Monday, August 6, 2012

Where do you buy most of your homebrewing ingredients?

The box that two 5-gallon barrels arrived in.Online/Catalog – 62%
Locally – 37%

There are lots of arguments that can be made both in favor and against buying brewing ingredients locally. You can talk quality, price, selection, economics, service, and environmentalism. However, brewing the best possible beer is my first priority as a homebrewer. I’d rather spend additional money or time if it means the beer I end up with is more delicious. I’m surprised to see such a wide margin of victory for online/catalog, but I count myself in that group.

One of the things I appreciate most about shopping online is the ability to get exactly what I want. When I visit a homebrew store I’m sometimes forced to make an on-the-spot recipe adjustment (You're out of WLP001?). When ordering online I can shop around until I find a store that carries everything I need. However, I’ve also run into situations where an online homebrew store has called me to say they are out of something I just ordered. It’s amazing to me that some websites don’t have an automatic inventory that updates when a product is sold out.

Until recently, shopping online was a big time saver for me because the closest homebrew store was about a half hour drive away (and I’m sure some of you are jealous of even that). A few weeks ago one opened a half mile from my house, so that is no longer a valid excuse. They are still small, but the fact that it is located in the tasting room of 3 Stars Brewing means that I'll probably find my way down there pretty regularly.

I'd include group bulk buys as non-local shopping, that is unless they are run through a homebrewing store. One of my friends arranges the purchase of a pallet of grain every few months (great deal for PBW as well). I also buy a lot of my hops by the pound from HopsDirect each fall, although I augment as the year goes on. I prefer to buy yeast local/fresh whenever possible, especially when it is cold or hot enough outside to harm the fragile fungus. The savings can be remarkable. Let’s take a look at a simple recipe for an IPA that calls for 12 lbs of malt and 12 oz of hops. Shopping at Maryland Homebrew I’d have to pay $21.60 ($1.80/lb) for American 2-row, and $30 (~$2.50/oz) for the hops, (call it $52 with yeast and a 10% homebrew club discount). Whereas ordering in bulk I’d pay closer to $.75/lb for malt and $1.00/oz for hops including shipping, for a total of $27 including yeast.

Having several hundred pounds of grain in my basement (not to mention the beer) also puts me in a good position to survive a societal collapse. Just make sure you store your grain well and keep the bugs out. My great-grandmother stockpiled flour and sugar after the shortages (and anti-German sentiment) during World War I, sadly by the time World War II rolled around it was infested and had to be dumped.


  1. I buy most of my grains online, but it's a store that's only about 90 minutes from where I live. It's less local than some of my options, but more local than many others.

    HopsDirect is definitely my favorite source for hops as well. It's hard to feel bad when you're buying hops directly from the farm that grows them.

    Liquid yeast is really the only thing I'll go out of my way to get locally.

  2. Up until a year or so ago, I had no "local" (within one hour) homebrew shop. Now I have two, in opposite directions. Both have a good selection of stuff, and will come in handy for those "oh crap" moments. But for pinpointing what you want (specific spec grain from a specific suppler? exotic hop?), you really cannot beat online shopping. Then again, most homebrew stores will special order things, and many are catching on to weekly yeast requests. Those requests usually get you the freshest yeast possible (unless its WLP001/1056, which they will probably have in their cooler, which could be a tad old).

    Each format has its place, but if I lived 10 minutes from a store, I would probably only go local.

  3. I usually place an order for hops with hopsdirect and then one big order online for the beers I expect to brew for the next year. Anything else I decide to brew along the way is bought locally.

  4. I have 2 regular places. One is a small local shop that also sells beer, so I get my common specialty malts, DME, and dry yeast (for mead and emergencies) from there. I also live about 30 minutes from Rebel Brewer, so I order online, and then drive to the store to pick up my order.

    Although, if there's something in particular that I want, I have no qualms about going outside of that general routine and ordering online.

  5. I tend to get 95% of my stuff from my local store. In fact, the only thing I've ordered online this summer was some Pacman Yeast that the LHS wasn't authorized to carry.

    I tend to plan things pretty well in advance, so I shoot an email to my store owner and he's able to special order anything that he doesn't have on site. If he didn't offer that level of service, I'd likely do much more in the way of internet-orders.

    1. I also just started doing this, I felt guilty and wanted to give the local guy that supports events a chance, so I sent him an order over email he quoted me with 20% off and I said he needed to do 30% off or I would take my business online and he said he could do 30% off so now I am going to pick up my order today! Free shipping, cheaper than online for base malts and shopping local! Its like making the local guy an online store, just spreadsheet your order and email it to them. Hopefully others will try this tactic, if you bargain with them they will obviously want to get you the price you need in order to do business with them.

  6. Northern Brewer is my main source. With a 7'99 flat rate shipping, its hard to beat. I have a local shop too and will use him sometimes.

  7. I've only brewed 4 batches thus far, and have gone with my LHBS for ingredients thus far. I have decided to shop online from now on, mostly due to price- I can save about 40% on malt and hops by shopping online. I'm not paying $2/lb for 2-row! Online stores also seem to have better selection, carrying malts and hops (including Amarillo and Citra) that my LHBS doesn't carry. I will be shopping locally for liquid yeast though, as not only is it fresh, but their prices are competitive with online stores.

  8. The quality of the store is obviously a big factor. I am lucky to have a great LHBS that is really great for ingredients. For equipment, I can save a lot of money online, but I think the ingredient prices are competetive, at least when buying only enough for one 5 gallon batch. I can see once you are talking bulk amounts of grain then ordering it yourself probably makes more sense. The best thing about my LHBS os it's busy, so the ingredients turn over is high and I know they are fresh. I regularly pick up a Wyeast smack pack that is only a week or two old.

  9. I buy most of mine from More Beer (on line), and now Northern Brewer (on line) too. I have a local homebrew shop but it is all organic and all expensive. I have a new one 25 minuets south of me and might start going there on a regular basis.

  10. I guess I'm lucky. I have 3 Home Brew Shops within 15 or 20 minutes of my house. A couple of them are even closer to where I work and one of them is actually on the way home from work.

    So, it is very rare that all 3 don't have something I need. If all 3 don't have something, any one of the 3 are more than willing to find it.

    I only really order online when I have a gift certificate I need to use up.

  11. There's a shop is in between my house and my work, so I usually swing by there on my way home from work.

    He sells sacks of grain at prices comparable to what I've found online, so I buy sacks of base grains and pick up whatever specialty grains I need that week.

  12. I guess it all depends. My shop just raised all U.S. 2-row malts to $48.99 from $44.99 but put them on sale for $39.99 often (the entire month of July past, for example). That's as low as .80 cents a pound. In fact, they have sold for as little as $35 in the past when diesel rates aren't awful.

    Hops are very reasonable too when bought in bulk. Although prices obviously vary across variety, HopUnion-packaged Cascade pellets have been selling for $11.99 a lb. AFAIK that's about the same as HopsDirect plus shipping and you can pick them up anytime. In the spirit of Independence Day they were even on sale in July for $7.99 a pound, whole or pelletized. That's downright cheap! That and hard-to-find hops are often to be had when they may/may not be available online or only available one to a customer. Just my .02 in favor of local.

  13. I have three homebrew shops within ~25 miles.

    One is a home-based operation, more biased toward wines. He can get whatever I need, but it's a PITA to order everything.

    The second is kind of out of my way, but they usually have what I need and they KNOW THEIR STUFF.

    The third is more convenient and has an amazing selection of grains....but hops and yeast are hit-and-miss. There have been times when they were so out of yeast that I couldn't even substitute.

    I tend to give the third guy most of my business, but often end up ordering stuff from Northern Brewer, too.

  14. I still buy all my ingredients local from the witches brew in foxboro, ma. Great, great homebrew shop. It's obvious he's in it for the love of the hobby an not for the money. He treats his regular customers well, the selection is great, and it's busy so it's always fresh.

  15. I buy most of my stuff online. Mike, I'm not an economist, but I don't see why it would matter if I bought my Canadian grain, Washington hops and California yeast via my computer or from a local Houston shop.

  16. Base malt, so long I'm near Chicago, I get at Brew and Grow. Canadian 2-row, 25 kg sacks, $35 list, 10% AHA discount. Ends up being dirt cheap. If I'm visiting my brother, I try to get over there and get other supplies as well. Everything is cheap there.

    Otherwise it's usually either NB or AHS unless I happen to be visting Indianapolis and need something. Great Fermentations has slightly higher grain, hop, and yeast prices than online, but not so much that I won't buy there. The staff is great and knowledgeable. The equipment there, way overpriced.

  17. Got to go with the local shop. Yes occasionally they will be out of something I was looking for, but a good store has knowledgeable staff to help you get a good replacement. Mostly I call my orders in so it's rarely a problem.

  18. Here in Norway I have to drive 8 hours to my "local" homebrew store, so don't whine! ;)

  19. My local store, Listermann in Cincinnati, allows me to buy a bag of grain in advance for a 30% discount. I like buying from a great local shop and saving a bit of cash also.

  20. In terms of economics and environmentalism, it is a complex calculation. The homebrewing store just gets a few large shipments (rather than every homebrewer getting an individual shipment to their house), but depending on how far (and how) you travel to visit the store, you may be erasing those fuel savings. I’m not sure what the breakeven point is, but walking or taking public transportation probably favors the LHBS, driving 30 minutes probably favors shopping online.

    Thanks for everyone who chimed in with their thoughts, sounds like some terrific homebrewing stores out there!

  21. Good article, just a quick note from somebody who works for a national mail order supply company that shall not be named- We do have a constantly updating inventory system that was wicked expensive and does a great job, but we also have to account for tens of thousands of SKUs, retail sales, hundreds of bin locators, transfers, and human error. Sadly it's not as simple as just a plug and play bit of hardware.