My Old Kentucky Homebrew to close by end of June

My Old Ky Homebrew exteriorPaul Young sits staring at nothing at all. He says it still doesn’t seem real, but he has nevertheless decided he must close My Old Kentucky Homebrew, the business he launched six-and-a-half years ago to serve local brewers.

Sales have waned in 2015 to the point that a tough decision had to be made, he says.

“This is not a decision I want to make,” he says.

The homebrew shop, located at 361 Baxter Ave., will be open mostly only on weekends through Father’s Day, he says. Young informed the owner of the rented space he will be out by the end of June.

Young partially attributes the closure to a surprising lack of interest in the brew-on-premise operation he added about nine months ago. He knew at the time of launch he needed to brew about 15 batches a month to break even, but in that time, fewer than 20 people have used the system. In April and May, he says, it was “barely used.”

Also, sales in the store have sagged. Young says he noticed this past Christmas that, while overall sales were good, there were fewer sales of new brewing kits, suggesting fewer people were becoming homebrewers. Then in January, which had traditionally been the second best month of the year for the store (behind December), sales strangely fell off a cliff.

“Weeks would go by and we were not making the sales we needed to make to stay in business,” he says. “We used to have Saturdays when we were on our feet the whole time. Now we have Saturdays when we just sit.”

The slowdown in sales made it difficult and sometimes impossible to maintain stock, Young says, which only added to the problem. He wasn’t always able to stock some of the basic things his customers needed.

Still, Young remains baffled by the sudden change in a time when craft beer is booming like it never has before. He wonders if the availability now versus six years ago is playing a role — since there is so much beer to try, perhaps beer drinkers are simply taking advantage of the fact they can find a great beer selection at local gas stations and grocery stores as opposed to brewing it themselves.

In addition, certain supplies used in brewing can also be found at places like Target and even Bed Bath & Beyond, he says, and often at cheaper prices.

And it could simply be that homebrewing is seeing a lull, wherein new brewers simply aren’t coming along.

Brew-5-601x451“Hobbies ebb and flow,” Young says. “I’m sure a guy in 1990 bought an arcade and thought, ‘This is going to last forever.’ I thought I had created myself a job forever. Now I look around and realize there is a time I won’t be coming here to work anymore.”

Young is now trying to sell the brewing system, which includes six 20-gallon kettles, as well as a pair of coolers and other items in the store. If he can do that and take care of many of the expenses that have piled up, he says, he will look to reopen My Old Kentucky Homebrew in a different incarnation. He isn’t giving up on the brand.

“It’s not that we created a bad business,” he says. “It just didn’t work in this time or in this place.”

Young is distraught over the decision he’s been forced to make and admits he still wakes up in the middle of the night thinking of ways to turn the tide. He says he wants to come into the store, unlock the doors and pretend everything is OK. But he knows it isn’t. He likens his affection for the store and what he’s built into the love one might feel for a child.

But his biggest regret is how it will affect his regular customers, especially those heavily involved with the LAGERS Homebrew Club who patronize My Old Kentucky Homebrew. In fact, he hasn’t even told them.

“I don’t know how to tell them,” he says. “I’m so sorry to the homebrew club. I’m sorry to everyone. I didn’t want to let anyone down, but we can’t keep going deeper into the hole. All I ever wanted to do was teach people how to make beer and have the product to let them do it.”

Young says he isn’t sure what’s next. He hopes to remain in Louisville, but admits the store — aside from loving the city and the brewing community — primarily is what keeps him here. Still, his hope is not only to stay but to find a way to reincarnate My Old Kentucky Homebrew. Time will tell. Meanwhile, he has the unenviable task of not only closing the store he loves and selling his equipment and supplies, but also wondering what exactly went wrong.

“We thought it was going to take off,” he says. “That’s what’s so shocking. Craft beer is doing so well right now.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

‘Brew on premise’ concept comes to Louisville for the first time

Brew 5Paul Young was attending film school at the University of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ripped her way through the city, leveling huge sections of the landscape. Thousands of lives were turned upside down. One of those lives was Young’s.

“Job, school, friends – gone,” he said, looking back on that time in 2005.

It sent him packing back to Louisville, where he grew up, not exactly knowing what he wanted to do. His first instinct was to open a brewery – mostly, he just knew he wanted to create something that would last. But a friend told him running a brewery also involved running a bar, and gave him a book about doing so.

“I started researching what it would take to run a bar,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that.’”

That’s how My Old Kentucky Homebrew was born in 2009. And this week (if the paperwork is approved as expected), his five-year project is slated to become one of only a handful of facilities to offer “brew on premise” services to home brewers. It will be the first one ever in Louisville.

“People around here have talked about doing them,” Young said, “but this is going to be the first fully devoted brew on premise that I know of.”

Brew on premise is not a unique concept, but it is a rare one. Young, who was in his early 20s at the time, did his research by visiting similar concepts in Cleveland and in Maryland; he said there are several brew on premise facilities on the west coast, but many of those focus on wine.

What it means, essentially, is that a home brewer who is accustomed to brewing small batches of a gallon or two at a time can expand their recipes and brew up to 15 gallons using My Old Kentucky Homebrew’s three-barrel brewing system. For a batch that would yield about 90 bottles of beer, Young said, a brewer can expect to spend around $200 (not including bottles).

The good news is that the entire operation is supervised. And it’s a step by step process that even a novice brewer can follow.

First, you either bring your own recipe or you choose one from a selection available at My Old Kentucky Homebrew. Some are original to the store, some are generic recipes , and some are recipes for popular craft beers such as Sweetwater 420 IPA.

Breew 6Next, you pick your ingredients from the in-store stock. My Old Kentucky Homebrew has it all, from hops to yeast to malt extract. Then you brew the wort. Once the wort is ready, it is transferred to buckets by staff, and the brewer pitches the yeast. It then goes to the fermenting room, which is kept at around 68 degrees, 24 hours a day.

Once the beer is ready, it is kegged, and then the brewer can use the bottling system at My Old Kentucky Homebrew to bottle the beer. At that point, it’s all about drinking it, which obviously is the best part.

The fermenting room can hold 144 buckets of wort, while the brewing system is capable of brewing six batches at a time, up to 15 gallons each. The goal, he said, is to brew six batches per day. And perhaps the best part of it all is that all the cleanup and sterilization of the equipment falls to the crew at My Old Kentucky Home Brew.

“We do all the nasty stuff,” Young said.

At first, the system will be available at specific times, but Young envisions it going to seven days a week. And, he said, he believes the service will be in quick demand.

“I get phone calls about it every day,” he said. “Our belief is it is going to fill up very fast.”

Brew 3Young also envisions three different “tiers” of brewing. The first is for inexperienced home brewers who will need supervision and don’t have bottling equipment or bottles. But experienced brewers will be able to brew larger batches and then finish the beer themselves, meaning their cost will be lower. Perhaps most interestingly, Young ultimately wants to offer special event brewing – for instance, if a couple wants to brew a special beer for their wedding reception, they can invite the wedding party in to do a catered brew-in event.

“Then when the time comes, they will have this unique beer that is only theirs,” Young said.

And making one’s own beer is really what Old Kentucky Home Brew has always been about. Brew on premise, Young said, is “an extension of what we’re already doing.”

This new feature simply enhances the possibilities. If someone has been brewing at home on a stovetop, this gives them the opportunity to take it a step farther.

“It’s 100 percent home brewing,” Young said. “It’s just not at home.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.