Every once in a while I see articles and blog posts saying things like, "Try homebrewing!," "Don't Quit, Keep At It!," or "Anyone Can Brew!" I'm going another direction today, just for the sake of intellectual honesty: Maybe you shouldn't be homebrewing.
Think about quitting.
Because the simple reality is that brewing isn't for everyone - and there's no shame in admitting it's not for you.
Bad Beer: Not a Reason To Quit
Let's start here, though: I'm not giving this advice to anyone solely on the basis that they make bad beer. That's where the articles get it right: if you're having trouble producing beer that's relatively flaw-free and (or?) that you like to drink, then that's fine. We can help you with that. Making good beer is actually pretty easy if you do the simple things right.
So please don't think this is some kind of elitist attack on the brewers that are working to bring their beer up to a palatable level, however they define that.
If it's just a question of making better beer - don't quit. Keep at it. It'll get better, I promise. Join a homebrew club, enter competitions to get objective feedback, revisit and refine your process, etc.
Love the Process
Novelist Frank Norris said, "Don't like to write, but like having written." That might fly with writing, but I don't know that it's true for brewing.
Brewing is work. Even when it's as easy and simple as it can be (see...this blog for how committed I am to THAT idea), it's still work. You have to like the work or you won't keep brewing for long - it's just too easy nowadays to get good beer. The "don't like to brew, but like having brewed" mentality probably sufficed in the 1980s when there was virtually no craft beer around, but now even the corner dive bars I go into have a couple of solid-to-great local craft taps on.
Take a look at that picture at the top of the post. That was literally 24 hours ago in a friend's home brewery - the blowoff from that Flextank in the picture was too much for the headspace, and seven of 65 gallons ended up on the floor, under the tables, and soaking into the carpet in the adjoining room.
Now, I'm not saying you need to LIKE the idea of cleaning that up, but at the very least you have to be able to get some wry humor out of it. On a much smaller scale you probably DO have to like the act of cleaning a kettle, the challenge of engineering a tap system and drilling holes in your walls, monitoring the temperature of a fermenting carboy and draping it with wet towels to get some evaporation cooling, and/or a dozen other small details that go into homebrewing. If you're not at least neutral on those, the satisfaction of "having brewed" probably isn't enough to keep you going.
Homebrewing Probably Won't Save You Money
My process produces the equivalent of two cases of 12oz bottles. In exchange, I use about $18 worth of ingredients, $1 worth of electricity, and four hours of my time (including brewing, monitoring, and packaging).
Those two cases on the open market would cost me something like $40 each, so I'm ahead by $61 per batch, right?
Not really. First, my time's worth something (despite the fact that I spend it on this blog for free). Even at minimum wage, it'd be $7.25/hour, or $29. And I brew FAST. Most spend more like five hours on their brew day, rather than the three hours I do.
Then there's the equipment costs. Burner, kettle, cooler, carboys, tubing, bottles, caps, kegs, cleaners, sanitizers, salts, spoons - the list goes on. At the end of the day, you're probably breaking even. But I'm not even sure I can say that about most brewers, just that it's possible.
And, at least in my case, I probably buy more beer now that I brew, paradoxically.
Homebrewing Isn't Cool
...and even if it was, the anti-trendsters would be out in force to rag on it. You'd be accused of being a hipster, or at least being a carrier of the virus. Is that worth it to you?
Homebrewing is a pretty nerdy hobby. It's populated, in large part, by scientists and minutiae-lovers (worst Cinemax soft-core porn movie EVER). Ever had a two-hour conversation about the geometry of a Coleman cooler? You will. If the thought of that makes you want to run screaming from the room, then maybe avoid that room.
I guess you could brew a one-gallon batch once in a while for the novelty of serving a bottle or two of your own beer now and again, but I still don't think that'd get you any cool points.
If You're Still Reading...
Now that the dilettantes have gone, we can talk.
Brew because you like to create - whether it's the cooking, the science, the problem-solving, or whatever. I don't like cleaning pots, but I don't mind it, either, because I know that at the end of the day I'll have spent my time making something my own way. That's fun. AND I get beer out of it.
Brew because you'll love the people you meet. The people who stick with brewing are YOUR kind of people. It's funny how many of us in this community are fairly introverted, but at the same time homebrewers are pretty social within their set. Sure, there are some out there who use this hobby as a tool to beat people over the head with their beer superiority (hello, aleholes), but they're a minority. AND you get beer out of it.
Brew because you like being connected to one of the oldest human activities. We've been brewing beer for a long time (almost since cultivation began), and if you have a sense of history and continuity you'll like continuing that tradition, and it will make the petty annoyances worthwhile. AND you get beer out of it.
Finally, brew because YOU want to. Ignore the supporters and the detractors alike, because at the end of the day you'll be the one cleaning up that seven gallons of blown-off wort at the top of the screen. Ignore the friends and family that ask you to brew beer for them like you're they're personal nanobrewery. It has to be personally gratifying, and not for others, because otherwise you'll just be resentful and irritated at the idea of brewing, cleaning, kegging, bottling, shopping, hauling, and lifting. If you like doing it for you, then by all means, brew for your cousin's wedding, your high school reunion, and your office picnic. But start with doing it for you.
And don't worry if your beer isn't very good to start - we'll help you with that, and it'll get better in no time.
Keep it simple.