The desire to drink a good beverage, and the need to be creative have combined to give momentum to a moderately growing trend. Home brewing beer, wine and even sodas, as opposed to buying these drinks at the store can become a labor of love, for those willing to invest the time. But Rod Matson, owner of Kenai Brewing Supplies, said those dedicated few helped turn his part-time interest into a full-time business.
"It's a fun hobby," he said. "The whole experience is fun to do. I'm at an age where you want a job that you can really get into."
Matson's small store on the Kenai Spur Highway sells beer- and wine-brewing material -- including equipment, books on home brewing, recipes and ingredients. His store even offers ingredients for sodas. For between $90 and $170, one can get a start-up kit, but he said the costs drop after the initial investment.
"The good thing about it, is it's a lot of product for a little money," Matson said.
He said he has been brewing beer for about 15 years and started his business from the basement of his home on Strawberry Road nearly two years ago.
"I started out of my house just to see if there was enough interest," he said. "When I started, there was an Oaken Keg in Soldotna and Bootleggers in Sterling. Oaken Keg stopped selling home-brewing stuff and Bootleggers closed. I kind of saw a need for a store like this in the area."
He said a lot of his customers have come from word of mouth, or people just driving by and seeing his sign. But before he moved from his home, he had to pin up signs around town because he lived so far off the main roads.
Ben Stevens of Kenai said he discovered Kenai Brewing Supplies while searching for replacement ingredients for one of his brews. He said Bootleggers was a part-time operation that was often closed if the owner wasn't at home.
"I had to buy an emergency package of yeast," Stevens said. "My mother-in-law saw a little sign nailed to a tree and thought it was Bootleggers. I told her, 'I'm not going way out to north Sterling just to find out he's not there.' When I saw the Kenai number, I called (Matson) and went to his house."
Matson moved from his home to the current location last July, saying he had longed to own a business near the property when he worked at Morgan Steel, just northwest across the highway from his store. He said he had identified a lot directly across from his former employer, but got the land several hundred yards to the east.
"I would always look across the highway from work and say, 'someday I'm going to buy that lot,'" Matson said. "I didn't get the exact one I wanted, but I was very close."
He said he immediately gained respect for small-business owners and entrepreneurs when he took on the property, and has learned the value of remaining small to keep his business running well.
"I don't know how small businesses do it," Matson said. "If you lease, you've got to pay for the property every month. It's paying for itself.
"I took a few business classes at the college," he continued. "The instructors said to focus on one thing, and that's what I try to do."
Matson said the time and work that go into making beer and wine often between two weeks and two months for what he considers a good brew might contribute to his relatively small clientele. The brewing process calls for several hours of stove-top boiling, along with constant cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and bottles.
"The down side of (brewing) is that it is a lot of work," he said. "It isn't easy."
His regulars keep him going, Matson said, but he said he makes a point to offer them benefits over his closest competitors in the brewing equipment market.
"I don't think there are enough people doing it to have more than one store," he said. "You'd think being the only one here, I could set high prices. I've got to keep fair prices so people don't run up to Anchorage or get equipment off the Internet. And I've helped people get started if they need it. Even going out to their homes to help. "
Matson said he sees two specific goals for his business.
"My next goal is building a bigger store," he said, "with a kitchen where people can make (brews) themselves and store it there. Eventually, though, I want to sell. I'm building up my retirement."
Stevens, who has been home brewing for six years, said he was happy to find a local business offering a service he cared about.
"When I saw him open on the Spur Highway, I said, 'I've got to support a local business,'" he said.
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