Beer issue: Home front fermentation

Your personal beer starts here

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J & M offers everything from brewing equipment to cheesemaking supplies. Photo courtesy of Yelp.

by Molly Oleson

At J & M Brewing Supplies, which opened in Novato in May of 2012, you’ll find everything you need to make your very own homemade brew, whether you favor IPAs or wild ales. Co-owner Shawn Cochran, 31, tells us what it’s like to brew, how fun it is to share his love of brewing and what it takes to get started.

Why did you open J & M Brewing Supplies in Marin?

I came on as an owner a little bit later. Marty Wall and Joe Capone are the other two owners. They had the idea to start it here because basically Joe lived in Sonoma, and he used to have to drive all the way down to Berkeley to get supplies and there just wasn’t a shop in all of Marin. And he thought it would be a good idea to open one because, you know, he liked to brew.

What’s your mission at the store?

To provide good, fresh ingredients for brewing. And actually not even just brewing—we do winemaking and cheesemaking as well. And to be here to give advice, and to help people out with fermentation.

What’s the interest in homebrewing like in Marin?

High—just like it is everywhere. Beer has become very popular the last 10 or 15 years, and people realize that you can make stuff at home that’s just as good, if not better, than the best beers you can buy at the store. So yeah—really popular hobby right now.

What kind of stuff do you sell?

Ingredients, supplies—so the main things are malts, and malt extracts, and hops and yeast. But all sorts of different stuff, too—different sugars and additives—a wide range. Hopefully anything you would need to ferment beer, wine and cheese.

What kind of beers could people make with the supplies?

Anything, really. I’d say probably the most popular beers now are hoppy beers like IPAs, so people make a lot of those. But it’s really just whatever kind of beer you want to make. There’s nothing really harder or easier about making different beer styles—it’s just that there are different ingredients.

What’s the experience of your customers like?

Great. Our shop, you know, it’s not like going to a place where you have to go; it’s a hobby store, it’s a place that people are generally excited about because it’s something that they choose to do. So our customers are great—they’re happy, they’re there, they’re asking questions, they’re having a good time. We love our customers.

Do you see a range of experience when it comes to brewing?

Oh yeah, absolutely. From someone who’s just always had it in their mind that they might want to brew beer and they finally drop by our shop, and they want to know how it’s done … When I decided to brew beer, I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t even know what ingredients were in it, really, besides like reading off a Budweiser label that said, ‘Barley, malt, hops.’ And then we even get commercial breweries. So anywhere from the absolute beginner to the pro.

And you guys offer a basic kit to get people started. What’s in it?

Basically everything you’d need to make beer at home. So fermenters … buckets or a big water jug. And then, all the stuff that you’d need to package it, like a capper and caps. And it comes with sanitizer and siphon equipment, thermometer. The one investment that one usually needs to make to get started brewing beer is a big kettle or a big pot to boil it in—because beer’s boiled, unlike most other fermented things. We don’t include the kettle in the basic equipment kit because we want to leave that choice—of how deep they want to go into it—up to them.

What’s the timeframe like for someone who wants to make his or her own beer?

There are three different parts. There’s the brew day, where you actually boil—make the beer. So probably about two weeks later for most recipes; bottling day, where you bottle it, and then probably another two to six weeks later is the day you get to drink it. So most beers are ready in four to eight weeks.

Do you have advice for people who want to get into homebrewing?

There are definitely a lot of techniques and things you can do to make the beer better, but one thing that’s often repeated is cleaning and sanitization. So take care of your equipment. Basically if you can follow instructions—like out of a recipe for cooking—you can make great beer. It’s very procedural. A lot of the more artistic side of it is recipe development and stuff like that, but as far as just brewing beer, anyone can do it.

Are there other resources in Marin that you recommend?

I mean, a lot of it, I guess, is go get good beer and drink it, and wonder how someone made that. So any type of craft beer store would be a great place to go if you’re interested in making beer.

What’s your favorite kind of beer to make?

I like hoppy beers like a lot of people, so we like to brew a lot of IPAs. We also like to brew—this takes a little bit more time aging—what are being called sour beers, or wild ales. But I like all beer. I mean, a good beer is a good beer. It doesn’t really matter what the style is.

What do you like most about homebrewing?

Probably pride in the finished product—knowing that you made it. Just like any other hobby, you want to be good at it. So maybe tapping the keg of a batch that you’re just really proud of and that tastes really good.

What’s your favorite part about owning the store?

Well this is kind of like a cliché to say, but if you like what you do, you never work a day in your life. I enjoy coming to work every day.

J & M Brewing Supplies, 101 Roblar Dr., Suite C, Novato; 415/883-7300; jmbrew.com. Call to find out about free brewing demonstrations.

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