Thanks to the craft revolution, paralysis by choice is now a side effect of making it to the checkout line. Sure, you could choose the same reliable six pack, but part of the satisfaction of modern drinking is knowing you just scored a winner from an unfamiliar source. The road to malted barley hell is paved with uninformed choices, which is why serious men ask questions. The first question being, "Who am I going to ask about these beers?"
Yes, there is a right answer: "This helpful expert who works here.” And that’s how it works at the best beer stores in America. They’re well staffed and well stocked. You’re more likely to run into a coveted Oude Quetsche Tilquin à l’Ancienne by Belgium’s Gueuzerie Tilquin than a Coors or Bud. That’s fine. You know where your Buds hang out.
WhichCraft Beer Store
Where: Austin, TX
Thanks to local brewery Jester King, Austin has a taste for sours, farmhouse ales, and saisons. It’s no surprise then that Austin’s top shop has an especially robust selection of such styles hiding among its nearly 900 bottles. To ensure premium freshness, WhichCraft operates a pet-adoption-like program, where any beer approaching its sell-by date is put on sale at the “Beer Rescue” table 30 days in advance and gently disposed of if not sold. The store will also age select beers for later release, and then occasionally “open the cellar” for these sought-after suds.
Craft Beer Cellar
Where: Belmont, MA
The 10-store franchise (the only multistate selection on our list) has a simple goal: Bring the rarest beers on the market to a bigger audience. For shoppers, that means an ever-evolving selection at its Boston-area flagship, with 1,000-plus craft, micro, and nanobrewery options—try the Guineu Riner session pale ale brewed by Ca L'Arenys in Barcelona, which weighs in at only 2.8 percent alcohol. At least three tastings monthly provide opportunity to sample the various newbies, while the store also offers workshops.
Craft Beer Temple
Where: Chicago, IL
With beers from Revolution Brewing (half a mile down the street) and from Sri Lanka, Chicago’s top bottle shop sells more than 1,000 different varieties curated by Cicerone (it’s a beer sommelier) and beer judge Christopher Quinn, along with his wife, certified beer server Margaret. The two highly trained professionals strike a balance of about 60 percent year-round brews and 40 percent seasonals. Daily tastings often feature rare breeds and an annual anniversary event to thank customers highlights brands rarely sold in the area.
Where: New York, NY
The Lower East Side craft outpost definitely sells bottles, but it can feel like owner Ted Kenny’s heart isn’t really in it. The place is fundamentally a temple to beer—in all its myriad tapped and untapped varieties—and that’s the atmosphere. You can ask an employee about what to buy, but you’d do just as well asking the guy standing next to you. There’s a decent chance he’s in town for a beer marketing conference or in marketing to support his beer hobby. Order tasters at the bar and take it from there.
Where: Portland, OR
A craft-beer mecca like Portland demands a quality bottle shop, and there are certainly several great local options. Belmont Station’s inventory of more than 1,300 brews rises to the top. While there are plenty of quality suds from the local brewing community (stores all over the town are overflowing with Deschutes’ The Abyss Imperial Stout, for example) the curators at Belmont are positively cosmopolitan, running country-specific events exploring the world’s various styles. Case in point: The recent Oregon Brewer’s Festival brought a cadre of Dutch brewers to town and Belmont invited them to pour for customers. The adjacent Biercafe taps 23 drafts that can be taken for a shopping run next door or, if that recent purchase is burning a hole in its cardboard holster, they’ll crack it open for in-house consumption.
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