Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How do you shop for beer?

I’ve been big into craft beer for many years now, though one thing that hasn’t changed is how I actually shop for beer. Whenever I go to the beer store (usually Westmere Beverage), I almost always opt to “mix a six.” First, I hit the new arrivals section as these beers are most likely to be the freshest in the store, plus they usually match the current season. Then I’ll check out the American aisle to see if anything catches my eye. Lastly, I’ll take a look at the international aisle if I haven’t already filled my six-pack carrier.

The majority of the beer I buy is American-made for two reasons:
  1. It’s far less expensive, on average, than imported beer.
  2. It’s much more likely to be fresh.
I’m not opposed to buying foreign beer; in fact, some of my favorite beers and styles are from England, Germany, and Belgium especially. Once in a while I’ll pursue the selections from a country not associated with high quality beer like Russia, Japan, Australia, or anywhere in Central or South America. The problem is those beers tend to be expensive and stale. I’m sure plenty of them are excellent when they’re fresh, but from what I can tell, beer from overseas just doesn’t arrive at my local bottle shop in a timely manner (Heineken and other macros aside).

Bottles from unknown breweries (both foreign and domestic) will just sit on shelves until they’re completely sold out before the store will order another case (or they’ll use that space for another product altogether). Sometimes they’ll move old stock to the discount bin, but not everything (if they did, I’d estimate upwards of a third of the store would be in the discount bin).

Photo courtesy of Nico Gonzalez at Oliver's Brew Crew.
Photo courtesy of Nico Gonzalez at Oliver’s Brew Crew.

As a homebrewer, I brew beer that I want to keep in the fridge for casual consumption, so I rarely buy six or 12-packs and I almost never buy growlers. If I’m going to pick up anything other than individual 12oz or 22oz bottles, it’s usually because I’m going to a gathering of some sort (picnics, sports-watching parties, camping trips, etc.). When I do buy one of these things, it’s usually a relatively light, easy-drinking beer that’s not a hop bomb (Genny Bock and Six Point’s “The Crisp” are often spotted at my house).

But what probably separates me from the average beer shopper is that the vast majority of the beer I buy is usually purchased with the intent of reviewing rather than drinking just for kicks (though reviewing beer is really fun). I’ve reviewed so much beer at this point that when I go to the bottle shop I find it difficult to find beer that meets these three criteria:
  1. I haven’t already reviewed it.
  2. It’s fresh.
  3. It’s reasonably priced.
Sure, there’s always plenty of great beer that passes the first two tests, but fails the third. Call me a cheapskate if you want, but spending more than $9 on a single bottle of beer is just too expensive. I’m sure a lot of the beers that retail for $10 to $20 or more are delicious, but unless I’m splitting the cost with someone or it’s a special occasion or extenuating circumstance, I’ll never know.

Additionally, there are beers that meet all three criteria that I still won’t buy because they’re very high in alcohol and only come in 22oz bottles. I can handle a single 22oz bomber of a 9% ABV brew solo, but anything stronger than that is a challenge. Call me a lightweight if you want, I don’t care. I’ve lost about 40lbs in the last few years and I just can’t handle as much booze (or food) as I used to. Also, I genuinely dislike being drunk.

So that’s how I shop for my beer, but how do you shop for your beer?
  1. Do you go the beer store already knowing what you want to buy or do you prefer to browse?
  2. Do you “mix a six” or do you buy six and 12-packs?
  3. Do you check freshness dates?
  4. What’s your upper price limit? How much are you willing to spend on a single bottle and/or a single six or 12-pack?
  5. Do you ever buy beer from an obscure brewery or country?
  6. Will you buy a bomber of high alcohol beer to drink by yourself?
  7. Where do you get your beer: bottle shops, liquor stores, beverage centers or supermarkets?
  8. How often do you replenish your stock?
  9. Do you buy beer just to keep in the fridge for casual consumption or do you buy individual bottles just to try once?