Tucked away in a nondescript shopping center near a Highway 101 on-ramp is a unique art shop.
One won’t find paint, sculptors’ clay, canvas or pencils here but rather a jumble of buckets, tubing, stainless steel equipment and grains. The media are very different, but for many devotees of this growing hobby the experience is the same.
Instead of art on a canvass, J&M Brewing in Novato provides the material and ingredients for making art in a bottle. The shop is Marin County’s only store selling ingredients and equipment for making beer and wine at home.
Marin County, and the rest of the North Coast, has become a launch pad for leaders in the craft beer revival. Brewers such as Lagunitas and Russian River Brewing Co. have grown from local favorites to national brands and more people are trying their hand at making beer themselves to replicate the flavorful brews they can buy at local breweries or stores.
The shop not only sells brewing supplies but also offers classes to help beer aficionados learn about the hobby. The next two-part class will explain the entire brewing process and let participants bottle their own beer. It starts on Jan. 25 and runs through May.
While sales for the big-name brands like Budweiser and Coors have been gradually slipping in recent years, craft beer sales have grown by about 10 percent annually, according to Nielsen Company. And in 2012, there were more than 2,300 craft breweries making beer.
The growth in craft beer has been mirrored, or perhaps led, by a growth in the number of home brewers. According to a report by the American Homebrewers Association, the group had 750 members in 1980, but had grown to more than 30,000 in 2012. The association also estimated that in 2012 there were 1 million active home brewers in the U.S.
Most people new to home brewing seem to have been inspired by local craft beer, Wall said, and want to replicate that at home. That was more of a challenge when Wall and Capone first started brewing in the ’90s and the industry did not have the same quality and range of products. Today it’s much easier for a home brew novice to be successful, Wall said.
“They can go home and make beer as good or better than their favorite beer,” he said.
Wall and Capone have been brew buddies for a long time and realized they had an opportunity because there was no shop in Marin County. After opening the store in May 2012, they quickly garnered local support.
“It’s been successful since day one,” Wall said.
The store caters to all skill levels. Wall said they sell beginner brew kits for making five gallons of beer for $150 to $180. They also sell starter winemaking kits that will produce about 6 gallons of wine for around $200.
A basic home brewing kit includes malt extract – a viscous fluid or dry powder derived from grain that provides the fermentable sugars – hops, yeast and a food-grade plastic bucket for fermentation. The most expensive piece of equipment for brewers just starting out is typically a stainless steel pot, which needs to be large enough to boil the malt extract and several gallons of water.
Wall said it’s not uncommon for professional brewers in the area to stop by the store for supplies or a piece of equipment.
The shop also hosts regular classes where students can watch the brewing process first hand, initiate fermentation and come back in about two weeks to bottle up some beer. Wall said he’s also trying to differentiate the shop by offering the best selection of hops in the region. Hops, which are the buds of a hop plant, are what gives beer its signature bitter flavor and also act as a natural preservative.
Sean Cochran, who has worked at the store since it opened, said the home brew process goes perfectly with the trend of people looking for local products as well as food and beverages that have more unique and interesting flavors. “I think people have a better appreciation for food and wine and beer,” he said. “Home brewing just fits into that whole lifestyle.”
And he said it’s pretty easy for someone to make a decent beer themselves. “Making totally drinkable, awesome beer is not hard at all,” Cochran said.
Novato resident Jason Burdge is an accomplished home brewer who credits the shop with helping to foster a home brewing community in Marin County.
A little more than three years ago, Burdge moved to Marin County from San Francisco and became interested first in making wine. But when he realized the diversity of hops and brewing in the area, he decided to craft his own beer. “I really loved the creative process,” he said.
Home brewers today have a wide range of options when creating their beers.
They can choose specific base grains for the right color and texture, then pick hops and other adjuncts to add just the right aroma, bitterness and flavors, and finally pitch a yeast to provide the additional body, taste and aroma characteristics.
Burdge has a five-gallon “all grain” system that is pretty much the same as what professional brewers use but at a far smaller scale. He said he enjoys making strong Belgian ales and English “barley wines” that one sips like wine and that can even age for a few years.
The shop became a regular hangout for brewers who eventually coalesced to form the MaSH, or the Marin Society of Homebrewers. Burdge became president and said the group has a contact list of about 40 people.
“It was great to get together with some like-minded folks,” he said. “We have a wealth of knowledge; some of the guys have been brewing for 30 years.”
Members hold meetings the third Wednesday of every month at J&M to discuss recipes, swap samples and generally share a passion for brewing their own beer.
“That’s kind of the ultimate,” he said.
J&M Brewing Supplies
101 Roblar Dr. Suite C, Novato. (415) 883-7300. www.facebook.com/JMBrewing A two-part brewing class begins on Jan. 25 and continues through May 10. For more information, contact the shop.
Andrew Adams is a North Bay freelance writer. E-mail InMarin@sfchronicle.com. This story appeared in the Sunday North Bay Section