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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1996

The Beer Store taps into craze over brews

The Beer Store You Brew It in Fort Collins offers a new option for gourmet beer fans. Rather than purchasing ready-made micro-brews, customers can go to The Beer Store to make their own beer without the mess and guesswork that often accompanies homebrewing.
The idea for a brew-your-own-beer store began in Canada in an effort to avoid paying Canada’s high beer and liquor tax. It caught on quickly, and when the Canadian market became saturated, investors brought the idea to the United States, opening stores first in California and Boulder, then in Fort Collins.
The Fort Collins store began in October 1995 with two general partners and 10 limited partners each investing a minimum of $10,000. A small-business loan made up the additional capital needed to cover equipment and other startup costs.
Brewing beer or making wine at home can be an expensive, space-consuming hobby for an individual to begin because of the extensive equipment and supplies needed. The Beer Store simply rents the necessary equipment to its customers and offers expertise in the art of brewing beer and making wine. Though customers must be 21 years old to use the facilities, the store operates without a liquor or brewer’s license.
Employees take much of the guesswork out of the brewing process.
Their expertise includes step-by-step assistance during the brewing and bottling process, as well as providing tested recipes to ensure a high-quality end product.
To begin brewing, The Beer Store staff will fill a clean copper kettle with water and begin heating it. Depending on the taste desired and the recipe being used, the customer adds selected ingredients at the appropriate stage of brewing. Choices range from light to dark, bitter to smooth and simple to complex and full-bodied.
For each batch, the brewer can select from a dozen different hops, nine types of grains and four different extracts, allowing an almost infinite number of combinations. For a fool-proof end product, the store has approximately 107 different recipes or will help customers with their own recipes.
After initially preparing the wort (“beer” before fermentation), the brewer adds yeast to the mixture that is ready for fermentation. Staff members filter the wort into a plastic bag-lined keg and store it in a 74- degree walk-in cooler.
There, the yeast consumes the sugar, producing alcohol in the process. Tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide in the top piece of the fermentation keg indicate that active fermentation is taking place.
One week later, all active fermentation is completed, and the keg is moved into another cooler, this one a chilling 35 degrees, for aging the beer.
Within a week, the beer is filtered and ready to bottle.
During bottling, oxygen is removed from the bottles, and carbon dioxide is added to extend the shelf life of the beer. A good batch, properly stored, will keep about three months, according to Wyatt Norris, store manager.
The store has three two-hour blocks for brewing each day and can accommodate six batches in a two-hour block, or as many as 18 batches a day.
Each batch takes about two hours to brew, then another two hours, two weeks later, to bottle. A batch of beer makes six cases, or about 14 gallons.
The Beer Store caters to those who want to brew their own quality beer without having to worry about the finer points of brewing, maintaining equipment or cleaning up a mess. Their closest competition, The Brew It Co. in Fort Collins, presents a different approach. The Brew It Co. owner Al Colby rents the necessary equipment and sells ingredients for brewing beer and wine.
Instead of providing a simple recipe for brewing, Colby encourages experimentation and in-depth knowledge of the beer-making process. His store offers guidance and expertise as well as test equipment that allows home-brewers to test alcohol content, temperature, specific gravity of the wort and other factors critical to producing a quality beer.
“Our method is for the inquisitive brewer,” Colby said. “We encourage creativity.” His success is measured in part by the number of former customers who are now microbrewery owners.
Based on the philosophy that a satisfied customer is its best advertising, The Beer Store strives to provide excellent service and products. The store’s advertising has included a monthly newsletter and coupons to lure new customers.
“But the best way to market is just word of mouth,” Norris said. “We have big groups of people come in and do six batches at one time. Then they let their friends know about it. We had a group in here recently bottling six batches for a wedding. There’ll be 300 people at the wedding, so I know we’re going to get some referrals out of that.”
Last June, The Beer Store had a tasting party. Invited guests could taste 12 different beers and three different wines. Mark Northrop, The Beer Store employee and master brewer, said the tasting party was both good advertising and fun.
“It was definitely a successful event,” Northrop said. “It’s hard to tell from the recipes what the differences are between the brews. When customers get to taste them, they have a much better idea of what they’ll get.”
Other ways of generating interest in the store have been the three-for-two specials. If a customer brings in two friends, they get three batches for the price of two.
Customers seem to appreciate the ease of preparation and being able to brew their own beer without making a mess in their own kitchens.
Though the business is growing, it’s too early to plan for expansion.
“The holiday season’s going to be our big time,” Norris said. “Last year, we got open too late to catch the holidays. This year will be the telling time, where we can go from here.”
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The Beer Store You Brew It in Fort Collins offers a new option for gourmet beer fans. Rather than purchasing ready-made micro-brews, customers can go to The Beer Store to make their own beer without the mess and guesswork that often accompanies homebrewing.
The idea for a brew-your-own-beer store began in Canada in an effort to avoid paying Canada’s high beer and liquor tax. It caught on quickly, and when the Canadian market became saturated, investors brought the idea to the United States, opening stores first in California and Boulder, then in Fort Collins.
The Fort Collins store…

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