While researching PicoBrew’s Pico homebrewing appliance, I read through many online forums to get a feel for what others thought of it. Some of the threads turned into philosophical discussions on what it means to be a homebrewer and, more specifically, what is the definition of a homebrewer.

Of course, the commonly accepted definition of a homebrewer is someone who domestically brews beer on a small scale for non-commercial purposes. But apparently some people believe additional qualifications are needed.

Some of the forum participants seemed genuinely disturbed by the Pico, even hateful toward it. I wonder if these people feel that way because they feel threatened by the thought of a complete homebrewing novice coming along, essentially just pushing a button, and possibly making a better beer than they can.

Some went as far to suggest that Pico brewers are not “real” homebrewers, which I found surprising. Sure, we’ve all encountered a snobby all-grain elitist who looks down on extract brewers, for example, but I have never heard of people being deemed not real homebrewers based on the equipment or processes they choose to employ to make beer.

Hell, for every all-grain brewer who says extract brewers aren’t real homebrewers, there’s probably an all-grain brewer who also grows her own barley and malts it herself and thinks “regular” all-grain brewers aren’t real homebrewers. And for the people who don’t think Pico brewers are real homebrewers, perhaps they should ask themselves how they feel about the many automated craft breweries out there. Are they not real breweries? Is automation where the line should be drawn?

This all got me wondering why people draw that line, and where it should be drawn, if at all. I imagine much of the line drawing stems from people feeling like their beloved hobby is being attacked in some way, whether it’s being dumbed down by a gimmicky novelty product, being infiltrated by an evil corporation trying to cash in on the movement, or being injected with new innovations that they just don’t agree with or understand. Or maybe it’s an identity issue, where they identify themselves as homebrewers, but they do not want to be associated with what they believe are “poser” homebrewers or “cheater” homebrewers.

homebrew_mashoutI think we can all agree that mixing a beer concentrate in water is not homebrewing, especially since it’s not intended for the home and it’s basically pre-made strong beer, but there are many methods of making beer at home. There is malt extract, partial mash and all-grain, and there are sub levels of those sets. For example, some all-grain brewers employ the brew-in-a-bag method (BIAB), while others may use picnic coolers, kettles or hacked-up kegs as mash tuns. You can even separate those sub levels further into fly sparging, batch sparging, etc.

In other words, homebrewing systems and processes vary greatly. Some systems are very hands-on and labor intensive, whereas others are more automated, such as the PicoBrew Pico. But when it comes down to it, they’re all more similar than they are different.

I reached out to some Bellingham Homebrewers Guild members, and I received some rather thoughtful responses. Everyone seemed to agree that if you make beer at home, regardless of your method or equipment, you’re a homebrewer. Occam’s razor would suggest that this simple definition is best.

Personally, I’m OK with all homebrewing approaches. I don’t think less of anyone for brewing with extract, using ingredient kits, making beer with a Pico machine, or whatever. Being a homebrewer is much more than just the equipment or process you choose to use.

Sure, some people take homebrewing more seriously than others, but we must not forget that it’s still just a hobby that most of us do because it’s fun. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?