Jared Saunders opens his homebrewing supply shop with his business partner, Whit Nelson, and Bill the brew dog today.
Attention, beer geeks: You now have yet another reason to head north. Just a few blocks from Half Acre Beer Co. and not so far from Metropolitan Brewing, the friends and business partners Jared Saunders and Whit Nelson are opening Brew Camp, their temple to homebrewing tucked into a cozy North Center storefront, today.
Surrounded by bags of grain and walls stocked to the ceiling with beer-making paraphernalia, I sat down yesterday morning with the smiling, excited Saunders and his lanky yellow lab, Bill, to get the scoop on the new biz and to pose my most pressing beer-related questions. First up: Why would anyone need to make their own?
The malt shop: Brew Camp
The Chaser: The hottest week of summer seems like a good time to open something called Brew Camp. What is this place?
Jared Saunders: A couple of people who stopped in during our soft opening have called it a “general store for beer,” which we love. We’re a no-frills, carefully edited shop, and we have all you need to brew your own beer. For instance, we don’t have every thermometer out there. We have one, the best one.
TC: Where did the idea come from?
JS: The Brew Camp brand has been living in my head for probably a decade, and I bought the domain name eight years ago. I started brewing back home in northern Utah when I was in college. They have strange liquor laws there, and since you couldn’t import beer from out of state, there are some great craft breweries. I got interested.
TC: And you’ve been teaching Brew Camp classes in Chicago for a while now?
JS: Three years. I started teaching homebrewing techniques at the offices of a creative firm in Andersonville called Mighty Bytes, and that’s where I met Whit. I’m a graphic designer, and Whit is a web developer, and we realized we could make the best website out there.
In stock: wheat, barley, maize, and lots of beer lit
TC: Brewcamp.com will be a big focus for you guys?
JS: It’s half of our business model. After several customers across the country requested it, we’re selling homebrewing supplies online in bulk. We have 3,000 pounds of bulk grain here in the shop, and 30 kinds of hops—every kind available right now.
TC: And what’s the education aspect like?
JS: That’s the thing about our website that no one else has: On our learning station, customers will be able to see exactly how to home-brew, step by step. And not only will there be videos of us explaining how to do it, there will be videos of our customers showing how they’ve done it. It’s really a lot easier to do than people think. Here in Chicago, we’ll be offering three kinds of classes. Onsite, which are great for outdoors, backyards, and rooftop barbecues; in-store demos, which will be hour-long talks held at our big wooden table, here in the store; and hands-on brewing in our classroom kitchen [opening soon at the back of the store], where we’ll be able to accommodate several groups at a time.
TC: Why do you think people are interested in homebrewing? I mean, there’s already so much craft beer out there.
JS: The easiest answer is that it’s so affordable. You can make 50 bottles of craft-quality beer for 30 or 40 bucks. But the real answer? There’s just this massive amount of pride you feel when you hand someone a beer you made yourself. And people get really into it. They make beautiful labels and gift boxes for their friends. I guess there’s a little magic involved: Everybody who brews beer loves doing it. Beer is kind of this mystical thing, but our job is to demystify the process.