Scott Wikander, owner of Malt House LTD in Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood, describes himself as a beer lover, a connoisseur, and a home brewer. But he is not, he says, a master of the craft. Though he has been making beer for three decades, though he can converse expertly about the four key ingredients of the Reinheitsgebot (water, barley, hops, and yeast), though he knows Philadelphia's homebrew scene inside and out, he has friends who have far more mastery than he.
What he has that they lack, he says, is the patience to be part teacher. What he has is an ability to reach out to beginners, and bring them gently into the fermentation fold.
Wikander's shop, Malt House LTD, is well stocked with supplies for the experienced brewer of beer, and for makers of wine and mead, too. Its refrigerators are packed with hops and yeast. It is strewn about with buckets and bottles, and all the paraphernalia of the craft. It features the obligatory wall of whole grains, syrups for extract brewers, and even a few obscure items like mugwort and heather tips, for historical types looking to reproduce medieval gruit ales.
But while experienced fermentationists might feel right at home inside, they are not the only audience Wikander courts. Much of his time, he says, is spent answering questions: some are about the finer points of methodology, the duration of a boil or the temperature of a mash; but for a significant number of customers, the question he answers is "where do I begin?"
"They'll come into the store and say: 'sorry for asking so many questions,' or 'sorry for taking up your time.' But that's what I do," Wikander says, "is answer questions." For him, it is a matter of spreading the homebrew word. And it is also a matter of good business. It is about getting the right knowledge into the right hands to make the experience of making beer a pleasant one. And through that, it is about creating repeat customers.
Malt House LTD is not the area's only brewing supply store, nor is it the oldest one. In business just eight months, it competes with two Philadelphia-area titans: Keystone Homebrew Supply in Montgomeryville, and Home Sweet Homebrew in Center City.
Still, there is something to be said for the new kid on the block. Its large windows and well-organized stock lend Malt House LTD a user friendly feel that is sometimes lacking in homebrew establishments. It offers glassware, bar supplies, and even beer candy.
And besides, says Wikander, between Mount Airy, Germantown, Manayunk, and Roxborough, there are at least five separate homebrew clubs, all close by. Why travel far from home to pick up supplies, when there is a homebrew shop right next door?
Malt House LTD is located at 1701 Emlen Street in Mount Airy. It is open weekdays from noon to 8 p.m, and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.