The beer section isn’t front-and-center when you enter Calvert Woodley in Upper Northwest D.C., but turn left at a bank of refrigerators, and it’s hard to miss.
Just like running a brewery in 2019, managing beer at the retail level is becoming increasingly challenging. There’s only so much space, and the explosion in breweries and brands hasn’t come with a corresponding increase in shelving. Calvert Woodley’s William Proudfoot seems up to the task, however, offering over 600 beers. He notices shoppers feeling overwhelmed by the selection, especially casual craft beer consumers.
“Well informed shoppers tend to ask fewer questions of me,” he notes, but for everyone else, he’ll start with a few questions: “What do you like, is there a theme you’re working with, will you be eating with the beer, and if so, what?” He’s also happy to open a bottle or two for sampling if you ask.
Proudfoot says if you don’t find what you want he will be happy to place a special order. “Beer is to make people happy,” he says, “It’s for the people.” Responsiveness is vital in his line of work.
As an example, he cites the Spring Valley location of Pizzeria Paradiso carrying Schlenkera beers, brewed in Bamberg, Germany, and often using smoked malted barley. They’re an acquired taste. Proudfoot wasn’t sure smoked beer would sell at Calvert Woodley, but customers coming from the pizza restaurant asked about it, which convinced him there was a market for smoked beer in the store.
On the other hand, beers that people would have lined up for a few years ago sit on the shelves: Founders’ Canadian and Kentucky Breakfast Stouts, and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. It’s not a problem for them; they might even improve with age. Not so for others, however.
Proudfoot will work with brewery representatives to pull older beer that hasn’t sold from the shelves, but before that happens he’ll discount it or put it in grab bags, offering five bottles or cans for $5. He notices that customers increasingly don’t drink seasonally, but brewery releases haven’t caught up to that. He sold a lot of Wicked Weed sours in the winter, but as it gets hotter customers are unexpectedly shying away from them.
With all the beer in stock – ever-increasing brewery options and many beer styles within brands – there are few greater brewery sins than inconsistency. “If you don’t have consistency, you won’t be on the shelf for long,” says Proudfoot. It’s especially challenging in an environment in which breweries package “one-off” beers that haven’t benefited from the trial and error of multiple batches, but flagship beers that aren’t consistent are a particularly sore point for him and his customers.
What Calvert Woodley consumers are drinking
Cans more than bottles, and local brews over craft breweries with national footprints. Proudfoot is particularly excited about Richmond’s Väsen Brewing Company, which is sending the majority of its cans and kegs to Northern Virginia and the District, and Silver Spring’s Silver Branch Brewing Company.
Like a lot of people, he’d also like AstroLab in Silver Spring to start canning (editor’s note: AstroLab assures us they will be canning starting the summer of 2019). Also like a lot of people, he’s a big fan of Hardywood’s Richmond Lager. He also bemoans the decline of “West Coast IPA,” known for high-alpha acid hops, neutral yeast, and a lack of caramel and crystal malts, and cites Atlas’s Ponzi and Alewerks’ Superb IPA as two great local examples of this style.
Calvert Woodley offers beer tastings many Thursdays and Fridays, the prime shopping days for the weekend, and is looking to put on more beer events. In May the store hosted a “DMV Brew Night,” pouring samples from fifteen area breweries, along with meat and cheese from the shop. Be on the lookout for more of those.