Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Written by Ken Carman

A Brief History of Home Brew Stores in Nashville, TN

This is going to be more than a bit sketchy. Most of these folks I never even knew their last names. But home brew stores have grow along with the hobby. They are more than a mirror or a reflecting pool. Sometimes they have led the charge. And sometimes, even these days, they have held back progress.

The first store, owned by Wine Art out of Ohio I believe, was Little Ole Winemaker in the Green Hills area. I was a new resident of the Nashville area and working as a security guard to make ends meet. This was 1978. That’s right: 78. I was making my rounds when, in the store front, I saw a sign, “Make Your Own Beer!”

I walked in and asked the shopkeep, “This is legal?”

“Oh, yeah, they just made it legal.”

Her name was Joan and I will never forget her. You will soon understand why. She was thin, about 5’5′, kind of sandy brown/gray, curly, short hair… but not “butch” short, as we would have referred to it back then. Hey, it was still the 70s.

Joan babied me through my first batches. Over the years I spent a lot of time and money. We became friends and I would stop just to chat frequently. I followed them when they moved to their new location. Occasionally Joan’s husband would pop in the store, but I can’t say I ever got to know him. Again this may seem insignificant to the story, but it’s not.

Inventory was mostly extracts and pellet hops, though Joan did keep a decent supply of grain and the usual fare’ to do a partial mash. To defend her for a moment, remember: the 70s to early 80s. Joan was very knowledgeable for the time and helpful. Ironically: she didn’t care all that much for beer and her main customers were the Germantown winemakers who mostly made something that would give Mogen David and Manischewitz a good run in “the sweetest, stickiest, wine ever” contest. They would absolutely win in a worst hangover contest.

You have to go with what sells. I’ve been in business long enough to appreciate that. But also long enough to appreciate a dedication to your “lesser” customer base. Oh, if only Little Ole Winemaker was like that these days.

The last day I saw Joan I was between jobs. I came in to buy something and she asked me if I could use another part time job, and I said yes. She almost pleaded with me to stop that afternoon and learn how to run the cash register, though I had already told her I had an appointment that day. I didn’t get to stop.

That weekend her husband, who had decided she was possessed by the Devil, put several bullets in her at a “picnic” at a park.

Wine Art hired someone else to run the store, a nice gentleman. Damn, I wish I could remember his name. He even invited me over to his place for a party and gave me a 20 year old bottle of mead we sampled that night. Tasted like a fine sherry. I still have that bottle… somewhere in this mess.

Then there were problems. Someone else started running the store, more than a bit sarcastic who admitted he didn’t know much about beer making, or care. The store reflected that attitude. This during a time when the hobby was turning decidedly high tech.

Some of this history I may have missed, I admit. I was on the road in the 90s 9-10 months out of the year and had a medical condition that prevented me from drinking. Internal yeast infection, if you want to know, a highly controversial topic back then and I had one of those doctors that was very much involved on the yeast side. I still feel there’s something to it.

One of the trends I noticed back then was, like magic stores, combining your homebrew supply store with something else. While visiting them on the road as I got back into beer I saw them in bike stores, grocery stores, I even head of a funeral parlor that has a side building that sold supplies.

Makes you wonder about the source of their dried malt, huh? Just how do you keep those hops you haven’t sold for quite a while so green?

Other than the funeral concept, it actually makes sense, especially if you’re not planning on a big operation. One of the lasting trends is in garden supply stores. Unless your planning on growing hops and barley I’m not sure the logic. At least with the funeral parlor if you sell enough to one customer you may get that customer back.

Not a lot of those homebrew supply stores mixed with funeral parlors I suppose. Stiff competition? But there are a lot of garden/homebrew shops.

The next supply store I know of in Nashville is on 8th: All Seasons. Someone decided to do it right with plenty of malts, all grain supplies, books on homebrewing. Could use a lot more equipment.

This trend spawned another garden/brew store: Worm’s Way. The first time I walked in I gently tried to tell a homebrew friend who worked there it didn’t look good. I swear Mr. I Don’t Do Homebrew over at Little Ole has better inventory. I predicted they’d get out of it.

Damn, I hate being right sometimes. But, good news, my friend now works at Rebel Brew north of the city: Goodlettsville. Tom Gentry, owner, hired him and his staff grows as does his biz. Mail order is hot stuff for Rebel Brewer and they have decent equipment for sale. Books. Plenty of bottles. Rebel is your one stop shop, though I occasionally go back to All Seasons. No store can stock everything one brewer wants and I like to show my support for those who serve the craft.

Back on the west side of town Little Ole has moved from the last location where Joan moved to. Just down the road. Cheaper according to that employee that wasn’t all that beer friendly. Last time I was in there he had a liter bottle of wort you could toss yeast into and make beer.

Anyone else have the notion he’s been headed in the wrong direction?

I’m sure he has a steady wine biz, so I only wish he thrives in his chosen preference. The only critique I have is the local homebrew club, Music City Brewers, received an invite to shop there from him not so long ago, shortly before I went in and found the liter bottle of wort.

I suspect no one was pounding on his door the morning after.

God, I miss Joan.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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