One of my favorite parts of drinking craft beer is the actual hunt. Whether you’re after big game or simply filling the fridge, everyone has their favorite hunting grounds. Here a few of my favorite places to do my beer hunting. Maybe you have some more to add to my list.
The most obvious place to start with is BevMo. Large warehouse style stores stocked with a wide selection, BevMo’s biggest drawback is the lack of intimacy. Most of the employees know nothing about beer, from my experience, and aren’t exactly enthusiastic about helping you. There is a benefit to this lack of expertise among the employees though. Regularly, these stockers will find an old case of beer and put it on the shelf. Sometimes the manager sees this old, beat up product, and marks it down, to get those bottles out the door. This is a great opportunity to do some vertical tasting without investing any time. I found a 2 year old Three Philosophers marked down $2 and there may have been more. I’m fairly confident in BevMo’s ability to store their product properly given their selection of wine, which should be kept in similar conditions.
For a similar selection but with a more hands on feel, the local Bottle Barn is great. Bottle Barn is similar to BevMo in the warehouse environment, but there are typically a couple “beer guys” around to help, if needed. I’ve found the prices to be a little lower on occasion and there’s the opportunity to buy singles of select beers. Not many beers slip through the cracks here though, since if the customers don’t find things, I’d expect the employees to clear out the selection.
Somewhere between the warehouse and grocery store is Cost Plus World Market. I like shopping for beer here simply for the singles and mixed 6-packs. The selection is better than normal, but don’t expect to find any seasonals typically. Nothing is refrigerated, so make sure you have time to go home and chill your beer before drinking it. Also, keep an eye out for the gift packs they sell. While these might bore your more experienced beer drinker, they are great gifts to the initiated who are looking to try a handful of craft beers in whichever theme the pack may offer.
As a married guy with a baby, I have found less time to go out of my way to BevMo and Bottle Barn, and have to do my hunting when I can. This brings us to the grocery stores. I’ll start with Whole Foods and Oliver’s Market. These are natural grocery stores, and their beer selection typically mirrors their expanding selection of products from smaller brands. While they will have your everyday macros and widely distributed micros, there is usually a beer and wine manager who will listen to your input and bring in brands you might not find on the shelves that day. That being said, their cooler seems geared toward the type of people who reade beer blogs. Look for regional seasonals as well as a fairly good selection of quality imports at these places.
Now on to the big grocers, such as Safeway and Raley’s. Thankfully, the selection is expanding at these locations. Unfortunately, the selection is still fairly pedestrian, lots of session beers that you’ve been drinking for years, but at least you’re not stuck with a weak selection of macros. Thankfully, these grocers have been adding local seasonals to their shelves, and while they might not advertise it, you can always grab a single if theres something you’d like to try. Be prepared for the annoyed look from the cashier, as they don’t like keying in the individual beer code.
Our hunting grounds end with the local liquor store. I know some states don’t have these, but here in California you can buy beer, wine and booze just about anywhere, and it’s fantastic. The liquor store is a roll of the dice. You may find nothing but macros, but you may also find a wide selection of bombers. Two that come to mind are MD Liquors on 3rd and Fulton in Santa Rosa and Wally’s Deli on Marlow and Piner. To find a bottle of Arrogant Bastard in a corner market really is a nice surprise. I try to check the selection of any store I come across, but be prepared to be disappointed, for every diamond in the rough, there’s a dozen more that are just rough.
So where do you find your beer? Feel free to share your favorite place and why. And speak up people, we need some interaction here. I know you’re out there.