The Greatest American Beer Stores: Great Places to Buy Imported and Microbrew Beerby John Staradumsky
Apr 1, 2002 (Updated May 29, 2005)
The Bottom Line Pack your bags, gas up the car, and hit the road in search of beer!
Where you buy your beer is very important. You want a store with good selection, but equally important is the way they treat their beer. Do they just leave it around collecting dust if it doesnt sell? Or do they mark it down for quick sale? Perhaps they dont order more than they can sell in the first place. Do they know which beers will actually improve with age and which ones wont? Do they know the proper conditions under which to store their beer? A lot of questions, these, to be sure, but they are in fact important ones.
When buying any product, we want to buy from a reputable retailer who hopefully knows something about his wares. Beer is no exception to this axiom. Its always best to buy from a retailer who actually knows a thing or to about beer, even if you have to pay a little extra for the privilege. Then too, being the fickle beer enthusiasts that we are, we also want a wide selection. Of course, stores with a wide selection and knowledgeable staff are not a given, so dont take them as such.
Get to know your beer retailer, by first name if possible. Become a regular. If he doesnt carry something you want, ask him to order it. Most storeowners or managers will gladly oblige. They want your business, after all. Bring your beer-buying friends along and try to make regulars out of them, too. After all, the more customers the store has the better its turnover will be, meaning fresher beer for you and a greater willingness by the management to increase selection.
I ran the beer section of a small liquor store In Rhode Island for several years, and it was one of the most interesting jobs Ive ever had in my life. Though our selection was limited to only about 100 beers or so at any given time, we rotated new ones in and out constantly and always ordered anything a customer asked for. We developed a solid base of regular customers, all beer lovers and budding Brugurus, and spent countless hours chatting about our favorite beverage.
So where do you buy your beer? When Im traveling, I have a habit of stopping at every beer store I see, much to the consternation of my significant other. Whether looking for a place to buy new and exciting beers when traveling or just looking for a great store to be your local, its always helpful to know where the good stores are, ones that carefully handle their beer. Here are a few stores to choose from, stores that I have visited myself. To be sure, this is by no means a comprehensive list. This is, however, an open write-off and I encourage others to participate, creating an invaluable database of the best places to buy beer in America. I myself am hoping to use others contributions when traveling. If you dont want to write a review, post a comment and tell us where you buy your beer!
Cask and Keg
Tucked away in the quaint tourist area of Mystic, famous for its aquarium, seaport, and Old Mystic Village of tiny shops of every sort imaginable, you will find the Cask and Keg. They stock locals from Hammer and Nail and Cottrell, but they also offer lots of hard-to-find stuff like Samichlaus, Monchsoff Schwarzbier, and the Cisco Brewers line.
Gordons Yellow Front Liquors
Take the New London Malls exit off I-95, pull over and call for directions. Gordons is hard to find but worth it, and when you see the distinctive yellow building it is housed in youll understand the name. Many different European beers, the full Unibroue line and much more.
Just outside Atlanta in the suburb of Marietta youll find Sherlocks on Barrett Parkway. Fine wines, cigars, liqueurs and beers are what Sherlocks offers, and they offer them at some of the best prices I have ever seen anywhere in my travels. One can purchase beers from all over Europe here, plus micros from brewers like Abita, Tuppers, North Coast, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Flying Dog, Harpoon, Sam Adams, Red Hook, Three Floyds, Cottonwood, and Gordon Biersch. Locals are available to: Dogwood, Red Brick, and Sweetwater.
Sherlocks' prices are already low, but by filling out a form you can get a free supermarket-style discount card. They call it a frequent buyers program, and recent member specials have included Sam Adams Winter Lager 12-packs for $5.98, Bass Ale Six-Packs for $5.98, and Mackeson XXX Stout for $4.98.
But wait. Not far down Barret Parkway (just across rout 41 in fact) you'll find another gem called Beverage Resort. This store just opened in the fall of 2003, and they boast a large number of six-packs and singles of fine imports and microbrews. Gasthaus Gose, Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Konig Pilsner, and many, many more are to be found here.
So far, though, the granddaddy of them all is Green's Liquors on Buford Highway in Atlanta. They have a full wall of coolers full of beer, plus various case displays on the floor, plus two entire walls of singles. And they've added to that with a new gondola fullof beers, with more coming in all the time.
Located on Forest Avenue in Portland, just a piece down the road from the Great Lost Bear, a local beer bar with a great selection. RSVP has a good variety of beers from all over the country and plenty of imports too. Ive purchased some rare California and Colorado beers here and some nice imports. They also sell growlers and 22-ounce bottles of very hard to find (and very, very good) local beers. Looking for case lots from anything by Gearys, Allagash, or Casco Bay? All three breweries are located a few miles down the road and they will sell you case lots.
Tullys Beer and Wine
Located on Route 1 in Wells, Maine, along the seacoast and along the summer tourist path. Fantastic selection, even better than RSVP, but with higher prices too. Lots of Maine beers, rare Belgian stuff I had never seen before, and very knowledgeable staff. Need directions? E-mail email@example.com and ask her about the events she often promotes.
Headed for the cape? Julios in Westborough just off I-495 has more than 450 different beers to choose from with a lot of great Belgian beers. Chances are youll find something new to try here.
Located on Providence Highway in Norwood, just off exit nine on I-95 not far from Foxboro stadium. A very nice selection of beers if you are in the area, though this one is not worth a lengthy drive. Dont miss the Schaller and Weber specialty store in the same plaza which features German ethnic foods and delicious sausages.
Yankee Wine and Spirits
Located in South Attleboro, Massachusetts in a former supermarket, this is an incredible store, and not just for its beer selection. There are aisles and aisles of fine wines and fancy liqueurs as well, though it is the beer Im interested in. There are two entire aisles of beer. Along one full supermarket aisle run shelves packed with six packs of countless brands of beer from just about any country you can think of. The area has a considerable Polish population, so expect to find many rare Polish brews here.
Opposite the six-packs are cases of most of the same beers, and in the next aisle youll find two aisles of coolers holding refrigerated beers. There is an incredible selection here but buyer beware: they dont always rotate out old stock as well as they should. Yankee has locations in Sturbridge and Rockland as well.
Just across the river from Philly is Cherry Hill, New Jersey. When In Philly, I always head over to Joe Canals in Jersey, simply because I can buy six-packs (you cant in PA beer distributors: case lots only there). Canals has a great selection of New Jersey and Pennsylvania beers.
Located in downtown Asheville, the Weinhaus has an impressive collection of brews from locals like Highland and French Broad (in growlers). I found lots of beer from other parts of the country, too, including Left hand from Colorado and Otter Creek from Vermont. Plenty of imports, too.
I visited a location just outside (or in? I cant recall) Cincinnati several years ago. Jungle Jims is a gourmet supermarket chain with an incredible selection of cigars (giant walk in humidor where I visited), wines, and most importantly beers. I got my very first Kostritzer Schwarzbier here, as well as some wonderful Belgian and German brews. A wide variety of micros too, including locals like Oldenberg and Great Lakes.
This is a beer retailer, so you can only buy in case lots, but they have a fantastic selection of local stuff including Victory beers. They had cases of Old Horizontal and Our Special Ale going back several years the last time I visited. Case lots of Belgian and German beers too. Located in Philly.
The Grey Lodge Pub
Located on Frankford Avenue in Philly, this is my favorite place to drink in America. Yes, its a bar, but they can sell you six-packs, singles, and even growlers of anything they have on tap to go. They always have a wonderful selection. Be sure to ask for Scoats, the owner, when you drop in.
Thorpes Wine and Spirits
This was my regular back in Rhode Island. Great selection, rare beers (I bought my Unibroue 10 and Newport Storm 00 and 01 here) and very knowledgeable staff. Ask for Sam, and tell him I sent you.
Town Wine and Spirits
Located in the well-to-do Rumford section of East Providence, Town is known nationally for its wine selection. Unfortunately, this seems to have been to the detriment of its beer choices, which can be stale if you arent careful. Still, there are rare gems to be found here at times. If youre also a wine enthusiast, Town is a must-visit.