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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where Would We Be Without Winemakers?

Two generations, hard at work on the wine presses
By Steve Siciliano

Because we post many more articles in The Buzz about homebrewing than we do about home winemaking, someone not familiar with our store may be justified in thinking that, for us, the latter is an afterthough. That is not the case. Here at Siciliano’s, we love making wine as much as we love making beer, and we certainly enjoy consuming the end results of both life-enriching pursuits. Homebrewing is currently experiencing an incredible growth spurt and is garnering a great deal of national attention. But in all likelihood, its development and growth would have been postponed if not for the groundwork that was laid by its less charismatic sibling.

After Prohibition reared its ugly head in 1919, beer- and wine-loving Americans were forced into illicitly producing their own fruit- and malt-based alcoholic beverages. While it was easy for wine makers to obtain raw ingredients—fruits, vegetables and grapes were easily obtainable—for homebrewers it was an entirely different scenario. The vast majority of Americans did not have access to hops and barley so they turned to what was available—cans of malt based syrup, marketed as a baking ingredient, that a handful of former breweries were producing in an effort to stay afloat. By all accounts, the quality of the homebrewed beer made with those ingredients was quite nasty.

When the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, it became legal once again to produce homemade wine. Because of a clerical oversight, however, the legislation failed to do the same for homebrewing. Since homebrewing remained illegal, quality ingredients remained unavailable; and when commercial breweries began producing and distributing beer again, the activity of brewing beer at home essentially vanished in this country. The legal activity of home winemaking, on the other hand, continued to grow and a network of wholesalers and retailers sprung up to service the home winemakers. When homebrewing again became a legal activity in 1978, the infrastructure to make available the quality homebrew ingredients that were being produced overseas was already in place.

The years between 1919 and 1978 were a dark time for beer in this country. The homebrewing community and, by extension, the craft beer community have home winemakers to thank for keeping a light on.

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