The Home Brewery changing hands after nearly 21 years in business

Steve Wilkes works in front of the camera during an episode of Basic Brewing Video.

Photo: Susa Parks Spencer

Andy Sparks has agreed to sell his local homebrew supply store, The Home Brewery, to friend and fellow Basic Brewing collaborator Steve Wilkes.

Wilkes recently retired from the University of Arkansas after 18 years as Director of Student Media. He is also the host of Jazz Travels on National Public Radio member station KUAF and frequently performs as a member of the Claudio Burson Trio.

The Home Brewery has been a pillar of the local beer community since it opened in 1995. Originally located in Colt Square, it has operated at 455 E. Township Street for the past several years.

Andy Sparks (from left), James Spencer, and Steve Wilkes talk on camera during a 2011 episode of Basic Brewing Video.

Basic Brewing

Wilkes plans to keep it there for now, but says he will change the store’s hours to better serve its customers. After briefly closing to give the interior a facelift, he plans to be open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Expanded hours may be offered on a seasonal basis.

The most noticeable change out of the gate will be the store’s name. Wilkes plans to call it what it is – Steve’s Brew Shop. “It will be a different store than what Andy ran,” he said. “So I’m rebranding it and changing the name.”

Wilkes has been toying with the idea for the past few months. “I started thinking about getting into something after the U of A, but I didn’t want to go back to a corporate environment,” he said.

Although he spent more than two decades in higher education, Wilkes has some retail experience on his resume, having sold band instruments and chemicals earlier in his career. He also spent time in the management trainee program at Walmart.

Perhaps more importantly, he knows a thing or two about brewing. As a regular contributor to James Spencer’s popular podcast Basic Brewing Radio he has recorded over 200 episodes about the brewing process. Fans of the program know that Wilkes is also a foodie, with a penchant for developing recipes that use or complement beer.

James and Steve sample fruit poached in a blackberry beer, hoppy cyser and molasses mead using the sous vide technique on the Sept. 5 episode of Basic Brewing Video.

Basic Brewing

In addition to beer and winemaking merchandise he plans to carry barbeque supplies and coffee beans for home roasting.

“This business is about people who like to create things on their own,” said Wilkes. “All of us home brewers and home wine makers and BBQ nerds really like the process. We like to make things that are wonderful to drink or eat.”

Wilkes said he will also time putting together an e-commerce program that provides a different product mix than what is typically found through the big online retailers like Northern Brewer. “I can’t compete with them,” he said. “But I can offer things they don’t – product lines that are unique to Northwest Arkansas.”

One of those products is a series of beer kits based on recipes developed over the years by Wilkes and Spencer for Basic Brewing Radio. Their catalog of recipes is extensive, and will further connect the show to the local brewing community.

More than anything, Wilkes said he wants to build on his good friend’s legacy. Many consider Sparks the “godfather” of the local beer community. Homebrewers and professional brewers alike owe a debt of gratitude to him for introducing them to the hobby.

“I’m excited about continuing the good work Andy has done for the last 21 years,” Wilkes said.

Watch for The Home Brewery’s transformation to Steve’s Brew Shop over the coming weeks.