As Austinites' thirst for local beer only seems to increase, so does their interest in making it themselves. At least that's what Joseph Butler, Mike Campbell and Chris Ellison have been noticing — and they have plans well in the works to fuel that interest.
By the first week of August, the entrepreneurs' SoCo Homebrew shop should be opened on South Congress Avenue, not far from Hill's Cafe. Homebrewers themselves, they noticed that South Austin lacked a store where they could go for hops and yeast, brewing equipment and brewing advice and decided in November of last year that it was high time for one. Butler, after all, lives in Kyle, so if he's about to brew a new beer, he's got a drive ahead of him to either a store in San Antonio or Austin Homebrew Supply in North Austin, just off U.S. 183.
"It's excellent," Butler said about Austin Homebrew. "It's a great place to go as an advanced homebrewer or a novice one. But for people south of the river, (SoCo Homebrew) is going to be more in their neighborhood."
The old office space they've converted into a store is 2,400 square feet, which means plenty of room for any type of DIY beer-making ingredients and equipment imaginable. They're certainly taking advantage of the sprawl. Butler said suppliers told them they purchased well over the amount of homebrew supplies of a typical first order, but it's important to them to keep the shop well-stocked (if not overstocked, Butler said) at all times. And if they're lacking something a homebrewer needs, they're going to find a way to get it.
SoCo Homebrew will have a main supply area, a 450-square foot grain room where customers can measure out how much they need, and a warehouse carrying brewing equipment and miscellaneous items. The shop won't just be for beer lovers, either. It'll also carry all the crucial items for people wanting to make wine, cheese, kombucha and even sauerkraut, "anything that needs some fermenting time," Butler said.
He and Ellison, a former employee of Austin Homebrew, will be working at the store full-time; Campbell will be around on weekends until he can quit his job at an architecture firm in December. They're an enthusiastic trio who bring their own personal skill sets to the project. Butler, armed with an MBA from Texas State University, has the business savvy. Ellison knows the ins and outs of running a homebrew supply and hobby shop after working for one. And Campbell, Butler's friend since middle school, has been homebrewing twice a month with a group of his buddies since 2007, Butler sometimes joining them.
In addition to renovating the space to make it ready for an early August opening, they've been visiting local breweries such as Hops and Grain and Thirsty Planet to get to know the beer scene here and spread the word about SoCo Homebrew.
"The breweries sort of give you an appreciation for how beers are made," Campbell said, noting that he stopped by Twisted X one day to see how the Dripping Springs brewery's prickly pear beer, Siesta, compared to one he had made. "Theirs was way better," he noted with a laugh.
With SoCo Homebrew keeping their hobby "10 feet away from us at all times," they'll have an opportunity to keep practicing it. So will tons of other Austinites — response toward SoCo Homebrew has been overwhelmingly positive, Butler and Campbell said, with social media and word-of-mouth (and the SoCo Homebrew shirts that the guys constantly wear) generating a buzz that will carry them into August.
Butler said they have no current plans to sell inventory online, like Austin Homebrew and other homebrew supply places do. "Our clientele want to come in and talk," he said. "Online sales aren't really conducive to our market, which is so hands on."
Tentative hours for the store are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information (and for a to-be-announced opening date), visit SoCo Homebrew's Facebook page.