I had the pleasure of chatting with Boyd Culver and Chris Musil of Coldbreak Brewing Equipment recently. They’re new to the home brew store community, and with their educational classes and their Homebrew League involvement, we at MittenBrew thought it was about time to chat about their new venture out in Cedar Springs, Michigan.
Steil: You’ve been selling your products online before the physical store opened, correct? What inspired you to start selling product online in the first place and how did that morph into a physical location?
Culver: “Because we have our own brand of equipment, it was our way of having it nationally. We have around a hundred stores in the US that carry our brands. Not everybody has access to it, so that was why we sold strictly our brand online. We had no intentions of having a homebrew store…but then Dave (Ringler) got ahold of us and it fit”
Steil: How long has Coldbreak Brewing Equipment had its physical location?
Musil: “It was about a week before the brewery (Cedar Springs Brewing Company) opened.”
Steil: Why Cedar Springs?
Boyd: “We’ve got customers like Siciliano’s, O’Conner’s, Gravel Bottom, Pauly’s… they’re all customers of our brand of equipment, so we’re essentially competitors of theirs, but we went to them to make sure they were ok with us putting a homebrew store in. They were totally fine with it and they said there’s nobody north of Grand Rapids and there’s a lot of homebrewers north of Grand Rapids, but there’s nobody to facilitate them.”
Musil: “And it was far enough away that we felt that, ok, we’re not competing with them in the same way.”
Steil: What relationships do you have with other homebrew shops? Is there a sense of camaraderie like in other portions of the beer world such as with breweries?
Culver: “You can even see it with the Homebrew League, since we’re all involved with the Homebrew League.”
Musil: “That and even ordering our yeast is with Gravel Bottom because of the shipping costs and all that. It’s such a fragile product that we all put our orders together and split the shipping costs.”
Culver: “But we’re all friends, Steve (Siciliano) was my first customer with Coldbreak. He started selling the chillers on consignment, and basically if he would have said no, I don’t know that any of this would have existed.”
“Well and then with Big Brew day on Calder, it was obviously started by Siciliano’s, but then Gravel Bottom and Cold Break co-hosted it starting this year, so moving forward it’ll get more teamwork out of that.”
Steil: You’re known for producing and selling jockey boxes nationally. How did that get started?
Culver: “I mean, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the products and all of the products compared to ours were inferior. We just looked at it, and it looks like a cheap item and then you’re serving something that you put your heart and soul into a poorly put together jockey box. And I think that with better quality products like our jockey boxes, people tend to take care of it better because of that higher value.”
Musil: “And actually the price is comparable to what you can buy elsewhere for lesser quality jockey boxes.”
Steil: Do you see seasonality with your products? Changes during the seasons?
Culver: “In the home brewing industry, summertime is awful for sales. They plummet, because no one wants to homebrew because everybody’s on their boat, while it’s the exact opposite for jockey boxes because festival season is right there where it’s the slow time for homebrewing, and so it kind of evens out the year for us.”
Steil: What makes your homebrew shop different than the other homebrew shops we have?
Musil: “Our grain is kind of our specialty I think. We got a bigger grain selection than the other stores.”
Culver: “There’s not many in this country that have as many grain options as we do.”
Steil: Tell me about the education program you have for Coldbreak.
Culver: “Going back to what makes us different, I think the classes, and we know the other stores offer classes, but Chris does a really good job and he has a nice powerpoint setup, it’s comfortable, and that’s the focus, and any question we have, if we don’t know the answer, we’re very resourceful. The classes are really thorough and in depth, but still down at a level that someone who’s never brewed before can understand it. But then we’re also doing kombucha, wine, and mead classes which are coming up.”
Musil: “Each class is about once a month. The Intro To Homebrewing we had running every couple of weeks, but at the moment it’s summer so we’re having trouble filling them, but it’s not surprising. In fall they’ll pick back up. I’m teaching the Intro class but then we have other guys coming in to teach the other ones if they know more than I do about, say, the wine for the wine class. It’s other homebrewers who come in to teach.”
Steil: What do people request most often?
Musil: “Not physical items, but there’s a lot of people coming in looking for help. Like, “I want to do this style of beer, can you help me put a recipe together?” but that’s as far as it goes when it comes to getting consistent requests.”
Steil: Do you see a variation in trends from customers about specific products they’re looking for? Anything in particular you’re noticing now?
Musil: “No, but I think that the homebrewers that are in the know, are looking for things like the Azacca hops or the Zeus hops or something specific like that. Just certain ingredients that might be trending at the moment.”
With a new storefront location, specially made jockey boxes, an influx of brewing classes, and an obvious want to collaborate with others to create an education friendly environment for homebrewers, Coldbreak Brewing Equipment is no doubt a wanted addition to our Michigan beer family. I want to thank Chris and Boyd once again for taking the time to fill us in on their endeavors! Also be sure to keep up on which classes they are hosting at the store
Photography: Steph Harding