Homebrewing is still popular in the United States at the end of the day. Approximately 1.1 million people in the United States brew their own beer, according to the American Homebrewers Association in 2017. Numbers for homebrewers going into 2023 are steady with no signs of slowing and no substantial drop-offs to declare a significant rise or fall in coming years.
While hard numbers are coming in from recent years, overall interest and sales of craft beer and homebrewing are up versus some of the lows brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. For some perspective, the Brewers Association’s 2021 report logged more than 14,000 registered users for its brewery safety training course. Although these numbers are not homebrew-exclusive, it’s a valuable insight into the overall craft beer market.
For more quantitative evidence, the Brewers Association’s Year in Beer report saw 9,500 breweries operating in the United States in 2022, with over 550 openings and around 200 closings – a net increase. This goes to show that there’s still an overwhelming demand in the craft beer industry.
While there are homebrewers that do represent foundational styles, the wide range of Pale Ales is the most brewed style; according to a survey from Brulosophy comprising around 1,900 people, about half brew the contemporary style most frequently compared to other types of beer. On top of the appeal of making your favorite styles, homebrewing is more accessible than ever.
Homebrew expansion as a result of accessibility
You used to need tons of equipment for setup, loads of knowledge, and a bit of trial and error before you could brew your own beer. Now, it’s easier than ever to brew beer with just a few tools and a quick Google search. Homebrew’s popularity is increasing, partially because of its accessibility.
Homebrew kits take much of the hassle out of what was once a vague and oftentimes complicated process. Helpful tools from online resources to all-in-one brew kits make it possible for anyone to brew beer with minimal knowledge and experience. It’s become more of a straightforward and even simpler process.
Brewing kits are accessible for most of those thinking of getting started, and the affordable price of something like an extract brewing kit is a great place to start. The Brulosophy survey shows that most homebrewers start with extract brewing and eventually make their way to all-grain brewing.
This tells us that not only are there comfortable places to start where you can take things at your own pace, but the enjoyability of homebrewing is enough to escalate interest in first-timers, turning them into seasoned homebrewers.
Broader craft beer industry trends
To put homebrewing into perspective, you need to look at the big picture. Driving trends in the craft beer industry are directly correlated to homebrew trends. Let’s look at recent changes in the craft beer industry to better understand why homebrewing is the way it is today and where it’s heading.
First and foremost: IPAs are here to stay whether we like it or not. Recent years show India Pale Ales, more specifically Hazy or New England-style IPAs, are the most popular beer in the craft beer industry. Even specialty beer breweries feel inclined to brew this style of beer to keep pace with demand.
Craft beer overall has shown substantial growth up to date and it’d be impossible to scope out all that the industry is in store for in upcoming years. Things are looking good though, as craft beer sales were up 7.9% in 2021. Although traditional craft beer styles are seemingly becoming lost in translation, beer fans have fallen in love with contemporary ales.
It’s perfect for those who love and brew IPAs, but it could have converse effects on breweries that butter their bread with different styles. New Belgium’s Fat Tire, for example, has taken a toll from the “haze craze,” resulting in a complete brand overhaul in 2023, turning a historically popular American craft beer into a completely new liquid with a stronger emphasis on environmental sustainability.
This isn’t the first time Fat Tire rebranded, resulting from a decline in sales, though. And so, the question remains: are IPAs and the greater shift away from traditional beer styles to blame for Fat Tire’s recent decline, and what does it mean for the future of craft beer?
It’s not all bad for New Belgium. Larger craft breweries like the Fort Collins, Colorado, giant already have a firm hold on the future of craft beer; Juice Force Hazy Imperial IPA, a rendition of the brewery’s trendy Voodoo Ranger brand, was the largest release of a craft beer in history as it made waves in 2022. As for the rest of Voodoo Ranger, four more of its brands are among the top 15 IPAs and Pale Ales sold in 2022, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
On another note, non-alcoholic beers are surging in popularity.
Most notably, Athletic Brewing in Connecticut is pushing its way into regional top ten lists for sales with a 177% increase in 2021 (Brewers Association 2021 Overview, page 46). An increase in popularity among non-alcoholic brews in the overall market could correlate to a future increase in homebrew NA beers.
How do commercial craft beer trends impact homebrewing?
When all is said and done in the world of craft beer, homebrewers aren’t after too much; they want to brew good beer and enjoy the process. After all, homebrewers are partially responsible for keeping many historical styles alive. If commercial breweries squeeze these styles out of the general market, craft beer ancestors can count on homebrewers and microbrewers to keep them around for at least a little while longer.
It can’t be said for sure whether history’s most beloved styles will last another 50 years of an ever-changing craft beer landscape. As styles evolve and new perspectives enter the industry, the old may become extinct, and styles like the India Pale Ale could become the new backbone for styles to come, much like it already has with Hazy, Imperial, Black, Sour, Milkshake and Cold IPAs.
If such a thing happens where these trends and styles completely take over commercial craft beer, similar things might fall into place for homebrewing, where contemporary styles make up more than just 50% of homebrews. Only time will tell which direction homebrew goes, but the next few years will be crucial indicators of the homebrewing future.
Homebrew predictions for 2023
As I mentioned above, no one’s certain where the craft beer industry is headed other than the destined adaptation of breweries to meet demand with styles that tickle customers’ taste buds during tricky and tumultuous timeframes. All alliteration aside, change is a good thing, and 2023 might be the year to get the ball rolling faster than ever.
As commercial trends come into the picture, so do homebrew trends. Albeit a laggy correlation, craft beer trends will leak into home brewing. As more people pick up homebrewing in years to come, they’ll be more familiar with–and perhaps even partial toward–contemporary styles. This year likely won’t see a large sum of homebrewers creating Milkshake and Cold IPAs, but I’m willing to bet there will be more homebrewed in 2023 than ever before.
That’s not to say that homebrewers are abandoning the styles that got craft beer to where it is today. We won’t see dramatic changes regarding styles brewed, but I’m anticipating a decrease in new homebrewers correlating to the estimated decrease in new breweries opening this year, as stated in the Year in Beer report.