Oak Harbor supply store brews much more than beer

Call Terry Boese a beer man and you’d be correct.

But he and his store, Whidbey Island Homebrew Supply, are so much more than barley and hops.

He’s a zymurgist and proud of it.

“I love zymurgy,” he tells a recent wine-making class. “That’s the study of fermentation.”

By day, Boese is an instructor at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit Whidbey Island.

Gadgets and gizmos and the beginnings for making almost all-things fermented can be found at his Oak Harbor store.

“I have fruit for wine, barley for beer. I have kombucha for tea, equipment for fermenting vegetables,” he says, giving a tour of his new space, 1341 SW Barlow Street, where he moved recently from Goldie Road. “And I have everything to make cheese but the milk.”

Boese is a big barrel of a man with plenty of hair on his chin, perhaps making up for what’s not on top. He took on the brew supply business as sole owner last year, buying out his two former business partners.

Plans include adding a tasting room and filling growlers as soon as a license is obtained for the new location. Making the move made a difference, he says.

“The last two months have been gigantic for us,” Boese said. “I think it’s the better location and better signage.”

Boese brewed his first batch of beer in 1984.

“I started with a pickle barrel and a small pot,” he said. “Now, I own about $10,000 worth of stainless steel in my garage and $40,000 to $50,000 worth in the store.”

Items for sale include corks, bottles, bottle brushes and barrels of all sizes. Beakers, gauges, bottle caps, funnels, filters, tubing, and much more fill the former restaurant space.

People get into making beer for two main reasons, Boese said. They like it. And they want to save money.

“From 5 gallons, I can make 52 bottles of beer for less than $30,” he says. A 5-gallon batch of wine fills between 20 to 26 standard-size bottles.

Home brewing is growing faster than any other hobby, according to the Home Brewers Association. Fermented foods are also gaining popularity because the process retains enzymes, vitamins and other nutrients.

Kits for making beer and wine are popular and cost between $60 to $160.

“But some people like to put together their own kits,” says Carol Boese, Terry’s wife who is the online guru of the operation.

Students learn not just the basics of the primary and secondary stages of brewing but also receive a taste of viticulture, the study of wine. Ice wine was a recent topic.

“The grapes have to freeze on the vine at least one night to be called ice wine,” Boese explains.

Another question arises about the 5-gallon glass containers on the shelf “wearing sweaters.”

“Light affects the yeast so they have to have blankets on them,” Boese says, peeking into one tub of elderberry wine. “I think I might just bottle that. It’s ready.”

The class sampled two wines from the instructor’s stash. Both were Pinot Grigio but from different years, 2012 and 2014. The bottles carry his signature tongue-in-cheek label: Terrell William Boese; Chateau Back Yard.

Brewing is basically two-parts chemistry, one-part artistry and all parts patience.

“Time is your friend when it comes to beer and wine,” says Carol Boese.

On Whidbey, the most popular fruits to transform into wine is apple and blackberry, the class learns. Once a year, the store sponsors an apple-pressing day, allowing people to bring their own apples and smash away.

Mead, wine made with honey, is trendy but expensive to make.

Fermentation is caused by a yeast secretion called zymase. It’s the worker bee of brewing.

“Yeast is basically eating all the sugars and creating the alcohol for you,” Boese explains.

Yeast prefers water temperatures ranging from 100 degrees to 104 degrees, and they don’t want to be rushed.

“Gently stir it,” he says, demonstrating with a long, slow rotation in the white bucket. “The yeast is a living organism. They’re waking up and they’re tired of being in this hot tub.”

Catrina O’Brien attended the wine-making class courtesy of son-in-law David Nelson, who accompanied her.

From Indiana, she’s in Oak Harbor performing grandmotherly duties. “My daughter just had a baby and my son-in-law, David, got me this class as a Christmas gift,” she said.

Clint Burckhardt also attended the two-hour class.

“I don’t drink but I’m learning to make wine for my wife,” he explained. (The class called his sacrifice “true, true love.”)

Jeremy Wilkins went from best customer to part-time worker at the store. He’s fairly new to do-it-yourself beverages.

“I love beer. That’s why I decided to give brewing a try,” said Wilkins, retired from the Navy and now a stay-at-home Dad. “I’m going to try and write my own recipes. There’s lots of artistry and you’re making something people enjoy.”

In case you’re wondering, Boese isn’t the only self-described zymurgist around.

The Whidbey Island Zymurgy Association meets every third Thursday of the month at Boese’s store. On its website, the groups says it’s devoted to: “The practice and study of the art, science and history of brewing and fermenting beer and mead” and to “gathering, dissemination, and perpetuation of facts and knowledge of this science.”

Terry Boese, owner of Whidbey Island Homebrew Supply, makes his own wine and labels for the bottles.                                Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Terry Boese, owner of Whidbey Island Homebrew Supply, makes his own wine and labels for the bottles. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times