I have now lived in Havertown, Pennsylvania for 44 years. It is a wonderful residential community in the suburbs of Philadelphia with a population of 37,000. In that time, a homebrew shop that I have actually never frequented has stood on busy Darby Road for 27 of those years. What do I, a 70-year-old grandmother, know of beer? Not much to be honest. During summer I’ll drink a Corona with slice of lime. I’ll pick up a 6-pack of Harp at St. Patrick’s Day and a 6-pack of Lowenbräu for Oktoberfest. Admittedly there are going to be many groans when my husband Mike talks to me about the latest IPA or barrel-aged stout. My eyes glaze over. But when COVID struck in March of 2020, that homebrew store around the corner peaked my interest.
The shop’s name is Brew Your Own Beer and I noticed that they remained open for curbside pickup only through phone and online sales like many brick and mortar stores. As with many local retailers I was concerned for its well-being. Would they be able to survive the new dynamic? Are people more inclined to brew being stuck inside? For the first time I had a ton of questions about the store and its patrons. I set out to educate myself and find out.
So I reached out to the shop owner, Eric Hartline, and he graciously answered my questions. Eric bought the business from the original owner, John Reynolds, over seven years ago. He started brewing in 1996 back when John offered a brewing class through Haverford Township Night School. I found out ingredients were much more limited back then with not a lot of choices for grains, hops, and yeast. Books or classes (and magazines!) were the best ways to learn to brew beer. But he kept at it and the hobby eventually became a business.
One thing I was particularly keen about was some of the latest trends in the hobby. Electric brewing is one of the biggest trends he’s been seeing over the last few years. The brew-in-a-bag technique has also been a big boon for the hobby. Combining the two makes homebrewing convenient and the smaller footprint means less equipment clogging up your house and garage, less cleaning, and the flexibility of brewing inside your house or outside. It’s changed the way homebrewers brew.
On the ingredients side he notes that the IPA craze continues to ride high. Brewers, especially newer brewers, are keen on trying to recreate IPAs from their favorite breweries. Kveik yeasts have soared in popularity in the past 2–3 years due to their wide temperature range, rapid fermentation, and fairly clean profile.
In regards to the ramifications of COVID on his brick and mortar store, he noted that older customers who hadn’t brewed for 10–15 years were getting back into the hobby. There was also strong interest among new folks looking to get started in the hobby. In fact, 2020 was Eric’s strongest year since he owned the business (up 20% over 2019) and he considers himself very lucky. The downside was customers weren’t able to come in and share their beers during events with dedicated brew days and tasting events. These events are really well supported by customers and the homebrewing community at large.
With my itch finally scratched about the shop around the corner, I finally am starting to see what a great hobby homebrewing is for many. From an outside perspective, it truly sounds like a fun club, creating delicious and unique beers. And please . . . support your local business! There is almost always an interesting story behind them all.