In the year 2000, homebrewing in Idaho was like the Wild West.
I had found a recipe which had been smuggled out of Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia by a beer patriot who had encoded the grain bill and had it tattooed on his chest. I had painstakingly translated it into English and took it down to my local homebrew shop.
"I'm out of pilsner malt," said the red-headed shop owner. "Just use extra pale malt extract. It's pretty much the same thing."
I didn't really know the difference then but now that kind of attitude just drives me crazy. The reason I'm a homebrewer is I want to make the beer I want to make, not whatever is good enough. There is a dichotomy there. A homebrew shop should have every malt, hop and yeast a chubby beer nerd can think of but all of these items have a shelf life and who wants to buy stale supplies. I want to support my local homebrew shop, which is still 100 miles away, but most of the time I end up ordering stuff online anyway.
To the Internet!
In the Internet era, there is no excuse for not being able to source anything your perverted mind can think of. There is a ton of companies out there, each with good and bad attributes.
My current ingredient supplier is brewmasterswarehouse.com. I love their BrewBuilder software, which allows you to customize a recipe down to the ounce, then they will fill a bag and ship it for $7. No more buying a pound of specialty grain for 2 ounces, no more measuring and weighing, no more trying to source exotic ingredients because they have a great selection. It is like having a customizable kit where you just mash in and go.
However, I have had a couple of problems with Brewmaster's Warehouse. Once they forgot to put the hops and yeast with the order, once I created a pilsner but when I mashed in it was a dark amber color so I have no idea what they put in there and one time I ended up on back order for three weeks. Also, I'm not sure who they use for a malt extract supplier, but both times I ordered liquid malt extract I could not get anywhere near my OG and the beer had the weird "extract" flavor. They do have very good customer service and have always made things right.
The bottom line is, I love them for all grain ingredients but I look else ware for other stuff.
I used Northernbrewer.com for a long time and had really good luck. They have quality malt extract and are supposed to have good kits. Anytime I have had a shipping screw up it has been my fault and not theirs.
If you are looking for bulk hops, check out Nikobrew.com. You can buy pounds of hops, down to 2 oz. packages. The prices and shipping are cheap. I have not ordered yet but I have talked to the owner and he seems pretty cool. It also looks like the only place you can still get Citra hops this year.
Most of the time when I am looking for equipment I go to Morebeer.com. The deal of the day can be a pretty good value and gives me an excuse to randomly buy something. They have a big selection of grain but I don't order from them because they only sell in one pound quantities.
These a just a few companies I have used. If you have a personal favorite, or someone who has jacked you around, post a comment.