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Will Kit Lab's Online Market be the Future of Home Beer Brewing?

The future of homebrewing has arrived, and Ryan Sanders might just have the answer.

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Kit Lab

Once a hobby mostly reserved only for the truly dedicated and slightly fanatical, homebrewing is becoming more and more popular as DIY and hyper local attitudes continue to expand amongst craft beer drinkers and online companies focusing on small batches, accessability to ingredients and information sharing help make brewing one's own beer simple and convenient.

One of those companies is Kit Lab, which launches its Kickstarter campaign April 2, with plans to roll out a full site in early July.  Launched by Ryan Sanders, owner of the Chico, California-based Better Beer Kits and adjunct professor of web design and animation at California State University, Kit Lab is a company that tugs at the heartstrings of every home brewer who ever had dreams of making it big as a professional. It’s an online marketplace where home brewers can upload recipes to sell as beer kits. Once a kit sells, Kit Lab packs it fresh, ships it, and cuts the author in on the sale.

One can use Kit Lab in two ways. As an "author," a home brewer can simply upload his/her genius recipe and (hopefully) wait for the cash to come flowing in.  As a user, one can think of it as the Plated for brewing beer at home.  Just order a recipe kit from Kit Lab's bullpen of well-known home brewers and professionals and wait to receive a small-batch recipe complete with easy to follow instructions and all the ingredients needed to brew that beer.

Below, Eater Drinks chats with Sanders about his intriguing new project.

Are your services something that a novice home brewer could use?
Absolutely. Any brewer who is already cruising the internet looking for recipes will find Kit Lab pretty darn intuitive to use.  If you’re a complete novice, you’ll want to peruse the recipe and make sure you understand the instructions first before you purchase. We are also working on an add-on package for novices where Kit Lab will create a beginner’s guide around any kit you choose to brew. But I think that is going to be more of a phase two item and won’t be ready for launch this summer.

What well-known authors do you have on Kit Lab?
Currently, our biggest authors are Marshall Schott of brulosophy.com, Billy Broas, PBS personality and founder of The Homebrew Academy, and Teri Fahrendorf from The Pink Boots Society (a non-profit focused on supporting women in brewing) who is the first woman brewmaster at any California craft brewery. In fact, each of those authors will be offering special beer kits as reward levels for the Kickstarter campaign. We’re really trying to involve our community members early and often here!

Some of the more creative ingredients we’ve seen include fruit and vegetables, flowers, Oreo cookies and steak. If it’s edible, it has probably been brewed!

What are your favorite recipes so far?
There have been over 500 recipes pledged to be uploaded so far and out of those there are some pretty wild ones in there! We’ve got a Cucumber Basil Saison, a Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, and a Hibiscus Wit just to name a few. Although if you ask me, I’m quite partial to the kit being offered by Fahrendorf at The Pink Boots Society called Retro Bomber 1995 IPA. It’s a great example of what a West Coast IPA should be, and I love that every kit sold helps fund such an awesome non-profit.

What are the wildest, craziest ingredients used in recipes?
Home brewers really love to experiment, and their imaginations certainly tend to run wild when dreaming up new creative recipes to try out. Some of the more creative ingredients we’ve seen include fruit and vegetables, flowers, Oreo cookies and steak. If it’s edible, it has probably been brewed!

Are there any ingredients that you can’t accommodate?
I’m sure someone will think of something! Yes, there will certainly be recipes that we have to reject because of the outlandish ingredients involved. If there are hyper-local ingredients in the recipe like a honey from a specific region in France, or items that might go bad or rancid in transit, we won’t be able to fulfill those items. In the case of items like fresh pears or strawberries, it’s probably beneficial to both us and our customers if the purchaser just plans to pick up their fruit from the grocery store before brew day. We’ll have to play it by ear, but it will mostly be common sense type stuff that will get rejected. Even items we have to research to fulfill, we are very interested in holding up our end of the "you post it, we’ll fulfill it" bargain.

Photo: Kit Lab

What problems does Kit Lab solve for brewers?
There are two main pain points that I personally experience when I find a recipe online that I want to try out: The process of finding everything listed in the recipe, and the little bits of this and that that are left over at the end of brew day. With Kit Lab, instead of having to drive around town looking for specific ingredients at local shops and grocery stores, you can simply "click to brew" and Kit Lab will send you the exact ingredients in the recipe, packed fresh just for you. Also, because Kit Lab sends you exactly what you need in the exact quantities you need it, there are no leftovers when the brew day is done.

Where do you source your materials?
Brewers Supply Group, Brewcraft USA, Seven Bridges Cooperative, and Fermentap. We are lucky in that all of our suppliers can get us a shipment within 24 hours, so we have very little stock on hand. As we get low on certain grains, we begin to load up orders with our suppliers and the next day our shipments arrive to refresh our supplies. It’s pretty ideal. Plus, with Seven Bridges Coop, we have the opportunity to explore offering organic options too, which I think could be very interesting to the right community of brewers.

What impact do you hope this service will have on the craft beer world?
I have many hopes for Kit Lab, but there are three big hopes I have as it relates to changing the industry as a whole. It is my hope that brewers who post well-designed recipes, which are also well reviewed, will make some money and feel like their community really appreciates their contributions. My second hope for Kit Lab is that it launches the careers of some community members into pro brewing.  My final hope for Kit Lab is for nano and micro breweries to start using the marketplace as a way to introduce their product into regions that their distribution doesn’t reach. For breweries, Kit Lab could be a great marketing piece that can travel the world and get folks outside of the breweries’ region to sit up and take notice. Not only would that be great for the brewery, but it would be a great way for smaller emerging breweries to form solid and lasting relationships with a super engaged audiencebrewers!