5 Characteristics of a Great Homebrew Store

I’ve bought homebrew supplies from about 6 different brick and mortar stores, and some are definitely better than others.

None of them are what I would consider “bad.” They’re homebrew stores after all, so you have to do something really horrendous for me not to like you.

But there are certainly areas where some could improve, and it got me thinking about what I qualities I look for in a homebrew store.

1. Helpful Staff

This is a big one. The staff should be friendly and helpful, especially with noobies. It can be intimidating going into a homebrew store for the first time so the staff should do everything to put you at ease. They should take the time to walk you through the brewing steps and show you exactly what you need.

I’ve seen some workers talk down to new brewers and it really pisses me off.

2. Knowledgeable Staff

It’s good that you’re outgoing and helpful but you should also know what you’re talking about. Every employee should at least homebrew themselves and hopefully do so at an advanced level (or have someone working who can tackle advanced questions).

When I’m buying snowboarding equipment, electronics, or any other hobby items I always get input from the workers, and homebrewing is no different. You look to them as the experts.

Some employees, especially older ones, are very set in their ways and haven’t updated their brewing knowledge since the 80’s. New things are always being discovered, and the employees should stay on top of the latest info.

3. Wide Selection

A wide selection of ingredients is important. Today’s homebrewers experiment more than ever and homebrew stores should accomodate them.

Carry malt from the U.S., Germany, and Belgium. Stock tons of hop varieties. Offer oddball yeast packs like Brett.

Variety is what makes a good homebrew store great.

4. Community Engagement

Some hombrew stores open their doors in the morning, close them at night, and that’s it. The great ones take part in their community. They hold events like competitions, classes, and brew-offs. They use social media to connect with their customers to let them know about events, deals, and handy resources.

Brewing brings people together and homebrew stores should embrace that.

5. Fresh Ingredients

Ever gone into a homebrew store and found dusty cans of extract? That’s a warning sign. Homebrew stores should treat their ingredients like supermarkets treat their produce. If it’s past its time, get it out of there.

Like the old saying goes, “Crap in, crap out.” If you want your customers to succeed (you should) and keep coming back (you do), then only stock fresh ingredients. Expired yeast, hops, grains, and malt extract have no place in a homebrew store.

What about price?

I thought about price but honestly it’s not much of a factor for me. Most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to compare prices in our town between homebrew stores. I actually do have a few stores to choose from, but the prices are close enough that it’s never a deciding factor.

Rather than compare between local stores I do more comparison with online shopping. Homebrew stores still get most of my business but if there is a deal on a specialty item like a Perlick faucet, then I’ll turn to online.

What do you look for in a homebrew store?

Which of these factors are most important to you? Are there any I didn’t mention?

Photo Credit: Another Pint Please

 

About Billy Broas


He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

Comments

  1. Here in the Denver area, I feel pretty spoiled with the number of LHBS’s (local home brew shops). Quite a few of my virtual brewing friends have literally no choice.

    My number 1 (like you) is helpful and FRIENDLY staff. To be honest, I’ve never actually witnessed a LHBS worker talk down to a customer, but I’ve heard horror stories. One good question to gauge helpfulness in a staff member is to ask if they have any suggestions for brewing with a Mr. Beer kit. If they immediately start getting snotty and tell you they can’t help you unless you upgrade, I would never go back to the store.

    All your other points are important too, but only unfriendly staff will prevent me from ever going back.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Yea we sure are spoiled. I used to be a virtual homebrew shopper when I was back in VA except for the rare times I wanted to drive an hour each way.

      Friendliness is really important. Other things can be overcome, like if the staff isn’t very knowledgeable you can always go elsewhere for information (which most of us do anyways), but if they’re jerks then that’s going to leave a lasting negative impression.

  2. Great post, Billy.

    I like all your points and I think #3 and #5 go hand and hand. Old, stale ingredients are a bad sign, but that can be the problem with a wide selection.

    There weren’t any homebrew stores in central Virginia for many years, but then two seemed to pop up overnight. That was great news, but I know it is tough for a LHBS to stay profitable and I’m sure it is even more difficult when there is competition right across town. So, I try to buy from them both, but I’m not really surprised (but I am still disappointed) when they don’t have a funky yeast strain or a weird hop that I want in the cooler. Unlike like the big, online stores, they don’t move enough merchandise to have those more uncommon items sitting around without the possibly of them growing stale. I understand that these are still businesses and they need to make money and be efficient.

    So, I use them whenever possible, but sometimes I do have to use non-local shops. If you are smart and know what ingredients you will need well in advance (neither of which are me), your LHBS will be able to order just about anything for you.

    • Hitting all #5 is definitely not easy and a lot of it is due to demand and/or competition, as you mentioned. There’s a noticeable difference between the stores I visited in Virginia and the ones here in Denver. There are so many active homebrewers out here that the stores can afford to stock a wide variety of ingredients and do customer education.

      If I were opening a new store I would be very careful about locating it to make sure the market is there.

      Thanks for the comment Jamey.

  3. my LHBS is/has none of this. it F***ing sucks! Last time I went for extra light dme, all they had was 50 bags of Dark dme. Nothing in between. frustrating as all hell.

  4. I would add location relative to my home and store hours as other considerations. My LHBS is 20 minutes from home but is not open on Sundays, which means I have to plan ahead for weekend brew days. Heaven forbid I forget something on a Sunday brew-day. There is another HBS about 40 minutes away that is open on Sundays, but the 40 minute trip is painful.

    • Location is important. I didn’t add it because the store is always close to someone, even if it’s not me, so it’s not really their fault. The hours are a big deal though. I know they do what they can, but I have been caught in those situations where I need to make an emergency run to the store (no yeast!) but they were closed.

      Thanks for the comment.

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