Why YOU MUST SUPPORT Your Local Homebrew Store featuring Oak Barrel Winecraft


On this episode of The Mash Up, MoreBeer! visits Oak Barrel Winecraft in Berkeley CA, which has been open since 1957! Vito talks to them about their history, how COVID and the pandemic have affected them, and why it's so important to support your local homebrew store.

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Hey, everyone. Vito, for more beer here. We're outside of Oak Barrel Wine Craft in Berkeley, California. They're one of the oldest homebrew shops in the nation. They're almost 70 years old. So we're going to go in and talk to them about that.
I think right now it's a an important time to talk about supporting your local homebrew shop. So we're going to go and talk to them about their history, what they're doing to stay relevant in this new world. So let's go on in.
Homer. Stacey, thanks for having us. This is awesome. I've been looking forward to this. Homer, let's start with with you. You started here when you were 15 years old. That's correct. A mere young lad. Yeah. Yeah. That's just a couple of years ago.
Just a couple of years ago. Yeah. So. So you guys opened in 1957. And let me I want to introduce you because I thought this was really cool. I went and I was just looking at, uh, Sully Sullivan from 21st Amendment.
Oh, Sean Sullivan. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He refers to you as every brewer's Jedi master. To me as a Star Wars fan, I think that's really cool. And just I mean, that's as long as I've been in homebrewing, you know, you've been a legend.
So just I just want to, you know, give you your flowers on that. And then also Chris, our president of Moore Beer and all. And they wanted to say thank you, guys. This shop was what they looked to as, like a baseline model of what a home brew shop should be, you know, so just want to to
pass that along. And so those two guys, thank you for having shared it. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So tell us, 1957, before I was born, a different time. So you've been in the Bay Area home brew scene and I guess it was at that time more winemaking scene because homebrewing wasn't even legal.
When the business was started in 1957, it was started by John Bank and it's actually was a winery, a full fledged winery at that point in time. And so therefore he advanced and moved into, you know, the home brewing and home winemaking portion of it later on, like in the mid sixties or so, because even there was
a full fledged winery, he built the building just right here in the middle of his block. And so it wasn't there was no building at the time. That's right. It was the building. The original building was down here, Tokyo Fish Market, which is a Berkeley institution also, and it was in front of it.
And so then he built the building in the middle of the block, and that was in the early sixties. And they built another building later on in the late sixties over on the university. And so. Curtis And in that building there, it was a winery.
But then he also opened up what he called Opal wine craft. In other words, he started selling wine and beer, making supplies. And that was in the late sixties. Late sixties, yeah. What was the I guess the seen, for lack of better terms, like was there a lot of home winemakers, home beer makers at the time?
Obviously, maybe not as popular as it is today, but now it was fairly popular, you know, but it was more or less a sort of an underground thing because people were worried about, you know, getting caught making beer because it wasn't legal at that point in time.
Winemaking had been made legal. You could, you know, produce like 200 gallons of wine per year. So it was legal to sell the equipment and ingredients to make beer. But you weren't allowed to make it. You weren't allowed to make it, just like it's legal to sell the equipment to make a bond.
But you aren't allowed to make or I was thinking distilling or still. Yes, yes. All right. That's right. Yeah. Sometimes distilling is a bum. That's a good point, too, in this happened on more than one occasion. I've kind of stayed away from distilling because, you know, it's dangerous.
So so okay. And then 1979, you said is well, the legalization came along later on. It was in 79 that in other words, Alan Cranston, who was the senator here in California at that time, got the bill pushed through with the help of a number of people here in Berkeley.
You know, there was another shop called one, the people at the time that had a lot of people with political aspirations. And and and they actually helped make this bill that was pushed through the Senate that allowed homebrewing to be legalized.
And Jimmy Carter was one that signed it into law. That's it. And I think we're all thankful for for that happening because it created, you know, the homebrew scene as I know it. Maybe I'll let me jump a little forward to like the nineties.
That's when I started homebrewing and I think it started becoming a little more popular right around then there was more homebrew shop. There was really a surges the homebrewing in the mid-nineties because that's when you got more brews are starting to develop and grow because people were home brewers and they had to for gleam at that point
in time was to in other words take it and start a business with it and start making beer that they liked to drink. So that's the trick part is what occurred was, is that people started making beer that they wanted to drink as opposed to having to drink just the mainstream beers that were out there.
And so therefore that's why you have that array of different to different grains and different grips that you can add to it to create whatever flavor you're looking for. And also that's where you got all these different varieties of hops now that you can just change the flavor profile of the beer just with the hops themselves, and
now you have a yeast that you can use that's going to actually change. So therefore there's so many different variables into making a great beer, you know, and really the main ingredient in the whole brewing process is that yeast.
Yep. Yeah. That drives most of the flavor. So you brought up an interesting subject that I think is worth mentioning, especially from a. You know, we're talking homebrew shops and the culture around those, but how many commercial brewers and pro breweries started from homebrewing and how it is influenced?
I mean, numerous brewers came up through here and at one point, I always like to mention is Sierra Nevada, you know, I mean, it was in in 76, the King Grossman was going here to UC Berkeley and Ken Grossman was buying supplies at the shop back then.
You know, he was brewing beer. And so he was already honing his craft and he was getting things in place to start that brewery in the eighties. So Ken Grossman bought supplies was home brewing. That's correct. From you from here?
Yeah. Yeah, from here. Right. That's amazing. And then if you go from there, then you get into the other breweries that we're already started, like anchor steam, which has always been, you know, help as far as the home community was concerned throughout the years, anchor steam always gave back to home brewers.
You know, Fritz Maytag was actually a wonderful in that regard, just as Ken Grossman is wonderful in that regard. He always goes back to home brewers and you see that and a lot of people races that are established as brewers, spirited characters, it's great.
Yeah. Jameela Jamil is great of giving back. You know, I mean, you said with O'Sullivan, if he's getting good at giving back all these guys. Yeah. I mean, you can either you can go down. You can go down, right?
Yeah. Roger. Yeah. I mean, come on. All these guys are really they're into it because they realize that, hey, they've got a pretty nice life due to the fact that doing something that they just love. Yeah. And so, therefore, they're willing to give back in that regard.
Even even really a progressive river. Always comment, you know, how he's always willing to give back and how that really he was one of the innovators of. In other words just trying to use other things in making a batch of beer just to bring out the different flavors in it.
And look what he's. Look what he's developed, you know, I mean I mean, he has a cult following like no other group, you know, and you respect that, I think. Yeah, I definitely the the sense of community within the craft beer and homebrewing industry has always been one thing that attracted me to it so much is there's
a community, there's this sharing. Like when I was a commercial brewer, you know, the Bay Area Brewers Guild, we would share yeast hops, grains like. And I think it's I'm sure there's other industries where you do this, but the collaboration like, you know, businesses getting together that I guess in theory or competing but not really, but doing
stuff together. That sense of community has always been huge to me and I believe the home brew store kind of is where that, you know, this is where we gather, this is where we have a beer together, is where we talk to people that are legends and educate and teach us to to share that community.
So, you know, it's it's I don't know, it's just super important. And I'm glad we're we're chatting about that and promoting that. That's the most important thing I think that needs to be maintained is the community itself among brewers, among people in the whole industry, whether if you're just winemaker one starting off a winemaker also, you know
, I mean, being willing to give of your experiences so that you can help others even better their experience, you know. And so what you don't find is you don't find enough of them, you know, and that really that's important because that's how you keep the craft alive.
That's how you keep it going, because now you have people striving to do other different things. And so therefore when you do that and when you're giving back, I mean, that's good for this part of your body right here as well as this part of your body right here.
Yeah. Because that is the most. That's true love. Told your brother and sister to our wife. Amen to that. Absolutely. So let's talk about your your background experience. So to November 2020 you you took over the now. Yeah.
So during the pandemic. Right and I guess where I'm going with this is the pandemic, how it kind of we all retreated to our corners and and but now it's starting to open back up. Tell me a little bit about.
Yeah, sure. Yeah, yeah, I, I was in talks of taking over the shop before the pandemic hit, but when the pandemic hit, I couldn't take it over until my father in law passed away. He had ALS, so that delayed us for a bit.
And then I took it over and Bernie retired and he's still around. I just talked to him yesterday. He's amazing. He's going to be coming to the bottle shares. Right. So he's helping kind of keep consistent, keep you going.
Oh, yeah. He's yeah, he's always brings it out of the industry whenever we call him, whenever we have an event that we're hanging out at, he he definitely still participates. So he owned it since the nineties or the eighties.
Right. It was in early nineties. Yeah. Oh right. Yeah. So I, I bought it, I, I've been a home brewer for, for, I don't know, ten, 12 years and I made a business plan about, you know, 15 years ago to.
Have a semi-retirement, which is what this is for me out of marketing and experience design and just wanted to have a shop where I could be a crazy old lady and do whatever I want. I love that. I mean, I emitted the F-word in the middle of that.
Yeah, but it's all good. You can do whatever the fuck I want. Yes. So this gave it more structure than what I had in mind. But I love it. You know, it's I'm really into fermentation. I'm really into, you know, healthy eating.
And I and Whole Foods, not the store. But I'm also I love I love brewing. I like making things I like the process of things. I'm a photographer. I do the chemistry and photography. So that's one thing I do see among homebrewers for the most part, is so my love was food first and just like taste and
flavors, right? You know, and I think you see that with with brewers, too. If you're into, you know, making your own beer, you're generally into cooking for yourself, you know, making flavors across the board, you know. So it's I love that you guys do.
So you guys do beer and wine making, obviously, but like and cheese she vinegars, vinegar, water keeper. There's so many people come in here for such a broad array of things. Mycology, weed growing nice yeah right. Apparently organic pilsner malt is really good for that.
I actually don't know. I learned. So we talked about COVID. How did that affect your business? Yeah, what happened was that people started to not want to come in and people wanted to, in other words, just order it online and then just come in and pick it up.
Some people want us to bring it out to the cars and put it in the back of their car. And that way they have no contact, right? No contact at all. And that was okay like a lot of people right now and a number of people did that.
And so and there was nothing wrong with that at all. I mean, the only thing that it did do was it maybe it made people a little bit less aware of the fact of being able to come in to the store and fill out their own recipes themselves, because that's really how you get to know exactly what
you're doing. You know, it's just like cooking, like you mentioned earlier. I mean, you know, if you can't go to the store and shop and and pick out the pieces that you need for a recipe, well, then you're really not going to never really fully understand what that recipe's all about.
And so that's one of the main things of being able to come into a shop and be able to put together your own recipe so that you can really become familiar with every grain, with every heart, you know, with your water profile that you need to make for whatever you making, you know.
And also that's important, being able to taste those things that you're going to put into it to see exactly what you're going to achieve or come up with later on. But that's what people have gotten away from. And I think that sort of takes you away from brewing in some ways, you know, because in other words, it
can't always be just a one trick easy to do, you know, throw it in the pot and let's go, you know. So I think that as time goes on and people, you know, get to the point once again where they're they're not feeling apprehensive about being around other people.
They're going to come back into the store and start doing those things again. And I think by doing that, you really do. You really do. You're able to make a better product later. Yeah, I think I like to see this almost brought tears to my eye.
The reason I got into beer was Lisa ever tell you this is like my favorite interview and I'm just loving it. But then I walked over there and I saw Lisa Shepard. That's the reason I got into beer judging.
He's the one who, you know, you know, you're into all of these competitions. You come in, you're doing that like we really need more beer judges. So I got into judging after he passed away, you know, and then when I was president of Homebrew of those, we created like a GCP program to create judges in his honor
. So I don't know. I guess what I'm just saying is this. This interview's important to me. And then seeing things like that just, I don't know, just really, you know, just a good vibe. So anyway. All right, let's dove back in.
Let's talk about, you know, some of the unique things you guys do, you know, to bring people into the place. Classes, bottle share. You'd mentioned that. Let's go over some of that kind of stuff too, to share with other people.
Sure. Yeah. A great Segway is coming out of sort of coming out of COVID ish now that people are feeling more comfortable being around each other. We started in March with bottle share. Um, people come in from, like I said, from all different types of making of, of stuff.
We haven't had anybody bring cheese in yet, but I'm sure they will. And to share it provide, you know. Direction. Ask questions, learn stuff, share resources. That's been awesome. The classes have been another way to to expose people to to new things that they weren't sure of.
Like we've been doing different types of brewing techniques. We did a brew in a bag class which helped people go from extract brewing to the next step all grain. But with little investment, you just get a bag and you can go ahead and do that.
And that was very successful. We've had a lot of people very excited about what they can do with that. We're doing a All in one brew demo coming up next weekend when we have more kind of niche classes.
Coming up, we have the cast conditioning with Dave McLean from founder of Magnolia Brewing, but also a co-founder of ADM, Multicultural malting as well. Yeah. So he's he's been doing a lot of classes here because he's my boyfriend and he's he wants to give back to the community and, you know, help people, you know, take this step
forward to do stuff at home that they enjoy in the world. And also he shares a passion for he recently did a demo on how to do an English. English? I think it is English. Bitter. Bitter, yes. Yeah.
He did demo and discussion and those classes are really special because and we'll do more of them with more people. I know Shannon Sullivan from 21st Amendment wants to come in. He was just here with Dave doing a brew day, but he wants to come to class on Instagram.
That was very fun. That was really fun. And and what a great thing that like be a home brewer and be able to watch them brew and ask questions and actually watch them figure out a new system that they haven't brewed on before, which was which is why the beer is called Ask Homer, because they had to
ask him so many questions. It was hilarious. That's awesome. I love tying in the local brewmasters who started as home brewers, you know, and giving back to the community. It goes back to to what we were talking about earlier.
Right. And in that same vein, we're going to we've we're going to start reaching out to the local breweries and brewers and put together kits based on recipes that that are inspired by their their flagship beers. Oh, awesome.
I see you guys. Do you do your own kits as well? We do our own kit. Yeah, absolutely. Homer is just formulating a new kit. I think we just kicked the the keg on that IPA actually days ago.
Yeah, the summit summit based on some of that I rules I think. Oh yeah. This was brewed by Santiago, who's the head brewer now. And it's actually Oak and Tom who's the head brewer now at at Federation both on the work here.
Working on them from Ben while Casper. That's from working here. Yeah. And Santiago worked there too. Okay. So it was really fun for a beer week. We had them come in and and brew here and brew a beer.
It was all California ingredients. It was Admiral Maltings and we had Thompson hops from out and Tracy being okay. Yeah, local, local grown, which we're starting to carry, too. And Homer coming up with the recipe. And that's what we're drinking.
That's delicious. So good. Easy drinking beer. It's so good, so unique products. I saw you guys also. Do you sell all the ingredients to make vinegar, but you also have bottled vinegar. You guys sell as well. So that was pretty cool.
Yep. Yep. We're going to try to we brought the red in is from a local importer and for now they're super nice and the wine so I mean the vinegar is delicious. How is that whole. It's kind of new to me.
The I'll call it food fermentation we talked about earlier. I can butcher that kind of stuff. Kieffer I love hot sauce, so that's like a cool one for yeah. Like how is that is do you guys have a lot of customers that are into that area of food fermentation?
I guess I wouldn't say a lot. I'd say maybe like 10%. Yeah, there's a few that are involved in that. But I mean, the main focal point here truly is beer and wine. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. And there's great stores in Berkeley and Oakland for for food, fermentation.
Yeah. So yeah, it's cool to see that kind of expand. And you know, just what I guess we've learned from from beer and wine making into food, you know. So it's cool to see that that segment grow kind of leads back to your talking about the health side of things you know being conscious, making, making the products
that you're putting in, making good decision making good decisions. Yes, yeah, yeah. Note taking. You guys weren't my local homebrew store, but I always love coming here and one of the reasons I would come is to drop off beers for competitions.
So you guys are always been a point for that. And then also so yeah. Do you guys that I guess speak to that competitions and also festivals? One of my favorite things is Northern California Homebrewers Festival, which is a great festival.
Do you guys set up, boosts it at festivals, things like that or we have in the past. But over the years you started figuring out that people went to festivals just to drink they weren't worried about. Talking about home point in time.
And so that's why we sort of stopped doing the festivals at that point in time. But now, maybe people's idea or thought, a train of thought is changing and it might be something to look into the going back to doing.
You know, especially now since you can serve home brew. Yes. Before you couldn't serve it. Yeah. Years ago. Before you couldn't serve it. But now all that's changed within the last three years or so. And so. Yeah. Might be something to look into.
Yeah. Especially the the nature of the Northern California Home Brewers Festival. I talked about that one, the local beer fest. Yeah. People are just going to get, you know, drunk, you know, but that one's a camp out event, so it's kind of like Boonville.
Yeah. You get the serious home brewers that are, you know, they're for the education and stuff. So I was for. To educate or to educate or to educate. Yeah, there's a lot of that, too. Yeah. Good points. You know, get into a room full of home brewers.
You have a room full of opinions and they're all different. They're all different, which is good, you know, all great. Everybody. That's kind of the beauty of homebrewing is you can do things so many different ways and there's not really a wrong way.
Well, sometimes there's a wrong way. Yeah, like, don't use your hands. That's one I always love in kind of going back to to talk about on the commercial level of collaboration. But even on the homebrew level, that's one thing I always enjoyed was going to brew with other people cause I always learn something, you know, they might
do it different, might be right, maybe wrong, like you said. Right. I always learn something, you know, like, why do you do that? You know? And you talk through that. And it's just a great experience, you know, of just brewing people.
So I, you know, I encourage brewers get out there and brew with others. Yeah. And come by our brew days. We do brew days where we have members of the Bay Area Marsha's brewing in the parking lot. We'll have like three or four different setups out there and then we'll have guest brewers on the 15 gallon system
inside. Awesome. Doing like a big everybody's different system. We did it. We did it for National Home Brew Day recently and we've done it for other brew days too. Like, just like for a beer week. We didn't have the beer Mattias here for that, but we did have Tom in Santiago, as I said, and we'll be doing
more like that because people just love it. It's so fun. Yeah. Last time Homer made barbecue, which was delightful. Sean O'Sullivan brought his pizza oven and made a bunch of pizzas. Oh, man, that sounds awesome. Yeah, it was.
It did not suck. Yeah, right. So, yeah, you know, we're talking about supporting a local homebrew store. In your guys words, why is it important to support your local homebrew store? Community. You build a community and then you build trust among one another.
And once you build that trust among one another, then ideas and thoughts are going to interchange easily. And therefore, a person is going to learn from that. And they're going to learn a heck of a lot more than just trying to get something over the Internet.
You know, I mean, you have that hands on sea thought and experience when you come into the store and you're actually you're able to appreciate when somebody says, well, I want to change my beer around, I want it to have maybe a little more of a honey character to it, or you're going to show them some honeymoon
. He said, Taste this here. Smell it. Well, you can't get that through your computer if you're sitting at home. And so, therefore, you build up a rapport. You have that person to appreciate that there's more to this than just doing it on your own.
You can't learn how to do calculus on your own. You can't learn how to do algebra on your own. But you need somebody to help you with it. And so, therefore, coming into a store like this and getting their help from someone, it makes all the difference in the world, whether it's beer, whether it's y, whatever.
You know, you're in other words, you need to be helped along in any project that you reach out and endeavor to try to do. Well, thank you guys so much for for having us here today. Homer It's an honor.
Stacey It's an honor. Love what you guys are doing. Love everything. Day I'm in the presence of a legend. Legends There's only one. So thank you, guys. Cheers. Thanks for having us. I appreciate you so much. Keep doing great work.
Thank you, Console. Thank you. We appreciate you.

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