Brew It Yourself is a one-stop shop for everything from grains to bottle caps for homebrewers of any skill level.
Owner Ray Philbrook opened Brew It Yourself in The Woodlands area in 2004 but has been brewing his own beer since 1997.
“I found that there was a place that you could actually buy things to [brew beer] at home, and I didn’t know that was even available,” Philbrook said. “I knew people did it, but I thought it was kind of under the table.”
Originally, Philbrook’s interest in homebrewing was piqued when he got a job in a liquor store in the ’90s and had little knowledge about beer or wine.
“I didn’t know anything about beer and wine except how much it cost and where it came from,” Philbrook said. “I had somebody [who] started teaching me the differences, and that opened my mind and my interest into the different kind of beers, different kind of wines, where they came from, what they were made out of [and] the history behind them.”
Although beer kits are the most popular sellers, Philbrook said the shop sells almost as many wine kits. In addition to beer and wine supplies, Brew It Yourself also carries supplies to make sodas, vinegars and liqueurs.
“Everything that’s here, people come in and will buy the equipment to make it at home,” Philbrook said. “For vinegars, you have to have something fermented already, so it has to be a beer or a wine or it can be a cider. Then you add the bacteria to it, and that turns it into vinegar.”
For those interested in learning more about homebrewing, Philbrook said he hosts a monthly club called Barley Coherent at Brew It Yourself.
“There’s a lot of different things we try to do demos about, and we make it user-friendly for the people that don’t know anything, but also for the people that have been doing it for a while, [and] they can still pick up a little something,” Philbrook said.
Gary Tomchik, one of Barley Coherent’s organizers, said about 20 people of varying skill levels come to the club meeting each month.
“We’re trying to be accessible to all the folks that come in because sometimes we have new folks that have never brewed before that will come in and say, ‘I just want to understand what this is about,’” Tomchik said. “Just standing around talking to people and sharing homebrew, they can learn something.”
Tomchik first became interested in homebrewing because he enjoyed visiting breweries but was intimidated by the process at first, he said.
“My advice would be don’t be intimidated by the process,” Tomchik said. “Just like with any hobby, you can start off very simply and accomplish want you’re wanting to do. But then there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can do something very complicated.”
Philbrook said his customers nowadays are interested in making more high-quality craft beers.
“A lot of people now are trying to make good beer, which was different from when I first opened,” he said. “A lot of people were just trying to make cheap beer. They didn’t care what it tasted like. Now people are trying to make good beer because there are so many good beers out and they’re expensive, or you can’t get certain beers in certain states.”
Temperature is a significant factor in brewing beer. Winter in Texas is a prime season for homebrewing because the air outside naturally becomes cooler, eliminating the need for a separate refrigerator, Philbrook said.
“You can get a refrigerator, and you can put an external thermostat on it and you can dial the temperature you want,” Philbrook said. “Most people don’t have the extra fridge just for that, but if you get into it then you eventually buy it.”
Aside from temperature, sanitation and patience are key when making homebrewed beer, Philbrook said.
“It’s a little bit of time, [but] it’s not as crazy as you would think it would be, and it’s not as expensive as golf,” he said. “What really drew me into it was I enjoyed eating. I liked food, and I liked cooking. That helps me to enjoy it even more because when you’re [cooking], you understand it more and you can manipulate it. I think beer is the same thing.”