The exact time at which people began brewing alcohol is unclear, but some experts believe that the practice began around 12,000 years ago. Even those who do not believe the homebrewing of alcohol to have begun that far in the past figure that people began brewing alcohol at home several thousand years ago. The ancient Sumerians had a goddess of beer named Ninkasi, and women were their primary brewers. Ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were homebrewers, and people throughout history have followed in their footsteps.
The Pilgrims brewed beer at Plymouth, constructing a distillery as one of the first buildings. Homebrewing was prevalent in colonial times partially because water quality in those days was lacking. Many of the founding fathers were homebrewers themselves, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Industrial Revolution produced the invention of thermometers, hydrometers, and other technological advancements that led to the mass-production of alcohol; scientific advances in the field of yeast fermentation also provided knowledge of ingredient combinations and fermentation methods.
Mass-production led to even higher levels of consumption, a fact that displeased a lot of people. Politicians realized this and took advantage of it, finally passing Prohibition in 1920. The production and consumption of alcohol for beverage purposes was illegal from that point until the 21st Amendment was passed in 1933, but homebrewers did not all pack up their equipment and stop producing alcohol. Bootlegging and homebrewing took place quite frequently, and drinkers went to speakeasies and other private facilities that served contraband alcohol. Homebrewing beer was still illegal in the US even after the end of prohibition since the 21st Amendment did not cover it; Americans could not legally brew their own beers at home until President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337 into law in 1978, allowing each state to choose whether or not to make homebrewing legal.
A few brewing clubs had sprung up in the US before 1978, but after homebrewing was made legal, they really took off. Clubs were founded, homebrewing competitions begun in earnest, and people wrote and released books about homebrewing. Americans love freedom, and the freedom to brew their own brews legally was intoxicating. Homebrewers published newsletters, took to the Internet near the beginning of its invention, and expanded their numbers through the release of homebrewing kits that make the process even easier.
Not every state embraced homebrewing so quickly; Oklahoma only did so in 2010, and homebrewing beer is still illegal in Alabama and Mississippi. All other states allow people to homebrew up to 100 gallons of alcohol per person per year and up to 200 gallons per year per household. Homebrewers are not allowed to sell their alcohol, but nothing prevents them from sharing. Today, approximately 1,000,000 homebrewers live in the US and about 1,000 homebrewing clubs exist. The US is host to approximately 300 homebrewing competitions which have thousands of entries.
Most people refer to making beer when they talk about homebrewing, but this practice is not limited to beer production. Wine is also fairly popular for homebrewing as it legal before beer homebrewing and can be made using a variety of different fruits; homemade cider, which is made from fermented apples, is also popular. Homebrewers can also make mead, which is made from fermented honey, and sake, which is a Japanese beverage made from fermented rice. Soda is non-alcoholic, but it can be made at home by independent makers as well.
The future of homebrewing is bright due to the ready availability of kits and the ever-increasing availability of information on the Internet. Some large bottling companies are even hosting competitions in which they award a winner or winners by mass-producing their homebrewed product. People continue to discover new combinations and processes in homebrewing. The only limits on homebrewing exist in the commercial realm and the creativity of resourceful homebrewers—unless a person lives in Mississippi or Alabama.