As beer enthusiasts, many of us treat bottle shops like we treat bookstores. We typically go in, look at the shelves and/or the cold case, grab what we want (usually whatever catches our eye), pay for it, and then walk out. We naturally go with what we like and know, which for many consumers these days means IPAs or any of their hoppy variants. It is so easy to fall into that trap of staying within your preferred genre or style. Getting caught up in the IPA vortex blinds people to what else is out there. Come on, people! There is a whole world of different breweries and styles out there to explore. What if I told you there were at least three different (and better) ways of using your friendly local bottle shop?
Craft Beer Cellar DC (CBC DC) sits on the corner of 301 H Street NE. It’s a small and unassuming shop that has “Beer Geeks are In” plastered on its front door. CBC DC opened in August 2016. The interior is bright, clean, and neatly packed with a not-too-overwhelming array of beer. You can see that they’ve built their reputation on having a range of good beers in the shop. You should take advantage of this. I’m going to tell you how.
The first way I’d suggest you use your local bottle shop is to talk to the people there. This is easy at CBC DC. Erika Goedrich, the proprietor of Craft Beer Cellar DC, has been around beer for quite a while and has been a beer geek since before beer-geeking was cool. For example, she was a yearly Great American Beer Festival attendee and started going when it was held at Currigan Hall, a much smaller venue than the current Denver Convention Center. Erika and her staff of beer lovers have been around beer for a while (all staff members are CiceroneⓇ Certified Beer Servers), love to talk beer, and are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge. They can steer you to a new beer that has a specific flavor profile. If you’re looking for a beer to pair with something to eat, Erika or her staff will come up with recommendations. Simply asking Erika or the CBC beer geeks what to buy is one way of gaining knowledge and appreciation of beer. It’s a strategy that too many consumers overlook. The staff spend hours and hours around all of these beers. Ask them about the beers!
A second way of taking advantage of CBC DC, or your preferred bottle shop, and especially so if you’re the type of person that is paralyzed by “kid-in-candy-shop syndrome,” is to join their beer of the month club (BoMC). By joining, you’ll get twelve 12-oz beers and three large format bottles, or, if you get the half-sampler, six 12-oz beers and two large bottles. Taking yourself out of the equation will relieve you from the stress of making these decisions (#firstworldproblems). Pair this approach with The Complete Beer Course by Joshua Berenstein, and your ability to learn from this approach multiplies exponentially. It’s also important to note that CBC DC’s BoMC is completely different than your regular package store’s mindless out-of-code, broken 6-pack, dusty-bottle BoMC. CBC DC’s selections are thoughtfully chosen, include a range of styles, and definitely contain new beers you probably wouldn’t pick yourself.
My third and final suggestion would be to read about beer, and, if you see a cool article about a style of beer such as German Porter or biere de champagne and want to try it, go ahead and ask your shop if they can find an example of the style through their distributors. This doesn’t work for every style. If you’re a Haaaaaaaze bro looking to skip the line at Trillium/Treehouse/Hill Farmstead, you’re out of luck (except in the case of Hill Farmstead). If distributors could get that stuff, it’d already be on the shelf at shops. Ask for a general example of the style you’re seeking out or for several beers within that style. It’ll be easier for the shop to deliver on that.
Last but not least: go for regularly scheduled tastings and other events at your bottle shop. CBC DC has at least three tastings per week. It is a great way to see what is out there without wrecking your wallet. Although I have used Craft Beer Cellar DC as an example throughout here, these suggestions can (and should) be used with your local bottle shop. It is a great way to expand your palate, develop your taste buds, and channel your inner beer geek. Have pro-tips from your local bottle shop? Send them to me at @JonCetrano and to DCBeer at @dcbeer.