Real Beer: We don't really need to talk much about the dreaded "homebrew apocalypse." We've read and heard plenty about that elsewhere. However, there are political battles, homebrew shops going out of business and other concerns. Do you think things are better or worse in the world of homebrewing than two years ago, and how?
Ray Daniels: We've seen a real paradigm shift in the past five years and it has affected a lot of players. The Internet has had a huge impact and anyone who isn't involved with it is carrying a big handicap. In addition, the boom in homebrewing and craft brewing during the 1990s changed the scene considerably. Compared to ten or even five years ago, there are so many more sources of information: clubs, books, other homebrewers and of course a huge selection of craft breweries and beer events in nearly every community.
For the average homebrewer, I don't know that much has changed in the past two years. Product selection seems to be about the same and while there may be fewer retailers overall, I haven't heard of anyone having trouble getting what they need.
Andy Anderson: I can only address this question from my own local perspective. In that respect, the homebrewing world is worse today than it was two years ago. My favorite local homebrew shop closed a year ago. Not due to declining sales, but because of the perception of a stagnant market. The proprietor decided to make a career change in order to spend more time with his family. He tried to sell the store, but found no takers. Although the store showed a steady profit for the past few years, the perception was that homebrewing was dying; so to buy the store would be a losing proposition. In effect, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We have also seen the demise of "Brewing Techniques," which was a fine brewing magazine. I do not know the specific reasons behind its failure, but evidently there was not enough interest or resources available to support it. So what this means is that I have less to choose from than I did before; I view this as a worse situation than two years ago.
Lynne O'Connor: I've never been more excited about homebrewing. but I would have said the same thing last year and the year before that and so on. Putting my personal feelings aside, the industry as a whole is down from a few years ago but that was to be expected. I honestly don't think any of the battles had any significant impact on the decline. It was simply a natural process for a new hobby industry. Homebrewing is now a pretty mature and competitive industry like most and those that work hard will, for the most part, be fine.
Real Beer: In that light, there is the conventional wisdom that the homebrewing business thrives on hard economic times. Given the current state of the economy, should we expect that good times for homebrewing are close at hand?
Andy Anderson: I do not believe that the "conventional wisdom" is correct. I think homebrewing thrives if alcohol is illegal (Prohibition), taxes on alcohol are inordinately high (Canada), or there is no good commercial beer available (America pre-1990's). I also do not believe that the economy has gone "bad," and as this is a homebrewing discussion, and not a macro-economic forum, I'll leave aside issues concerning economic indicators. My personal belief is that while homebrewing is no longer trendy, it is not on life-support. The current situation will probably continue, unless changes occur which either greatly increase the taxes on alcohol or limits the availability of good beer.
Lynne O'Connor: I've never bought in to the notion that homebrewing in the U.S. will do better in bad economic times. I expect an economic slowdown to be damaging to our industry as well as microbreweries and imports. This will hurt the brewspapers, beer, homebrewing, and professional brewing publications as well. The good economy has caused the closure of some shops but that has more to do with higher rents and better paying jobs for the owners.
Ray Daniels: Perhaps. The economics of beer seem to be that people don't really change the amount of beer they consume very much as their disposable income rises and falls - they simply increase or decrease the amount of money they spend on that beer. Given this, then perhaps homebrewing will enjoy a minor upswing if the economy falters.
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