By Laurelle Walsh
How has the Methow Valley managed so long without a homebrew supply store?
The American Homebrewers Association estimates there are 1.2 million home brewers in the United States, and although there is no way of knowing how many home brewers there are in this valley, industry experts cite a positive relationship between the interest in craft beers and the interest in home brewing.
With two commercial craft breweries — the Methow Valley Brewing Company and Old Schoolhouse Brewery (the latter recognized as Washington state’s No. 1 small brewery in 2013) — and the award-winning Lost River Winery and Methow Valley Ciderhouse, it’s easy to suppose that Methow Valley imbibers hold their beverages to a higher standard.
Now the valley’s do-it-yourselfers can get their beer- and wine-making ingredients and equipment at Down Home Brew Supply, which opened its doors in the Horizon Flats neighborhood last month.
Down Home Brew Supply owners Mike and Amy Scarsella moved their family and their two-and-a-half-year-old business to Winthrop from Arlington, Washington, in November, after gaining a “cult following” among customers in western Washington, according to Mike.
“I’m pretty sure there’s a demand over here,” Mike said. “People get tired of ordering stuff online.”
“It’s a good fit for this community,” said Amy. “More and more people are leaning toward self-sufficiency and DIY [do-it-yourself].”
Down Home Brew Supply is located at 54 Horizon Flats Rd., Bldg. B. It occupies the warehouse space next to Cascade Concrete’s office that previously housed Cascade Tire.
Within the insulated and heated warehouse, shelves hold bins of bulk malted grains, bags of yeast, buckets of malt syrup, sugars, fruit concentrates, seasonings, pots, tubing, carboys, bottles, funnels and books. Chest freezers hold dozens of varieties of hops. They even carry home soda-making supplies.
Beginning brewers or winemakers can purchase starter kits, and home brewers of all stripes can come in to consult and troubleshoot with the owners. “My motto is even if you come in and don’t buy anything, I want you to leave with knowledge,” Mike said.
Mike is a self-taught brewer who personally saw the need for a homebrew supply store when he was getting started. “I like making stuff,” he said.
“He’s like the mad scientist,” said Amy.
“Recipe design is my forte,” said Mike. “I really geek out on the math and the quantities and the recipe development.”
Customers are encouraged to pull up a stool at the enormous cedar-plank counter to discuss the craft while Mike pulls out bins and measures ingredients.
“I like to ask people questions — ‘Do you like salty/bitter/tart/coffee/chocolate/barbecue?’ — to match them with the flavor profile they’re looking for,” Mike said. “When people come back and they’ve made something they really enjoy, you can see the look on their face; it’s really made their day.”
Mike figures it costs between $200 and $250 and requires space for a 5-gallon bucket or carboy on the kitchen counter for a person to get started in wine- or beer-making. “It’s not hard to learn,” he said, adding that you don’t want your ferment to freeze or get too hot: the 60-to-80-degree range works best.
“For thousands of years people have been doing this,” said Amy. “Now it’s just become popular.”
The No. 1 thing that has improved home brewing in recent years is better varieties of yeast, which allow for better control over the final product, said Mike. “Thirty years ago you had bread yeast only. These days they’re making unique strains; you can even make your own yeasts,” he said.
Besides brewing multiple varieties of beer and wine, the Scarsellas have experimented with other ferments, such as mead, cider, kombucha, and naturally fermented pickles, they said. They look forward to harnessing the yeasts and bacteria specific to Methow Valley-grown grains, fruits and honey.
Mike is also in the process of earning his master judging certificate, which will allow him to judge at wine and homebrew competitions, he said. “It doesn’t pay, but you’re helping somebody … giving feedback about what you should do or should never, ever do again,” he said.
Down Home Brew Supply is open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays. The store is closed for a holiday break until Jan. 6. For more information call 996-2034 or go to www.downhomebrew.com or Down Home Brew Supply on Facebook.