Homebrew Vs Commercial: Which Beer is Better for You?
It’s a well-known fact that drinking beer in moderation is beneficial to your health, but does that apply to all beers, both homebrew and commercial? When considering the differences between homebrew and mass-manufactured beer, you might wonder which is better for you.
Homebrew beer lets brewers choose ingredients and alcohol strength. It contains more B vitamins and is a more sustainable method of beer production. Commercial beer offers various flavors and alcohol content and abides by strict sanitation and pasteurization methods.
In this article, we’ll look at homebrew and commercial beer, how they’re made, and their health benefits to see if one is truly better than the other. Read on to learn more.
Homebrew Beer History, How It’s Made, and Health Benefits
Homebrew is beer, mead, or cider brewed by a small-time beer maker, usually from the comfort of their home. The resulting product is for personal use only, as dictated by federal law.
Homebrewing has a long history in the United States, even before colonists arrived from Europe. The indigenous Americans used grass and maize to make alcoholic beverages.
When English colonists settled the land, they brought with them their love of beer, as evidenced by the fact that by 1776, over 400 breweries existed in the states.
Despite the booming beer business in the United States, by 1919, everything changed. The passing of the 18th Amendment (despite President Woodrow Wilson’s veto) led to the illegalization of alcohol and, therefore, homebrewing as well.
During the alcohol prohibition era in the United States, hundreds of breweries and saloons were forced to close their doors — but that didn’t stop everyone. Al Capone capitalized on the prohibition of alcohol, opening his own bootleg breweries to continue supplying the demand.
It took decades before homebrewing became legal again in the United States. President Jimmy Carter signed a bill legalizing beer brewing at home on the federal level. However, homebrewing didn’t become legal in all 50 states until 2013.
Today, adults in the United States (at or above the legal drinking age in their specified locality) can legally produce up to 100 gallons for a single adult household. They cannot, however, offer their beer for sale.
How Homebrew Beer is Made
All beer making involves a specific process, although it differs a little depending on the scale of production.
That process includes:
- Malting – Many home brewers purchase malt instead of making their own. However, you can make your own malt through the process of steeping the grain in water, drying it to induce germination, and then drying the malt in a kiln.
- Milling – Milling the grain allows for the separation of the malt liquid (sugars and malt dissolve in the water, and the seed husks are left behind). Home brewers can mill their own grains with rolling pins or by investing in grain mills.
- Mashing – After milling, the milled malt (grist) is mixed with water and then heated, which consists of the “mashing” process. The enzymes break down the starches, converting them to sugars. The resulting sugars eventually become alcohol.
- Lautering – This is the process of separating the wort (the sweet, mashed malt) from the spent grain. It’s typically completed using a lauter tun. Many home brewers create their own lauter tuns.
- Boiling – The wort is then sterilized by boiling, which stops all enzyme activity. Hops are added during the boil.
- Hopping – When the brewer adds hops early, it creates a more bitter beer. If it’s added during the middle of the boiling process, it increases the flavor. Add the hops later, and you’ll have improved flavor and aroma.
- Whirlpooling – Similar to fining wine, the whirlpool phase clarifies the wort by removing protein and hop solids through settling. Some people add hops during whirlpooling, fermentation, or maturation, usually for flavor or aromatic purposes.
- Fermentation – After whirlpooling, the wort is placed into a fermentation tank where they add yeast. Sugars convert to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- Conditioning – During the conditioning process, the beer ages and smooths.
- Packaging/Carbonation – The beer is completed by the stage. To finish off the process, brewers package the liquid in kegs or bottles (with carbonation via natural or forced CO2).
Benefits of Homebrew Beer
Homebrew beer allows for more freedom when it comes to the type of beer you create. You can choose the ingredients, alcohol content, and other aspects that could potentially make the beer better for you than some commercial options.
Let’s look at some of the many benefits of homebrewed beer, focusing on the health aspect.
Brewers Choose the Ingredients
When making your own beer, you get to select the ingredients and techniques. You don’t have to water down the finished product (as many commercial beer manufacturers do), and you can pick the highest-quality, locally-sourced ingredients to make a superior beverage.
Not only that, but most home brewers don’t incorporate preservatives into their products. For example, sulfites are a common preservative used in beer. It increases the room temperature shelf life, reduces spoilage, and prevents foul odors and flavors.
Some people may have a reaction to preservatives such as sulfites, especially asthmatic individuals.
Not only that, but many fruit-based beers incorporate artificial flavoring agents and added sugars, making them potentially bad for you.
Alcohol Content Is up to You
Just because you’re making your own beer doesn’t mean that you have to create a super strong beverage that causes a nasty hangover. You can opt to make a strong or weak beer, depending on your preferences. Higher-alcohol content doesn’t equal a better beer.
An interesting fact regarding alcohol content and homebrewed beer is that many homebrewers report fewer hangovers than those who consume commercial beer.
More B Vitamins
On average, homebrewed beer usually contains more B vitamins than its commercial beer counterparts. Considering that most homebrewers don’t filter their beer and carbonate it directly in the bottle, it retains much of the yeast, leading to this higher vitamin B content.
Commercial beer typically contains far less yeast since the beer is subjected to a strong filtration process.
Although sustainability isn’t exactly a direct health benefit, it can help the health of our planet. Homebrewing is far better for the environment than producing beer on a commercial scale.
Commercial beer manufacturers utilize billions of gallons of water and massive quantities of wheat, barley, and hops. Add to that the energy usage, and you’re looking at a significant environmental impact.
Homebrewers can reduce their carbon footprint by opting for kegs, reusing bottles, and using steel equipment instead of plastic.
Commercial Beer History, How It’s Made, and Health Benefits
Commercial brewing is the mass production of beer by breweries or corporations. These businesses have a license to sell their finished product to consumers (or wholesalers).
Commercial beer didn’t make its debut in the United States until long after the traditional home brew. In fact, Americans were brewing beer in their homes up until the mid-1800s.
Later, saloons and breweries began popping up, causing some home brewers to switch to purchasing ready-to-drink beer out of convenience. Alcohol prohibition put a damper on the beer business, but by the mid-19th century, professional breweries began making headway.
German brewers turned beer into a booming business within the states. Today, commercial beer continues to remain a staple. This is evidenced by the profits of Anheuser-Busch, the largest beer company in the world, with sales amounting to nearly 50 billion U.S. dollars in 2021.
You can check out some of the profits from other beer companies in the table below:
|Beer Manufacturer||Beer Brands||Profits in 2021|
|Anheuser-Busch||Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Busch, Shock Top, etc.||$46.8 billion|
|Heineken Holding||Heineken, Amstel, Sol, Tiger, Desperados, etc.||$22.5 billion|
|Asahi Group Holdings||Asahi, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Mountain Goat, Pilsner Urquell, etc.||$19 billion|
|Kirin Holdings||Kirin Lager, Ichiban Shibori, etc.||$17.3 billion|
|Molson Coors Brewing||Coors, Coors Light, Miller, Miller Light, Blue Moon, etc.||$9.7 billion|
How Commercial Beer is Made
Commercial beer utilizes the same process as home brewing, though on a much larger scale. To reiterate, the process includes:
There are, however, some differences in equipment and some method variations.
For information on the equipment needed to homebrew your own beer, check out this YouTube video from HomeBrewAdvice:
Most commercial breweries don’t utilize the equipment mentioned in the video above. Instead, they depend on commercial millers, massive steel storage vessels, tubes, pipes, pumps, gigantic cooling jackets, and much more.
Commercial breweries also incorporate supplementary ingredients (e.g., rice) that may require multiple milling machines, whereas homebrewers can stick with one (or even opt for less advanced milling techniques).
Additionally, electric heating simply isn’t efficient enough for commercial breweries. As such, most utilize steam boilers for more uniform heating. They can also brew at any time of the year, thanks to insulated and cooling storage tanks.
Benefits of Commercial Beer
Though all beer has its benefits when consumed in moderation, commercial beer does have a few advantages in terms of variety, sanitation, and pasteurization.
Since commercial beer is mass-produced, it allows for a much greater variety of beers to choose from. This allows beer drinkers to opt for higher or lower alcohol content or choose between dark and light beers based on carbohydrates and calories. The variety could allow beer drinkers to make smarter choices when it comes to their health.
Home breweries are susceptible to bacterial contamination due to improperly sterilized equipment. While most home brewers utilize bleach and other sanitization methods, commercial brewers have the luxury of more advanced techniques, such as steam sanitation.
Not only that, but a commercial manufacturer has strict procedures in place, as well as regular health inspections of their facilities.
Shelf stability isn’t typically a problem for home brewers, so there’s really no need to pasteurize their beer. However, commercial beer is pasteurized to increase the overall shelf life and eliminate harmful microorganisms, especially when stored at room temperature.
With that said, if you’re home brewing beer and storing your product, you could be opening the door for spoilage and microbial contamination.
While some people argue that pasteurization causes flavor issues, this is a subject of much debate.
Homebrew vs. Commercial: Which is Better For You?
Both homebrewed and commercial beer offer benefits when consumed in moderation, including:
- Better blood sugar regulation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Enhanced cognitive function
- Antioxidant properties
Because both beers have their benefits, it may be somewhat of a challenge to decide between them.
Deciding whether homebrew or commercial beer is better for you depends on several factors.
- Personal preferences and health goals. Some people prefer the taste, aromatics, and additional vitamin content of homebrew, whereas others feel safer grabbing a commercial beverage.
- Homebrewing method, techniques, and sanitation. If it’s not up to par, it could lead to a spoiled product. However, if it’s meticulously maintained, it could produce a superior product.
- Commercial beer comparison. Which commercial beer are you comparing homebrew to? What’s its nutritional content? Caloric content? Alcohol percentage?
There’s a great debate regarding whether commercial or homebrew beer is better for the consumer. Some claim that homebrew is better healthwise due to its vitamins and the ability to create it exactly how you want.
On the flip side, however, you must also consider that with commercial beer, you can almost always guarantee a safe, unspoiled, consistent drink.
No matter which you prefer, each of these differences may help you decide which is better for you overall.
One could argue that the benefits of homebrewed beer exceed those of commercial beer. There are, after all, additional vitamins and the potential for fewer hangovers.
But, once you consider the potential room for error regarding cleaning and sanitization, you could say that commercial beer is the better choice concerning health.
In the end, it all boils down to how you brew your beer, which commercial beer you’re comparing it to, and the nutritional content of each. Based on this information, you can better decide whether homebrew or commercial beer is the better choice.