions that I believe discourage people from trying it. You’re obviously well-versed on beer and know homebrewers can make good stuff. I think if everyone had that same knowledge more would try it. Unfortunately, the bathtub stigmas are abundant, but that seems to be changing. Thanks for the comment!

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Jason November 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Great article. When i first began my homebrewing endeavor i was excited to share what i was doing with my boss and co worker. My bosses response, “Ive heard some of that stuff is nasty.” I can hardly wait until our Christmas gathering at our house when i give her a bottle of homebrew in one of the few bottle that i haven’t removed the label from and see what she says when i tell her its homebrew at the end of the night. Take that naysayer!!!!!

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Dad November 25, 2010 at 1:27 am

Hey Billy, Edlikesmusic actually got it right. Those stories I told you growing up were about your Irish Great – Great -Grandmother mixing up a gin concoction in her bathtub during the 1920′s-1930′s. Mary Ann Flynn was her name and she ran a boarding house in Jersey City, New Jersey. Doubt she ever tried beer, she was probably too hammered most of the time! Loved your article, good luck with that beer-brined turkey!

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Billy Broas November 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

@Jason Unfortunately that’s a common response when you tell people you’re a homebrewer. Can’t wait to hear how it goes over Christmas!

@Dad Thank Dad. Guess making booze runs in the family. I wish I could have tried Aunt Mary Ann’s gin. Doubt I would have had seconds though!

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Schultz December 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Number one question is how long does it take.
Number one answer is 10 minutes per beer.
Number two answer is 1 month from start to drinking the stuff.
I am amazed by variety of responses from “lay” drinkers. I recently won a homebrew contest with a clone of Bass Ale that I didn’t think was that good. I also discovered that I don’t think much of Bass Ale!

Great site Billy

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Roscoe December 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I’ve gotten the “is it good” question too, what I have noticed is that my homebrews are very fresh and my pale ales and IPA’s have a great hop flavor that most other microbrews are missing. I’ve also noticed that in time, my homebrew’s aren’t quiet as good, saving that six pack for memories is not really a good idea!
I have an old friend who has his own small microbrewery and he has said he does not like making the pale ales because they don’t last as long and he can’t control how long it has been sitting before it gets taken off the shelf. I also have noticed that one place near where I work might be miss handling their beers. I keep trying the odd beers and not liking them, and I just bought a 12 pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, my favorite, and something was definately off with it, I couldn’t drink more than 2 of them. Then I bought a 6 pack of Sam Adam’s Latitude 48 IPA and it was terrible, skunked. I’m thinking this store is not storing or shelving them right, I won’t shop there again. Should I try these beers again or just drink my own?
So, is it good? Well, it’s very, very, very fresh, stored right, not shipped or shelved under bright lights, and properly made and chilled. If you like Bud light, probably not, but if you like fresh, flavorful and hoppy beer, it’s even better!

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Craig January 12, 2011 at 9:34 am

I get questions like, “Why go to all that trouble when you can just BUY beer?” or “Is that cheaper than buying beer?” Of course, these questions come from those people who buy whatever p*sswater is on sale each week.

The funniest question I ever got was “How’d you get the beer into the bottles?”

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FedoraDave May 19, 2013 at 4:54 am

Sorry I’m late to the party, but I’m getting caught up.

Very interesting read, and Billy, the points you make show how homebrewers often do have the advantage. We also are brewing to please ourselves, so we can be a little bolder, and with experience, those gambles pay off. Why should I make a more generic-tasting beer to please a wider consumer base when I’m brewing for the narrowest base of all — ME? And if I decide that, yes, some Belgian Biscuit would really set this recipe off nicely, or perhaps I’ll use Citra instead of Perle this time, I’m not going to lose money on it if it’s not a big seller. I’ll just know better next time. Or maybe I’ll wind up with a great new twist. It’s happened to me more than once.

I do have to take exception to Adam’s comment about “crappy Mr. Beer kits”, though. I started with Mr. Beer, and even though I’ve “graduated” to 5-gallon AG, I still use the Mr. Beer kits and recipes. I brew every weekend, and having the small, easy-to-make kits keeps this hobby from being tedious while keeping my pipeline full. And the beer produced is excellent. It may be that Adam had a bad experience at one time with Mr. Beer (they’ve improved greatly, I’ll say that), but it may also be that User Error occurred, and he’s too willing to shoot the messenger rather than acknowledge that his process was less than correct.

And if he is dissing Mr. Beer without having used it, well, then, he literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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