Above: Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies in New Westminster
COVID-19 has affected all of us in some way or another. In mid-March we were asked to stay home and travel only when necessary. Businesses considered non-essential were closed or forced to change the way they do business. For several months, I found myself at home much more than I would have been otherwise. People freaked out and hoarded toilet paper and flour. Concerned, I started thinking about ways to be as self-sufficient as possible: how I could reduce my need to shop at busy stores where I would be in contact with other people.
My first step was to start a batch of homebrew. I had the time and I knew I would need the beer. It would keep me busy and reduce my need to visit a local beer store or brewery.
I brewed a saison in mid-March. I only have a few bottles left. I bottled another saison at the beginning of August. And, after writing about my 2005 IPA recipe for the last issue of this magazine, I brewed that beer, too. This got me wondering: Has anyone else been brewing more, now that they might have a bit more time to do so?
I asked my local homebrew shops if they have noticed anything during this interesting time. It seems that I am not the only one brewing a bit more frequently these days.
Curtis Van Marck at Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies reported that he noticed a small increase in business that first weekend as the initial restrictions were announced, but he never anticipated how much busier he would get. “Almost overnight, Barley’s began experiencing customer counts higher than ever before.”
It was exciting, sure, but it was incredibly stressful under the circumstances. He was suddenly short-staffed, running out of inventory, struggling to get orders out the door, all while worrying about the health and safety of his staff, his customers, and himself. Curtis had to change the way he did business to keep everyone safe while staying open. He says, “It was a humbling experience and I am so grateful to the homebrewing community, and to our customers, for supporting us during this time. It became a regular occurrence to hear customers say, ‘Thank you for being open’. It’s not really something you expect to hear as a retail store owner.”
Curtis believes the lockdown was a catalyst. A lot of people found themselves with tons of extra time on their hands in a period of uncertainty. Brewery lounges and bars were closed down and lineups at the liquor store were outrageous. It was the perfect excuse for anyone thinking about homebrewing to make the leap, and it was an opportunity for veteran homebrewers to dive back in to the hobby.Michael Druce at Fraser Mills Fermentation Supplies told me that he saw a noticeable increase in people entering the hobby, or starting back up in the first part of the lockdown, which has led to more regular customers overall.
Both Curtis and Michael report many people looking for distilling supplies to make hand sanitizer during the initial stages of restrictions, and sourcing ingredients for other foods like sourdough and conventional bread making, kombucha, cheese making, etc.
As business changed at Fraser Mills Fermentation Supplies, they shifted to a much higher number of online sales and offered local delivery or pick up.
Michael advised that border restrictions have led to some supply problems, especially with yeast and malt extracts. Apparently Kveik strains have been more popular as the weather warmed up.
For all of us, the uncertainty continues. Curtis reports that business is beginning to slow and return to a more normal level, but attributes that to restrictions easing. He speculates that may change as we are seeing new cases on the rise and the province could go back a phase or two, with tightened restrictions.
If you have found yourself with time on your hands or need a distraction from all of the craziness in the world right now, I strongly suggest trying homebrewing. It is fun, educational, and rewarding. The best part is that, in the end, you have beer to drink. With a beer in one hand and mash paddle in the other, it is difficult to touch your face!
In the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry, “Be kind, be calm, be safe”. Now go make some beer.
SELECTED LOWER MAINLAND HOME BREW SUPPLIES:
Centennial Homebrewing Supplies
2985 Rupert St, Vancouver, BC V5M 3T8
Bosagrape Winery & Brew Supplies
6908 Palm Ave, Burnaby, BC V5J 4M3
Goldstream Craft Brewing Supplies
46126 Yale Rd, Chilliwack, BC V2P 2P1