I started brewing beer six years ago under the tutelage of my neighbor, Jon Anderson. A veteran home brewer, he’d invite me over to his workshop-turned-brewery and explain the science behind fermentation. After some pretty horrendous early attempts, my brewing improved, and my appreciation for new beer styles increased as well.
Brewing served as my introduction to the world of quality drink, but Jon also introduced me to the place where I would source my ingredients and equipment for every batch I’d make: The Reno Homebrewer.
The shop moved to its current location on East Fourth Street in August of last year, but before that it inhabited a quiet corner of Dickerson Road for 23 years. If you’re a Renoite who makes your own alcohol, chances are you’ve heard of—or visited with—owner Rob Bates and his daughter, Karen Bates, at the Reno Homebrewer.
“We opened our first shop on South McCarran across from Meadowood Mall in 1986,” Rob said.
Rob opened his shop under a very different beer climate than we see in Reno and the rest of the country today. Originally, he said, he operated under the premise of providing cheap alternatives to the ubiquitous Bud and Miller. For many, the only way to try the niche styles so readily accessible today was to make them by hand, and the shop established the early reputation as a hub for knowledge.
The craft beer movement of the past decade has been transformative time for the shop and Reno’s homebrewing community. A second local home brewing store, Brew Chatter, opened in Sparks in 2014.
“It has morphed into something completely different,” Rob said. “We are transforming from a knowledge-based business into more of commodity-based business, because there’s so much information available outside here.”
Rob and Karen—who began working with her father in 2014—have spent the last few years serving new regulars who’ve been asking for new products.
“The craft beer movement is not about having cheap beer—it’s about having really good beer,” Rob said. “The quality and availability of stuff—we didn’t have [that] 30 years ago. You couldn’t get good yeast, couldn’t get fresh hops, couldn’t get the kinds of grains and extracts that you can today.”
The Reno Homebrewer’s East Fourth Street location is its fourth. Now, it shares the sidewalk with some of the same breweries whose founders got their start making beer with Rob’s products and knowledge.
I’ve been buying my grain and yeast from the Bates since 2012, and I still prefer asking Rob or Karen about any issues with my brew over browsing the beer forums online. I’m not alone. Local home brewers often gather at The Reno Homebrewer to talk technique and share recipes. And now, with the Bates’ alcohol vending license and bar, they can do it over a beer.
“You know how people are, now that we can serve beer and wine, you get people down talking over a beer,” Karen said. “They’ll talk to a stranger because they both share the same hobby.”
If you’ve ever thought about picking up brewing as hobby, I’ll share the same encouraging words Rob gave me: “You can’t make anything that can hurt you,” he said. “You can drink your mistakes.”