What makes a great beer retail store? We asked our beer friends about the best places to buy beer, and their comments read like a how-to list for any beer retailer who aspires to be the best.
Broken down to the basics, here are the elements of greatness, in order of rarity:
Diversity: The retailer offers lots of choice. Locals are happy to find rare domestic and imported beers, and visitors are happy to see local beer well represented.
Beer Care: Beer is kept cool and out of harmful light. The beer is fresh, never outdated.
Customer Service: The store hires great staff who are passionate and knowledgeable about beer. The staff will place special orders, or contact beer enthusiasts when special beer arrives.
Education: The store hosts beer tastings for the public. There is information wherever you look. The store stocks a selection of beer literature: books, magazines, newspapers. The retailer supports experimentation by encour-aging mixed six packs or single bottle sales.
Other Products: Great food doesn’t hurt. Kegs, party planning, food and beer advice are all welcome additions. The store stocks appro-priate beer glassware and other breweriana.
Exceptional Education: The store conducts tastings to educate its own staff, and helps out staff members who want to improve their beer cred-entials through homebrewing, judging, or travel.
Service Above and Beyond: The dream store stocks—and lovingly tends—a range of choice vintage beers. It reaches out to customers through the web or newsletters. It supports visiting speakers, lends it name to festivals and beer events, organizes beer dinners, serves as a catalyst for beer advocacy, and offers classes in cooking with beer or homebrewing. The store is a resource for local restaurants and bars that are interested in the best in beer, as well as homebrew clubs. A great retail store has a welcoming atmosphere—it’s fun to visit!
All the stores in this list have some of these qualities: a small number have mastered them all, and set standards that others can strive to reach, and beer lovers can support.
The Brew Guild
1722 Mangrove Ave., Ste. 36
Chico, CA 95926-2300
1750 15th St.
With a dimly-lit walk-in cooler the size of a small apartment…
718 E Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80203-2006
8055 W Bowles Ave.
Littleton, CO 80123-3089
The Wine Co.
5910 S University Blvd
Littleton, CO 80121-2879
Great, but pricey.
Applejack Wine & Spirits
3320 Youngfield St.
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-5244
720 Branchville Rd.
Ridgefield, CT 06877-6129
The owners are wonderful: a husband and wife, their son and his wife. They play great jazz on the store’s sound system.
Marcellar’s Vintage Wines and Brews
431 Park Ave.
Idaho Falls, ID 83402
A diverse selection of wonderful beers. The shop also has a small bar with six taps and several tables where customers can relax, catch up on the local gossip and enjoy their favorite beverage served in the appropriate glassware. Proprietor Marcella Medor always manages to track down a keg of something fun like Delirium Tremens to keep the local beer club happy.
888 W Fort St.
Boise, ID 83702-5525
Hundreds of beers from the region and around the world. Knowledgeable staff includes a certified beer judge. Friendly group of people ready to share experiences with various beers and more than capable of explaining beer styles. The beer section is also coupled with an extensive selection of wines.
Sam’s Wines and Spirits
1720 North Marcey St.
In Chicago, the top store, bar none. If you can think of it, they’ve probably got it. The same goes for wine and spirits. Next door to the Goose Island brewpub where you can enjoy a delightful pint after shopping.
Binny’s Beverage Depot
multiple locations in the city and suburbs
401 E. Market St.
Iowa City, IA 52245
A family-owned corner grocery store that happens to specialize in great beer, including about 130 Belgians. Well-informed, enthusiastic staff conduct regular tastings. John’s organizes tours of Belgium, as well. There are even plans afoot for staff ex-changes with beerstores and breweries in Belgium.
The Party Source
95 Riviera Drive
Bellevue, KY 41073
The best selection in Kentucky. Great party planning advice, including a “consumption calculator” on line to help you plan how much alcohol to buy.
The Liquor Barns
Lexington and Louisville, KY
The Liquor Cabinet
The Party Mart
Prospect Party Center
Bowling Green, KY
Chuck Evans’ Party Stores
Bowling Green, KY
Oak Hill Beverage Redemption Center
26 Oak Hill Plaza
Scarborough, ME 04074-8991
Good prices and about 200-300 different beers to choose from.
Tully’s Beer & Wine
Wells, ME 04090
Has obscure beers; best Belgian selection in state; also has beer tastings, and workers are very helpful; good German selection also.
State Line Liquors
1610 Elkton Rd.
Elkton, MD 21921
One of the top beer stores on the East coast, and also convenient for those traveling Interstate 95. Beer selection about 1,000, about 130 Belgian beers, American microbrews very well represented. Prices are good: even a Belgian beer sale twice a year. Manager Robert Murray holds monthly beer tastings, and is very knowledgeable.
Well’s Discount Liquors
6310 York Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21212-2685
The best beer selection in B’more.
Gomer’s Fine Wine and Spirits
Kansas City, MO 64131
Super Saver Liquors
888 US Highway 22
Somerville, NJ 08876
Voorhees Liquor Store
10 Berlin Rd.
Voorhees, NJ 08043-1424
B & E Quality Beverage
511 W 23rd St.
New York, NY
Specializes in European imports.
191 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217
600 brands of beer, along with cheeses, meats, pates and general charcuterie.
96 Freeman’s Bridge Rd.
Schenectady, NY 12302-3507
One of the best places in the Capital Region of New York State. They have loads of single bottles (imports and micros) plus a large cooler with tons of six packs. The best part is that they have six-eight taps always going in the store for growlers. A great mix of fresh draughts. I’ve had everything from Sierra Nevada Celebrator to Young’s Chocolate Stout.
3465 Delaware Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14217
By far the best store within a 12 hour drive, and it’s due to the tireless passion of one man: Lyle Ostrow, progeny of the family that owns the gourmet food and beer store. There are other stores not that far away which carry more actual brands than does Premier, but no one boasts the meticulously pared selection. They even have a vintage beer program, and how many stores outside of Belgium can say that?
Sam’s Quik Stop
1605 Erwin Rd.
What other store sells fine beer and wine, rare cigars, and Slim Jims? And lots of all of them?
Jungle Jim’s Market
5440 Dixie Hwy
Fairfield, OH 45014
4520 SW Belmont St.
Portland, OR 97215
Located adjacent to Horse Brass Pub. Selection is not as large [as other places], but only one bottle is displayed on the shelf: the ones you buy are from the walk-in or the storage area, where they are kept out of the light.
3535 SW Multnomah Blvd.
Portland OR 97219
Located in Multnomah Village, SW Portland,. They have at least 500 beers, the best in these parts, but the beers are left out on the shelf, and in fluorescent light. One has to be careful which beer to choose.
Quirky laws mean that beer must be purchased by the case from distributorships, or by the pricier six pack from taverns and delis.
By the bottle/sixpack:
324 S. 10th St. (10th & Pine St.)
Philadelphia, PA 19107-6149
Open 7 days a week, sells single bottles, great variety. Hundreds of Belgians.
The Six Pack Store
7015 Roosevelt Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19149
Philadelphia— “the city that taught New York about Belgian beer.”Encourages experimentation by letting you create your own six pack from a great range of single bottles.
Routes 413 & 202
Buckingham, PA 215-794-8233
Package/take out. Good variety. Tavern with take out.
By the case:
Shangy’s, The Retail Beer Authority
40 E. Main St.
Emmaus, PA 18049
Founded by a businessman from Tehran (his nickname, Shangy, means “Happy”), this huge warehouse handles over 3,000 kinds of beer.
2330-40 Jacksonville Rd.
Bethlehem, PA 18015
4001 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78756-3733
1804 Hydraulic Rd.
Charlottesville, VA 22901
100+ Belgians, specialty beers from Quebec, sells single bottles, and a “Handcrafted Beer Manager” on staff.
1340 South Main St.
Blacksburg, VA 24060
Carytown Wine and Beer
3144 West Cary St.
Richmond, VA 23221
Norm’s Beer and Wine
136 Branch Rd., SE
Vienna, VA 22180-4714
Whole Foods Market (formerly Fresh Fields)
143 Maple Ave. E
Vienna, VA 22180-5724
1710 N. 45th
One store stands out in the Northwest. They carry more than 600 beers, over 300 of which are Belgians. Many different vintages of specialty brews are available. Some are exclusives to the store. Belgian owner Matt Van den Berghe is passionate about beer (he also carries some great chocolate). Planning to open a café nearby soon.
Chevy Chase Wine & Liquors
5544 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20015-2610
Jaw-dropping choice, in a city that is blessed by a large number of good beer stores.
5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53219
A non-descript store, whose wares are anything but. Highly recommended by every beerhead as the one store in the area not to miss. Germany, the British Isles, and Belgium are well-represented, an impressive selection of Eastern European beers, dozens of Wisconsin’s superb micros are available also. If it is sold in Wisconsin, it can be found here. Simply put, as good as it gets.
Former brewery, now imports British, Belgian, Swiss and German beers.
56 Marché aux Herbes
Small store with unusually broad selection, just one block from Grand’Place.
A great beer house carries a shop and a warehouse of the same name in the city center. Lots of beers from small Belgian breweries. Also wholesale to restaurants, bars and importers.
Good choice of especially Belgian beers (300): traditional gueuze, Cantillon, Girardin, Boon, all beers from “de Dolle”, Caracole, Achilles…
Willems & Zoon
Very good choice, mostly different beers than De Caigny. Cellar storage room!
Pivni Galerie (Beer Gallery)
U Pruhonu 9
This is the most utterly unassuming place. Anyone from a rich, degenerate western country should feel humbled to visit this totally unchanged, neighborhood store, where old comrades share a beer over back issues of Pravda and rejoice at their country’s membership of NATO and the G8.
Despite its name, this small shop specializes in Belgian beer. You can also find Danish beers, which are off the national mainstream of pale lagers.
Always sahti available. Also a wide range of Finnish and international (mainly European) bottled beers.
82 rue de l’Ouest
Small shop with rarities from small regional French (and Canadian) breweries plus Belgian specialities.
Haus der 131 Biere
Beers from around the world, but focusing on lagers. A truly global selection which carries way more different beers than its name reveals. Also rarities from Africa and Asia, plus beer gifts.
In north Germany, this chain has the best selection of German and some foreign beers. The employees are not trained to know anything about beer. That is quite normal here: the German who is not in the brewing industry knows very little about beer.
Tobu Department Store
1-1-25 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Located on the B1 level of the Plaza-kan, in the F10 section
Adjacent to JR Ikebukuro Station.
The Beer House
1-47-8 Minami-Magome, Ota-ku, Tokyo
Near Nishi-Magome Station on the Toei Asakusa Line
30 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Near JR Shibuya Station and Shibuya Station on the Ginza and Hanzomon lines.
National Azabu Supermarket
4-5-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Near Hiroo Station on the Hibiya subway line
1012 RB Amsterdam
Good selection of Dutch, Belgian and rather rare German beers, mainly from Bamberg and Franconia.
3851 GB Ermelo (Gelderland)
Large selection of Dutch, Belgian, German and other international beers, also beers from the own demo brewery on the premises—every Saturday a small brew is produced. Beers are also available at the attached pub next door. Annual festival beginning of August.
6543 VE Nijmegen
International selection of beers, including beers from the local home brew pub, De Hemel.
Grote Kromme Elleboog 16
9712 BK Groningen
Bieren en Pintelieren
5622 AW Eindhoven
3512 AL Utrecht
2611 RB Delft
De Man van Drank
2312 JW Leiden
Great beer retail stores? In Norway? You must be joking. Norway probably has the worst / narrowest / smallest selection of beer types and beer labels available in Europe. All beers stronger than 4.75% alcohol are sold through governmental monopoly stores only.
A good selection of beers from Swedish micros, also a big variety of international beers. Has a monopoly for selling alcoholic beverages stronger than 3.5% ABV.
The Beer Shop
14 Pitfield St.London N1 6EY
020 7739 3701
Close to Old Street Underground Station. Small shop in unfashionable part of London but with an amazing choice of British and beers from other countries. A flag-waver for Belgian beers from way back, now with a good choice of beers from most countries, including ones you never see elsewhere in Britain. Also on the site, the tiny Pitfield micro-brewery that concentrates on organic beers.
8 Southwark St.
London, SE1 1TL
Specialist company dealing in all aspects of beer, from selling you bottles of beer, through food produced from beer, to home brewing as well as a resource offering advice and assistance to those who believe beer has as much to offer as wine.