After turning down an orange gravel road in Denham Springs, stirring the dust up around the rabbits and just past the “Slow Chickens at Play” sign, a visitor will arrive at the wooded home of Bill and Tami Vollenweider. A nondescript building just out the door is operation central for The Homebrew Shop.
The quote “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” is often a saying among enthusiasts, and the Vollenweiders believe the quote can be applied to wine and cigars, too.
A side family venture for years now, the shop provides equipment, products and supplies for beer and wine making. There is a humidor full of imported hand-rolled cigars, too, plus items appealing for anyone with their own man cave — among them, tobacco pipes, bottle trees, electric bug swatters and even stacks of the original Operation Desert Storm Army playing cards.
The shop, 8645 Florida Blvd., cut its hours of operation as people recovered from the flood. However, supplies for making spirits, and some side advice from Bill, are still available from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Don’t come knocking at Bill’s door any other day or time. He’ll probably be working, feeding the animals or asleep. “I’ve had a lot of knocks on my door at all hours of the night,” he said, frowning.
When his shop is open, on the other hand, Bill is all smiles as he greets visitors. What began as a beer-making hobby with his wife has turned into a 37-year business, and he is fully enjoying it after a year-and-a-half of retirement from his “career” job.
“I have a lot of odds and ends that people over here might be interested in, but the main thing is the supplies for making beer, wine and ciders and the imported cigars I order from a wholesaler,” he said. If you’re looking to buy wine or beer, however, head to the grocery store instead. They only stock supplies.
“Beer making was very good in the beginning, but wine making is bigger now. People have a lot of fruit trees around here and want to utilize that fruit.” Bill said.
As a younger man, he made a lot more beer. He would take a case or two of his own beer to parties to let people try it out and whip up interest.
“That’s how I kind of got the business started. Now I don’t brew beer; I started gaining weight, and two (bottles) is a lot for me now,” Bill said.
Then he and his wife, also now retired, began making wine and taking a sip or two in the evenings, but prescription interactions have pretty much ruled that out. So the two share their love for the hobby with others.
A starter kit for beer or wine making can begin around $80 and go up from there, depending on what’s included. He also has other items and ingredients to keep makers stocked, but you can’t buy the fruit for wine making there.
And making beer and wine are very similar. For beer, it’s boiling corn, sugar and malt and possibly hops, adding water to the boiling mixture, sprinkling with yeast and fermenting in an air-tight container. A few more things are added before the beer is ready to serve — plus there’s an aging process of between four to six weeks.
Wine making requires fruit, canned, juiced or fresh, and a similar process. Longtime customer Thomas Johnson loves to mix up a batch of wine as a hobby. The flavor du jour? Blueberry. “I go buy fresh frozen blueberries; crush them up; add the water, chemicals and preservatives; and let it ferment,” he said. “I’m working with a 5-gallon bucket right now, and I like my wine more sweet than strong so I keep the alcohol content between 5 and 6%.” The wine is finally transferred to a 5-gallon glass carboy for the end process.
Although he buys new corks from the shop, Johnson said he, like other wine makers, often washes commercial wine bottles, takes the labels off then re-uses them. Other wine “winners” he has made in the past are strawberry, cranberry and something with all kinds of fruit juices mixed together he calls “Frankenberry.” The watermelon and satsuma wines, however, were “epic fails,” Johnson said.
Bill said longtime customers like Johnson usually advertise his shop by word of mouth, but the flood dwindled customer counts from more than 100 to around 40 in recent years.
“The ones I have are good and loyal,” he said.
Interest is starting to peak a little again, just in time for Christmas shopping for specialty kits sold for gifts. It might even allow him to begin teaching beer-making classes again.
For information, contact the shop at (225) 665-0307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.