Grain and Grape, four-time consecutive winner of Beer & Brewer’s Best Homebrew Shop award, is closing down, as owner John Preston announces his retirement.

Beer & Brewer spoke to Preston about his several decades of experience with homebrewing, his career, and what he sees in the industry’s future.

Preston’s love for craft beer began in 1987, when he tried the beers made by North Fitzroy brewpub, the Loaded Dog. He recalls being especially impressed by the Hacker Pschorr Weizen. Soon afterwards, Preston travelled to Europe, where his beer education continued.

“A friend of mine was working in a bar in Germany, so we tried a whole lot of beers, and I loved them,” he said.

Upon returning to Australia, Preston began homebrewing with friend Laurie Cahir, whom he would later open a brewery alongside. At the time, options for learning about brewing and sourcing equipment and ingredients were limited.

“There was a club in Melbourne, and there was a homebrew shop, which is still going now, called Australian Home Brewing, where we bought our initial supplies,” Preston said.

In 1990, Preston and Cahir took redundancies from their public service roles and launched Grain and Grape, under the name Southern Home Brewing. After 10 years, Cahir sold his share of the business, at which time Preston changed the name to Grain and Grape and moved into the current Yarraville warehouse.

Looking back on his time in the industry, one of Preston’s highlights was the introduction of Cascade hops to the Australian brewing scene in the mid-90s.

“That was popular in the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale style in the US, but Cascade was a little bit later here in Australia. It really started with Little Creatures, but we were making homebrewed beers with Cascade hops earlier than that. We were just amazed by the flavour,” he said.

The rise of automated brewing equipment also made a big impact, as well as the rise of online shopping, which allowed a much wider range of people to access homebrewing supplies. Grain and Grape was an early adopter of e-commerce, launching its first website in 2000.

“Dave Golding, the owner of Red Hill Brewery did our first website. He opened his brewery a few years later, and he’s still a customer,” Preston said.

Preston’s favourite part of running Grain and Grape has been witnessing the enthusiasm with which people approach homebrewing.

“Homebrewing is a hobby, generally, so people are keen to learn things and keen to impart their own knowledge. There’s a fair bit of cheerfulness, because people are always engaged. It’s nice being treated like an expert sometimes, as well,” he said.

Preston has also loved engaging with brewing history during his time in the industry.

“I’ve always been interested in history, and the history of brewing is part of the history of humanity,” he said.

Looking forward, Preston said that though craft brewers are doing it tough at the moment, he is confident that there is a strong future for the industry.

“I don’t think that craft beer is going anywhere. Enough people appreciate the flavours for craft beer to be in demand into the long term. My feeling is that craft breweries that are selling most of their product over the counter are going to be more successful, because it’s pretty tough to compete with those breweries that are owned by Lion and Asahi.

“We also have to remember that there’s a lot of struggles at the moment in the wider economy. When these hard times are over, I expect craft beer to come back to a good degree,” he said.

With the Grain and Grape lease expiring and Preston reaching the age of 65, he realised it was time to retire. However, retirement does not mean that Preston is leaving the industry all together. He will still be on the committee of the Australian National Homebrewing Conference and will continue to homebrew himself. He is also looking forward to spending more time gardening, playing piano, and making cheese and other smallgoods.

“Cheesemaking is a lot of fun and, in some ways, it’s a similar process to brewing. It has smaller volumes, so it’s a little more acceptable in the kitchen, but there are similar flavours and processes, and cleanliness and sanitation are still really important,” he said.

Preston gave some parting words of advice to new and aspiring homebrewers.

“Get advice from your local homebrew shop and get out there and taste different beers from the local independent breweries,” he said.

Beer & Brewer thanks John Preston for his significant contribution to the homebrewing community and craft brewing industry and wishes him all the best in his retirement.

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