Grain And Grape To Close In May

March 15, 2024, by Will Ziebell

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Grain And Grape To Close In May

Grain and Grape is set to close in May as owner John Preston retires after more than three decades in the local beer industry.

While it might be sad news for countless homebrewers and the wider beer world, it’s a positive moment for John, who told The Crafty Pint that he simply knows it’s time.

“I’m 65 and my lease finishes up in July,” John says. “I feel really positive about doing it.

“I want to travel, I plan to do some gardening, I play piano, I love to cook and I love to make cheese and beer."

In 1990, John opened Southern Home Brewing in Edithvale with his friend Laurie Cahir after the pair had considered starting a brewery of their own. John and Laurie later separated into two businesses and in 2005, John moved to the expansive Yarraville warehouse that Grain and Grape sits in today. Its popularity extends far beyond Melbourne's western suburbs, with the store loved far and while by homebrewers, winemakers, salami makers and anyone else eager to learn the joys of making their own food or drinks.

Although he never did start a brewery, John's impact on the local industry has been immense; something we explored in 2017 when we featured John as a Craft Beer Hero. Few people, if any, have been working in the local beer industry for as long, and during his career in beer, John's helped launch the careers of countless professional brewers by either employing them or by selling them equipment, including the Braumeister systems inside many of the country's smaller breweries. 

John also played a key role in helping to formalise the local homebrewing community by being part of the small group that created the Australian National Homebrewing Conference (ANHC) in 2008. In 2016, John was awarded the inaugural Preston Award (pictured above); a trophy named in his honour and given to individuals for their contribution to Australian home brewing

John says that even in retirement, he plans to stay connected with the local beer industry, remain involved in the ANHC and continue the passion he’s had since the mid-1980s.

“I certainly don’t want to get out of homebrewing at all,” John says. “I’ve reduced how much I’m doing but I’m not burnt out from it.”

 

One of Good Beer Week's System Wars where pro brewers competed for homebrewed glory.


John’s early customers include the likes of Mountain Goat’s cofounder Dave Bonighton, Red Hill’s Dave Golding (who even built one of John’s early websites) and Paul Holgate, whose pioneering Woodend brewery turns 25 this year.

There’s also been a vast number of staff members who have gone on to play important roles in the local beer industry, including 3 Ravens’ head brewer Brendan O’Sullivan. Brendan first started working for Grain and Grape in 2006 as 20-year-old who moved to Melbourne from WA to study. When moving back to Melbourne years later, Brendan ran frequent homebrew demonstrations for the store, with those monthly sessions another unique aspect of the business that helped cement it as a community hub for homebrewers. 

Brendan told The Crafty Pint that he always loved John’s passion for homebrewing and his continued support for homebrewers through sponsorships and initiatives like the ANHC.

“I love everything John is about and everything he’s done; I learnt so much from him and the team.” Brendan says. “I have so much respect for the homebrew conference which I’ve been a part of since I moved back to Melbourne.

“On a personal level, working for him was really special in terms of his personality and how he treats people. I felt like an adult for the first time where we could have these really mature conversations about the world and I just found it really refreshing and empowering as a new adult to be treated that way”

John says he's loved how much both the professional beer and the homebrewing industry have developed and remained intertwined, whether through professional brewers picking up homebrew systems or through the likes of System Wars where pro brewers competed on homebrew systems of varying complexity.

“There’s been such a build in the quality, the range and the connection between home and pro brewing,” John says.

"In my career, there’s been such an improvement in the range of stuff and improvement in quality. It’s so much better than it was back when I started."

Other career highlights have included both the distribution of Speidels and the production of their fresh wort kits - both of which are a substantial part of the business today and aspects he's selling. But with the store itself closing, there's a sale on just about everything in the shop, which you can find out about here

As for final words, John's personal message should be read in its entirety. Unsurprisingly to those who know John, he spends a great deal of time thanking the many staff he employed over the year. 

We have little doubt that many of them will be placing a long-forgotten special bottle of sour beer into their fridges to toast to John over the weekend and they'll do so along with countless others in the local industry.

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