Sniffing Out Great Beers in Baltimore or Houston (Greatest Beer Stores w/o)Apr 12, 2002 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in Refrigerators and FreezersThe Bottom Line Want to know what stores in Baltimore or Houston have the best selection of hard-to-find imported and U.S. craft beers? Here's my favorites!
Wow! Time to post the promised review for the great beer retailer write-off, hosted by the inimitable bruguru. I'll follow the lead of a few other opinion writers and post the review in Hard to Find Beers category since it really is all about finding places that sell a huge variety of different kinds of beer.
I was originally thinking of chatting for a bit about beer retailers in Washington, D.C., but since BeerLover posted a very thorough review on the subject, I figured I'd just shift gears a little and talk about some of the places a little further north. I worked in downtown Baltimore for about 10 years (up until about 1998) and I lived in the city for two of those years, and needless to say, I got thirsty a couple of times during that period and hunted down a few good purveyors of fine malt elixirs. But I've also been living in the Houston area for the past few years, and I sniff out good beers here too, so I'll share a little info about buying beer in Houston too.
Well enough with the chit-chat. Here are the places I go when shopping for something tasty in a malt or hops kind of way.
Baltimore: That was Then...
Baltimore has always been a good city to live in if you like good beer. Not only are there lots of great brewpubs and plenty of great beer bars serving up a wonderful variety of interesting foriegn and domestic draft brews, but there are a ton of great independent liquor stores stocking a huge number of hard-to-find beers. Here are a few of the places in Charm City where I've been able to scarf some tasty treats...
Fullerton Liquors, 7542 Belair Road
Located just inside the topside beltway, Fullerton Liquors is one of those stores that packs a truly awesome selection of beers into the small space of an older store. I could always count on Fullerton to have everything they could lay thirsty paws on in the way of great regional beers. They had everything from all the Maryland micros, plus the full range of brews from outstanding Pennsylvania breweries like Victory and Stoudts, as well as some of Virginia's finest breweries. I could always find almost anything I wanted from top California breweries too. I was never thirsting for a tall cool bottle of Deep Enders, no sirree! Not when Fullerton carried all the great Anderson Valley beers. Great prices, large selection, knowledgable staff, definitely worth a stop!
Wells Discount Liquors, 6310 York Road
Probably the biggest liquor store in town, and one of the few where you really do want to grab a shopping cart on the way in. Wide aisles with lots of wonderful treats on every shelf! Large beer cooler chock full of imports and U.S. craft beers. I was always able to find more than my share of great beers here. In fact, this is the store I would often visit when I was looking for beers that were being newly imported. When stores first started being able to stock treats from Scotland like Skullsplitter or Froach Heather Ale, Wells had 'em. Located just north of Northern Parkway.
Super Liquors, 5605 Baltimore National Pike
I must have passed by this place 80 gazillion times without paying it a second glance. Looked to me like just one more strip center liquor store hawking Colt 45 and MD 20-20. It wasn't until a friend told me about snagging some obscure Belgian ales there at obscenely cheap prices that I stopped off one day. Looks, they certainly do deceive!
Five hundred brands of beer at some of the best prices in Baltimore. If that's not enough to suck you in, stop by on Wednesdays and get an extra 10% discount (I like discounts!) Loved the big beer coolers at the front of the store, and I loved that the good beers were up front and you had to go hunt for the swill -- what a refreshing change! I loved their aggressive pricing on some of the beer world's best brands...one of my all-time buying coups was strolling in once to find a stack of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale with a sign on it -- $7.99/six -- at least $2 cheaper than any other store in the city!
Rotunda Wine and Spirits, 711 W. 40th Street
Clean, modern, and upscale with a huge walk-in beer cooler chock full of special treats for the beer cognoscente. Lots of Belgian and English brands especially, though they always had a great selection of U.S. craft beers too. I would sometimes find very unusual treats here -- like bottles of Adelscott smoked ale. Another all-time buying coup was getting cases of Heineken Tarwebok for $9.99 -- I bought 10 cases -- "Yes sir, this is all for personal consumption." And it really was. Mmmmm....beer.
Grand Ritchie Liquors, Southdale Shopping Center, 52 Mountain Rd., Glen Burnie
If you're willing to drive out of the city into the scary suburban land of lawn mowers and rug rats, you can find the retailer voted "best beer and wine store" by readers of Baltimore magazine. The selection rivals Super Liquors, but instead of being a small, older liquor store, it's a huge suburban mall store with lots of space for shopping carts and strollers. Includes an entire wall devoted to craft beers and imports. The back wall is devoted to beer coolers with yet more brands. Sells singles of almost everything, so you can try new beers without risk of having a lot of leftovers if you don't like a brew.
Houston: This is Now...
I WASN'T BORN IN TEXAS, BUT I GOT HERE AS FAST AS I COULD
- frequently seen bumper sticker
I really do love Houston, though I've only lived here about three years. There are a lot of good people and good places here. Sometimes though, I do miss the awesome beer selections that I had when I lived in Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Even though there are no places in Houston quite like those on the east coast, there are still plenty of places with good beer there are some that are just as good, but they're good in different ways. My very favorite place to buy beer in Houston is SPEC'S.
Spec's is a huge chain of gourmet liquor stores. There are about 20 locations throughout the city, all with a focus on providing the best in food, drink, and smoke to the city's epicurian population. In my opinion, the best locations are the downtown warehouse on Smith Street, and the "super store" location on Westheimer at Kirkwood.
Specs has about 300-400 brands of craft and imported beers, and I like that I can find everything from some of the country's best breweries, no matter what coast you're talking. They have some of the most interesting brews from Colorado and California, so when I read guys like andaryl and 4-1-1 write about unusual brews like Arrogant Ba*tard Ale, I can count on finding them at Specs. Ditto with everything brewed by North Coast (brewers of some of America's best stouts, in my opinion), Lagunitas, Pyramid, and plenty of others. They have a good range of European imports as well as obscure Central and South American beers.
Specs also has an extensive range of scotches, tequilas, wines, and more than 500 kinds of cigars in their walk-in humidors. Frequent customers can join the "Specs Key Club", which lets them earn points towards cool breweriana (Hey! I got enough points to get the inflatable Heineken beach chair!)
Specs also ships out of state, plus they have a catalog of regularly stocked items available online at web.specsonline.com. Very customer oriented, very clean stores (and lots of 'em), good prices -- I'm quite happy.
There are a few other places I go to once in a while, but nothing exceptional. I do kind of like the Beverage Barn drive-thru liquor store on Richmond -- it reminds me of the Servi-Bar places they have in Mexico, except that here in Houston they don't have scantily clad babes bringing the beers to you. Someday I might write a review about this wonderful concept in beer retailing, but not here since this writeoff is about U.S. retailers.
Hope you get a chance to read some of the other fine reviews recommending retailers in other corners of the country. Til next time, see y'all in the beer aisle!
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