Q&A: Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies – Curtis Van Marck (New Westminister, BC)

Curtis Van Marck is the owner of Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies, a homebrewing supply store in New Westminster, BC. Here’s our chat with him about running a homebrew supply store, and how homebrewing has changed over the years.

CHA: How long has Barley’s been open?
We opened in January 2013, so we just had our 6 year anniversary.

CHA: What made you want to open a homebrew shop?
I started making my own beer, and had seen an ad in a newspaper for a homebrew kit. At that time I had never thought of making my own beer. It was the fact I had never even thought of making my own beer, it never really crossed my mind.

I saw the ad and thought, “This is really cool”, so I did a search for homebrew shops. At the time there was really only one in the area. I visited them and asked about the kits, but they suggested I put together a recipe with the extract and grains.

It was just after 2 or 3 batches where I thought I should open a business to do with homebrewing. Mostly because at the time I needed a job, and it was this fun new hobby I had started. It looked like there was room for more shops like that, room for improvement and competition. I was already thinking of starting my own business, so this seemed like a good fit.

Part of the planning process was looking at geographic areas and where it made sense, and New Westminster made sense being very central. It’s been a really great location.

CHA: What would you say your favorite thing about owning a homebrew shop is?
There’s a lot of perks to owning your own business. When I started I WAS Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies. I was always here. Over the years I was able to hire employees, I’ve been able to step away from the store more often, get back to a personal life. Now a customer who has been coming for a while might come in and it’s the first time I meet them. It’s rewarding that the business has become its own entity whether or not I’m here. We have three part-time employees right now, plus myself.

One thing I also really love is whenever someone walks into the shop, it’s basically guaranteed we have a common interest. And generally when people come in, they’re curious and want to ask questions.

CHA: What would you say your least favorite thing is?
The most difficult thing is having the same conversation day after day, and trying to keep it fresh and enthusiastic. Homebrew shops can develop a reputation for being surly or unfriendly. It does become a challenge to have that same conversation again and again. I have to try to remember what I felt like when I first walked into a homebrew shop. I didn’t know what an airlock was, I had to YouTube it. But that’s why people come into the store, they want to talk about it.

CHA: I can say that it’s been nice to have your shop so close by. It’s the best one I’ve been to, and I’ve been to quite a few in my few years of homebrewing. My brother also said after the first time I brought him here, how much friendlier and cleaner it is than the one he goes to.
Thank you, I appreciate that, it’s definitely the goal.

CHA: Do you still homebrew?
Yep, I just kegged a batch of brown ale that’s actually for a competition with Mariner Brewing, to see who can come as close as they can to Mariner’s Chestnut Brown ale.

CHA: Did you come close?
Haha, yeah we’ll see. It always tastes different warm and flat before being carbonated. I didn’t use real chestnuts so we’ll see.

CHA: What’s your favorite beer you’ve brewed or tasted here?
Every year here in New West there’s a festival in Sapperton, so every year I brew my Sapperton ISA. That’s the style I tend to really enjoy, hoppy but lower alcohol. That’s one that I continue to enjoy. A lot of brewers brew the same thing over and over in order to perfect it, and that’s something I respect, but I’m always looking at what’s next. Even the Sapperton Day ISA it changes every year. I actually have the benefit of having access to the hops as they come in, so I get to smell them and see what looks best when it’s time to brew.

CHA: Do you have a favorite piece of gear you sell?
I’m pretty honest when someone asks my opinion on something. There are some things I can’t imagine going without when brewing. And there’s some items I carry just because people continue to request them, although I just don’t like them. The refractometer is something I love to use, although the hydrometer has its place. But the refractometer is something I think is so easy to use and helpful all along the brew day, so I recommend it to people.

The floating thermometer I think is a terrible piece of equipment. It’s fragile, you’re probably going to break it eventually, and if you’re really unlucky it will break in your brew and ruin the batch. Glass carboys are also kind of terrible, I’ve heard enough stories about people who drop them and injure themselves.

I’ve also used one of the electric brewing systems and I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s really simplified the brew day for me. Also kegging, because bottling isn’t a lot of fun. So when anyone asks about kegging, I’m very positive about it.

CHA: Do you have any stories about how homebrewing has grown since you’ve been open?
Business has continued to grow, that’s been a tangible evidence. I think there’s a tight relationship between homebrewing and commercial brewing, and how we’ve seen growth in craft brewing, almost everyone starting breweries start as homebrewers, so it’s been fun to be a part of that, or at least on the fringes of that. Being the place that professionals came to before they got started. It’s also interesting to see people who have an interest in beer, then in the process of making it.

I’ve seen the creation of new homebrew clubs since I’ve opened. I’ve seen other homebrew shops open.

CHA: Why do you think establishments like homebrew shops are important to the community?
I do think we are a part of the craft beer community, as well as the homebrew community. Seeing the growth in the craft beer community, I don’t think would be possible without homebrew shops. We also offer a lot of support to local homebrew clubs, and that helps drive the industry.

Homebrew clubs put on events and competitions, which I think helps get people together. It makes brewing and drinking beer a social event.
We’ve also done things like the farmers market, brewed beers as public demonstrations down at the New West Quay, and public brewing demonstrations at Sapperton Day as well.

We’ve also worked with Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley with their brewing program. They were hosting a learn to homebrew day, and gave a presentation at the school.

CHA: Anything else you’d like to mention?
We’ve expanded over the 6 years since we’ve been open. One of our expansions included opening an online store, we’ve shipped all across the country, although most of our business is still in the BC area.

We also took over the neighbouring unit, so we’ve been able to carry a lot more inventory than we used to.

CHA: Thank you Curtis for the interview and for being a part of the homebrewing culture in Canada.

Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies’ Sapperton Day India Session Ale recipe

Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies
455 East Columbia St
New Westminster, BC
V3L 3X6

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