Shiloh Baker undoubtedly has one of the most enviable jobs around. She doesn’t sit in a claustrophobic cubicle, nodding off behind a computer from 8 to 5. She doesn’t stand on her feet for hours at a time, impatiently tapping her fingers on the checkout counter, staring daggers at the clock while waiting on a lingering customer.
Instead, the brew sage is helping to cultivate a growing interest in homebrewing in the area, while enjoying a few experimental tastes along the way. Opening Amarillo Brewing Supply, located at 2300 Bell Street Suite 16, on March 4, the Amarillo transplant from Colorado decided to start her own business when she noticed a gap in the Amarillo market. Her criminology degree from Missouri State University has yet to lead the young entrepreneur to a job in the justice field, so she went with her gut and opened a store front based on a hobby her fiancé introduced to her a few years ago: brewing. It was a dicey endeavor, she admits, and during the first three hours of the grand opening, Shiloh’s once sanguine demeanor started to falter. But after the initial few hours, curious folks and avid homebrewers began to pour in.
“Oh yeah, it was a big risk, but we knew brewers were here, and it turns out when we opened up, there were a lot more than we thought there were,” the 27-year-old says. “A lot of people in this area brew their own stuff, but there wasn’t a brew store. And that’s what gave us the idea.”
When you walk into Amarillo Brewing Supply, take a deep whiff and let the cool smell of raw malt and dried hops consume you. You’ll notice the aroma isn’t the same as when you crack open an ice-cold beer from the fridge. It’s fresher, and for some reason, much more enticing. Shiloh says the recent craze of craft beer is not necessarily about having homemade alcohol on hand, but is more about the art form, understanding the method and experimenting with ingredients. You are making an individual beverage with unique flavors you may not be able to create again.
Within the past five years, domestic craft beer sales more than doubled from $6 billion to $13 billion, up 2 percent in dollars and 2 percent in volume from 2011, according to the Brewers Association. Mass-produced brands remain king with craft beers only making up 10 percent of the market. But that’s just not cutting it for everyone any more. In Amarillo, more bars and restaurants have begun to serve craft beer, and many wine and liquor stores stock a larger quantity and wider selection.
“It’s kind of like baking your own cake as opposed to buying one from [the store],” Shiloh postulates, comparing making your own brew as opposed to buying it. “It’s just you have more pride in making your own beer, and it’s more satisfying to taste the end result. And it’s your beer. You can make it however you want to because it’s yours.”
Shiloh’s fiancé, Stephen Branigan, first brewed beer 10 years ago, and while it was a “neat and novel” project, it wasn’t exactly a cost-effective one at the time. His father bequeathed him the family’s old brewing equipment, used by his grandfather during the Prohibition era, and from there it snowballed. But the hobby died down for a few years until Shiloh became acquainted with it. Their first batch together, they attempted to brew a batch with old ingredients. It resulted in exploding bottles.
Stephen wasn’t having any of that. “I thought, ‘All right, let’s do it the right way.’ I knew we could make good beer because I had done it for years, and I wanted her to see that,” he says. “After she saw a good batch, she was hooked.”
However, a frustration began to ferment in Stephen and Shiloh. They realized that ordering equipment online was too pricey once you factored in shipping fees. Waiting for the equipment to arrive was inconvenient, and if it arrived later than expected, was damaged, or they were sent the wrong ingredients, the couple had to push back their brew day. Another downside to ordering from online stores is that the websites are selling to a national/international customer base, meaning they often run out of stock. Taking a 100-mile-plus road trip to the nearest brewing supply store to pick up supplies wasn’t pragmatic either. Shiloh and Stephen knew they couldn’t be the only homebrewers boiling over their setbacks, and that’s why they decided to open a hometown shop.
Their efforts have been much appreciated, not only because people are wanting to hop on the homebrewing bandwagon that has garnered an appreciation for locally made, handcrafted beer, but also because they want to support homegrown businesses.
“Most people walk in the door and say, “I’m so glad you’re here,’” Stephen lets out a breath, opening his arms as if for an embrace.
Their mead guy, William Gardner, is one of those people. Since he’s been making mead from his own honey bees for the past couple of years in addition to brewing wine, the shop has greatly benefited him. “It’s convenient, close by and I can come in and grab something quickly,” he shrugs, immediately turning back to inspect the clarity of his bottled mead while Shiloh and Stephen sample it out of little, blue plastic cups.
Brewing your own beer, wine, mead or sake (rice wine) is fairly easy and appealing because you have more control of its flavor. Plus, it’s cheaper in the long run. After your startup fees, each beer costs between .20 to.50 cents, Shiloh says. You can find recipes for nearly every beer and wine on the market, and make a clone.
The process usually takes four steps: mashing the grain, primary fermentation, secondary fermentation, then the bottling or kegging stage. The process takes around six weeks in total, including the bottling stage. There are a few shortcuts though. You can buy extract, pre-mashed grain, to go straight into the boil, or skip the secondary fermentation, which is done for clarity purposes.
“It’s just like cooking,” Shiloh claims. “You have to know the steps. There are things that can ruin your beer but as long as you learn those things and avoid them, you can make really, really good beer. And anybody can do it.”
Shiloh says making her own beer has provided her with a new appreciation for taste and hard work. She taught herself to brew by researching, studying books and practicing. She understands the reasoning behind every step, every formula, but Stephen, the type of person who never reads an instruction manual, prefers to wing it. The process doesn’t get exciting for him until he starts to see the beer change. And of course, the tasting is always something he looks forward to.
“The days after, right after I pitch the yeast, I get real interested in seeing when it’s going to start fermenting, and then I always like to track how long it ferments, track its original gravity, watch the levels and judge by quality,” he begins. “I love to drink it and say, ‘this one is dry; it’s missing this. This one is fruity; this one is more floral than I expected. I think I taste pineapple in this.’”
Amarillo Brewing Supply isn’t just a shop. Yes, it sells ingredients, such as yeast, dried hops, malt, oats, brewing kits and equipment, and an array of mysterious bottles of powders and liquids, but Shiloh and Stephen help customers create their own recipes, find or design a recipe that tailors to a customer’s palate. The customer base is primarily men, but the majority of brewers who walk in the store are between 45 and 55 years of age, some even in their eighties. If a first timer has a question or becomes stumped while brewing and the shop is closed, the couple encourages people to call them so they can walk a client through the process. They’ll even open up the store on a Sunday or after hours if there is an “emergency” brewing situation.
The store has hosted a couple of brewing demonstrations outside the shop in the parking lot, one being on National Homebrew Day with High Plains Drafters, a homebrewers group, but Shiloh and Stephen hope to offer brewing classes in the near future. They enjoy exposing new people to the craft, but they also take pleasure in sharing tips and critiquing each others’ products. What they savor the most, however, are the relationships they have formed through opening the shop.
“We’ve made lots of friends. We literally had no friends when we opened the store,” Stephen says. “Since we’ve opened the store, we’ve made friends, which you know, is not what business is about but it’s been a lot of fun.”
by Drew Belle Zerby
After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.