When a trend toward making your own beer was brewing

Why pay the retail price for a bottle of beer when you could brew your own in a plastic garbage can in the basement?

By 1985, the home-brewing market was a $7-million business in Canada

The world of 1980s home brewing

38 years ago
Duration 3:03
In March 1985, the CBC's Dan Bjarnason reports on the world of homemade beer.

Why pay the retail price for a bottle of beer when you could brew your own in a plastic garbage can in the basement?

That seemed to be the view of many price-conscious, home-brewing beer-makers in the mid-1980s.

"Canadians down a lot of suds over a year, more than 7 billion bottles," the CBC's Dan Bjarnason told viewers, setting up the premise of his report on The National on March 26, 1985.

"But less and less is coming from the big breweries and more and more from basements. Home-brewed beer is something people are getting immersed in."

woman in front of shelves of brewing supplies
The home-brewing business was growing sharply in the early- and mid-1980s. (The National/CBC Archives)

At that time, Bjarnason said Canadians were brewing the equivalent of 40 million bottles of beer at home annually, evidence of the trend unfolding in subterranean personal brew houses.

"Canada's home-brew stores have become busy places. Sales have jumped six-fold in five years," said Bjarnason, noting it was estimated to be a $7-million market in Canada at that point.

Just 16 cents per bottle

Covers of two identical side-by-side books about making beer
Home brewers had lots of recipe books to look to when deciding what kind of beer to make. (The National/CBC Archives)

For those willing to put in the work, the results could cost about a fifth of what the big brewers charged, according to Bjarnason.

"Home beer works out to about 16 cents a bottle, that's about a half-dollar cheaper than commercial beer," said Bjarnason.

There was also the choice of brewing whatever you wanted, as long as you had the ingredients and the necessary recipe.

As good as store-bought beer

Hand holding clear mug half-full of frothy beer
Toronto's Jef Vermeulen shows The National a sample of his homemade beer in March 1985. (The National/CBC Archives)

"If you get into this and do it properly, you can create a beer of just as good quality as you get in the store," said one man, juggling supplies he'd purchased from a do-it-yourself wine-and-beer store.

Inside a Toronto home, Jef Vermeulen showed Bjarnason the process of pouring malt, water, sugar and yeast into a container, which would then produce beer over a series of weeks.

For Vermeulen, making his own beer wasn't just about the craft.

"Apart from the hobby aspect, it's being one step ahead of the taxman," Vermeulen said.

Man drinks beer from clear glass mug with lots of froth
Jef Vermeulen is seen sampling some beer he brewed at his Toronto home. (The National/CBC Archives)

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