There was an interesting piece of research recently published by Thomas Thurnell-Read, a Sociologist at Coventry University (and home brewer!), titled Craft, tangibility and affect at work in the microbrewery. It is behind a paywall of course, thanks to the incredibly archaic and exploitative academic publishing apparatus, but this is the summary (warning, academic speak, skip if allergic!):
“In offering particular intrinsic rewards, craftwork has been situated in recent debates as a possible antidote to some of the alienating features of work in modern capitalist societies. Accounts by brewers working in small-scale breweries foreground notions of skill and passion where both are intertwined to produce the brewer identity. Brewer identity is described as being embodied, felt and performed through the working on and with ingredients and equipment at the brewery. Being engaged in the material processes of the brewery and being able to see a tangible reflection of one’s labour in the finished beer highlights the ways in which brewers draw meaningful rewards from the affective and embodied facets of skilled craft work.”
Essentially, craft brewers are craftspeople rather than labourers because they “see a tangible reflection of one’s labour in the final product”. They receive rewards from their work that are internal as well as external: they get more out of brewing than a simple paycheque; they derive satisfaction from the process as well as the product.
The rise and rise in the numbers of people home brewing reflects this. Like countless others I spend to brew, rather than being paid to brew, but this doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the activity – indeed it heightens it. I have complete freedom in my relationships with the brewhouse, the ingredients and the process. My production is entirely my own. Like the craft brewers who derive immense satisfaction from going into a pub and seeing punters there enjoying the beers they brewed, so I feel gratified and proud when I serve my friends and families my beers at functions and in the home.
Like craft brewers, perhaps even more so, home brewers’ personalities are the product. Nobody makes beer exactly the way we each make it. When we brew a beer we put our souls into the mash tun, we evaporate off our worries in the boil and we refresh ourselves through fermentation. The magic of producing a subjectively experienced consumable product – like in cooking – is an energising force. Our homes are our castles and our beers reflect our homes.
Furthermore, for home brewers the physical nature of brewing is a toxin for the disembodied work environment many of us experience. I for one spend most days in an office with little variation in my routine. I stare at a screen and move pixels for forty hours a week, with maybe a few days on-site per month. The days of work aren’t monotonous because the world within the screen changes; my tasks change, I build things and gain satisfaction from building them within the virtual world – but it is disembodied in the sense that my labour is divorced from my physical body and the product is divorced from my labour – it exists under a brand, solely for the profit motive.
I could also perform my paid job with no legs, no arms, no nose, no mouth.
Not so hands-on brewing. Brewing at home uses assets I am lucky enough to have and unlucky enough not to work with. Brewing at home gives a fullness to life for the disembodied worker. It gives us a brewer identity.
It’s good to have a hobby.