With the unexpected and unfortunate closure of My Old Kentucky Homebrew back in June, it not only left a void in the homebrew community, it also left John Ronayne without a job.
It’s no secret Louisville’s brewing scene has been on the rise, with new breweries opening and new canned and bottle products being produced here and distributed across the U.S. But Louisville homebrewers suddenly found themselves without an in-town supplier.
He’d worked with Paul Young at My Old Kentucky Homebrew for nearly three years, so he knew the business, knew the local homebrewers. And just a couple of months later, Brewgrass Homebrew Supply was born at 2227 Preston St., the former home of Greenhaus. Ronayne knew it was a void he needed to fill.
“We’re really kind of coming into a Renaissance here,” he says. “As far as I can tell, the homebrewing scene is going right along with that. There’s so much stuff out there. And there’s always new stuff coming out.”
And so, he started looking for possible spaces. It just so happened he knew people connected to the space on Preston, which is near Zanzabar and New Vintage, the price was right and it hadn’t even been listed yet. He loves being in such close proximity to Germantown/Schnitzelburg, and he says he already feels at home at the split-level, 1,400-square-foot store.
“It’s a cool vibe,” he says. “I like coming in here every morning. It’s a great place to spend the day. I love the neighborhood, too — that was a big part of moving into the space.”
While he’s been open a little over a week and is stocked with what brewers and wine makers need, he says the stock will continue to grow as economics allow and customer demand dictates. Beyond that, look for free brewing classes to begin sometime in August, with wine-making classes coming soon as well.
Of course, while he always wanted to own his own business, Brewgrass Homebrew wasn’t something he’d been planning on.
“I started planning when I realized I was out of work,” he says. “I had a few days of existential consideration. I love what I’m doing. I would be sad to not get out of bed every day and help people make beer. … I love the educational part of it.”
Ronayne hopes to incorporate education as much as possible. He recently did a packed homebrewing presentation at Kentucky Farm Festival, and he looks forward to helping people one on one who come into the store looking to make unique brews. In addition to the in-store stock, he’ll be ready to help get those special malts or hop varieties if at all possible. And he’s also developing some custom recipes he will share with customers.
Ronayne says for newcomers who want to start brewing at home, they can come in and get everything they need to get started for about $150 — and that includes ingredients for a first batch that will make about two cases of beer for bottling. The classes (which will either be Wednesday or Thursday nights) will help get the ball rolling.
Eventually, he wants to do wine tastings that likely will focus on wine varieties, and some beer tastings could follow as well. He also will begin selling bottled beers, specifically small-batch, collaborations, seasonal or other products that aren’t always easy to find.
“It’s not going to be beer you might find at the gas station,” he says.
As for the untimely closing of My Old Kentucky Homebrew, it was as much a shock to him as it was to the rest of the beer community.
“The brew-on-premise just didn’t take off like we thought it would,” he says. “I can’t say I didn’t see any writing on the wall, but it wasn’t something I expected.”
And now Ronayne looks toward a future he feels is bright in Louisville. He’s hoping his location is convenient enough to local brewers and wine makers, and that he can give them what they want consistently. He says he’ll get weekly deliveries, and pledges to stay on top of stock to make sure there’s always enough on hand so that brewers won’t be left stranded.
In his mind, the store will grow based on how far local brewers can take it.
“I think home brewing was really big a couple of years ago,” Ronayne says. “I think there’s a lot of life in it yet. We might not see the same explosive growth we saw in 2011 or 2012, but I think it’s going to keep going up, up, up.”