There are few things that can help improve your homebrewing more than having an excellent homebrew shop in your neighborhood. This is using a very generous definition of neighborhood. While there are plenty of great homebrew shops online, there are certain benefits for being able to visit the shop, interact with the people, stumble upon things you wouldn’t otherwise find.
Brew And Grow is my local homebrew store in Chicago
When I started brewing, we picked up supplies from a party store that carried to aisles of homebrew supplies. We checked out a place that was a drive away, but had a much larger selection of ingredients and equipment. Finally, we ended up at Adventures in Homebrewing which, despite being about half an hour away, became our go to stop for any large shopping trip.
I don’t want to get into specifics and reviews of the different shops; that can be done at other times. I want to go into the things that I like to see when I head into the shop, and what separates a good place from a great local hombrew shop.
I was going back and forth about which aspects to lead with, but after a bit of internal debate, I decided this was the most important for someone at my level. I’ve been homebrewing for about 18 months. I read a ton about different ingredients, equipment and techniques. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that I can use all the help I can get when I’m putting together a recipe.
When we were formulating the recipe for the all-grain version of our S’more Stout, we went into the store with a basic outline of what we were going to do. Working with the staff there, we swapped out the chocolate malt and roasted barley with CarafaII, which is definitely worked with our idea. It lends similar color and roastiness with out giving that acrid, burnt taste.
That’s one example, but plenty of times we’ve gotten yeast recommendations, tip on how to make sure we don’t get our keg clogged, equipment that might help and tons of other stuff. Being able to talk through my recipe idea with someone who has been brewing for a long time almost always results in something better than I could have come up with on my own.
These should always be in stock
I know when dealing with perishable items it can be a struggle keeping the stock consistant. Also, with hops especially, there can be runs when everyone rushes out to make an Amarillo pale ale or something. That being said, it is crucial that a shop tries to minimize these outages.
Especially now, going to the hombrew shop is something I need to plan. I usually try to pick up two or three recipes at a time. It gets really annoying if the shop is out of something that’s nearly a staple like Special-B malt or Wyeast 1056. There are usually alternatives, but it can be a downer when you get there and see an empty bin or shelf where what you want should be.
Maybe this is just my not being totally used to having a 9-5 (technically 8:30-5:30, I guess), but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense having your shop open from 9am to 7pm or so. If I hustle out of work a little early, jump in a cab and tell him to step on it, I could probably get to the store with half an hour to spare. Maybe I’m naive, but honestly, how many sales happen between 10 and noon. Stay open until 9pm. Please. I’m begging you. Maybe even be open from 10a-2pm on Sunday so I don’t have to wait a week to bottle because I don’t have enough caps, but that’s just selfish.
As you're measuring it out, grab a grain and try it. It's amazing how different they taste.
I don’t have a crusher at home, and I assume that most homebrewers don’t. Most homebrew shops do! There’s something perfectly simple about measuring the exact amount of grain you need out of a bin, mixing them all together for your recipe, running them through the crusher and being good to go. There’s something maddening about having to buy a 1lb bag of a specialty malt when I only need to a quarter pound and won’t be able to brew again for a while. Honestly, it’s probably not that big of a deal in dollars and cents to the consumer, but I really do think it’s the better way to go.
New and/or Special Items
These don’t fall under the consistent selection heading. A great shop should be able to secure the special release yeasts from White Labs and Wyeast. A great shop should be able to get the special recipe kits. Not every time, but maybe in a rotation have the newer, weirder hops like Citra or Sorachi. Help the homebrewer explore the world of potential out there.
A Sense of Community
This one is last, but no less important. Homebrewing is all about community. I learn a ton from talking to other homebrewers, trying their beers, having them try mine. Having the folks working at a homebrew shop be friendly and not condescending is so important. There will be people just getting started and people who have been brewing for years, but they’re all excited about making beer.
Additionally, I really like the idea of homebrew stores holding classes or having workshops or special guest speakers. Make it almost like a public square for the homebrewing community. Plus, how many homebrewers will walk into your store for an event and not leave with at least some sanitizer or a some priming sugar. If the law allows it, having samples from the kits you sell or recipes you provide is also a great perk that helps spark conversation and build knowledge.
What Do You Think?
Any big factor you need in your shop? Anything you disagree with? Let me know or set me straight in the comments!