Brew guru

Alan McDonald

Alan McDonald, 50, is the co-owner of a big piece of Chico history: Chico Home Brew Shop (1570 Nord Ave.). It was originally opened in downtown Chico in 1976 by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. co-founder Ken Grossman. One of Grossman’s early employees at the store was then-Chico State student Dawn Letner, who bought the shop 20 years ago. Letner still runs it with her husband, McDonald, whom she considers the shop’s “beer expert.”

How did get into brewing beer?

I always enjoyed drinking beer but was bored with standard American lagers and stopped drinking for seven years. When I moved to Chico from Nevada 10 years ago, I tried a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and said, “This is what I’ve been looking for!” So I became an avid home brewer and customer of Dawn’s brew shop for six years. I read every brewing book she had in the store and ended up marrying her four years ago.

How difficult is it to get started brewing?

If you can boil a pot of water, you can make beer. Many home brewers say their first batch of beer was the best they ever made. It’s really hard to make a bad batch unless you mess up the sanitation, which seldom happens. In my 10 years of brewing, I’ve only thrown out one batch.

How much does it cost to brew?

The ingredients and equipment to make a batch of five gallons, or two cases, is about $100. Further batches are $30-$35. We’re the only store in Chico that sells the stuff. Web companies may sell it cheaper, but it’s more expensive when you add in their shipping costs.

What advice do you have for beginning brewers?

Everything the beer touches after boiling needs to be sanitized. It’s also cheaper to brew during winter. Beer ferments at 68 degrees, so brewing it during the cold months can be done without using a special refrigerator. And though some would disagree, if you like beer, it’s cheaper to make it than to buy it.

What else do you sell?

We also sell products for making wine and cheese. Wine kits are our second biggest seller. But many goat owners like to make their own cheese.

Any of your home brewers go pro?

We’ve had Roland Allen, who in the mid-’90s became the co-founder of the successful Butte Creek Brewing Company, which specializes in organic beers. Roland is now the brew master at the Feather Falls Casino.