Saturday, December 13, 2008

Allen Biermakens wins one for South vs. West

Anyone unfamiliar with Knoxville needs to know a few things about this strange burg. The city is divided along cardinal directions, each having its own character. North Knox is really cool, melding into Fountain City, and has the food co-op, Senor Taco, the Fellini Kroger and plenty of other exciting and bizarre sites to behold, including two ghetto-chic and cool neighborhoods in Old North and 4th & Gill. East Knoxville has great soul food, bbq, Philippine food, the Zoo, and the Holston Hills neighborhood as well. South Knox is traditionally rural and one often crosses city limits and enters the county. South Knox has many pros and cons and at least one great neighborhood in Lake Forest as well as some interesting Mexican restaurants, a panaderia, and a homebrew shop in the small burg of Vestal aimed at proper homebrewers: Allen Biermakens. West Knox is everywhere-USA where one is most likely to find the big-box stores you despise yet still frequent, gated communities, and standard urban sprawl. West Knox also has Fermentations (or The Fermentation Station according to their website but every reviewer just calls it Fermentations).

Within the first week of arriving in Knoxville, deprived of my homebrew gear which stayed with a friend when I moved, I arrived at Fermentations on Kingston Pike looking to replenish my stock. The store itself provides both wine and beer equipment and supplies but seems to focus on wine. Moreover the staff was completely uninterested in talking to customers or, it seemed, in taking their money. Sure, I wanted all-grain equipment, which they don't stock due to low demand, but one would figure that money is always good in a business situation. No, instead the staff would much rather have been in the back room in a private homemade wine tasting amongst the staff (on a Tuesday afternoon) than help me any more than selling me a "make your first batch kit." We were not amused. Luckily next door was a Russian store "International Delicacies" which had enough exotic salami to calm me down after a bad homebrew shop experience.

Today, on the eve of brewing a "belgian ginger porter" I needed some 2-row pale and belgian dark candi sugar and decided to venture into Allen Biermakens on Martin Mill Pike at the intersection with Ogle. This particular intersection is one of the most bizarre in K-Town, but also is the home of two institutions: the aforementioned homebrew shop and Mo's Restaurant, also known as King Tut's restaurant. Since both businesses exist in such proximity I treat this as proof that the intersection is some sort of cosmic nexus for interesting.

Where Fermentations was snotty and uninterested, even if clean and well laid out with all the standard and attendant books and basic equipment, Allen Biermakens is a real shop. All of the necessary grains and extracts are available. A stock of hops is stored in a small fridge next to the register, and wine and beer equipment flows from the walls. Prices are reasonable and the owner is extremely helpful. When we discussed the proper temperature for toasting barley to make "toasted barley" for a recipe he went straight to the wall and pulled out a very well-loved copy of Papazian's The Joy of Homebrewing and, without missing a beat, opened to a recipe describing toasting of Barley.

Sure the prices are very slightly higher than Northern Brewer or some other mail-order shop but, as usual, the personal service and benefit to the local economy are much worth not paying shipping. If you are a first-time brewer or an old hand, check out this great little shop in Vestal.


Mark in Topton said...

been a long time customer
review is dead on
say hi to harry for me

Andrew Edds said...

This is a perfect description of Knoxville and the homebrew shops here. I'm never shopping at Fermentations again because the owners were very disinterested in helping me also. Sure, I live very close to Allen Biermakens anyway, but I would drive across town for the advice and shopping experience anyway. Although internet prices are cheaper, once you pay shipping the cost comes out the same anyway.