So let’s spend a couple minutes going over the types of stores that carry beer. I am going to talk about the east bay in particular but I’m sure there are similarities in other places.
When you look for good craft beer, the two types of stores that leap out are boutique grocery stores (Whole Foods, Andronicos, etc) and Bevmo. All have good selection, sometimes something new and styles that will appeal to your taste that day. There are also the known good liquor stores that stand out: Ledgers Liquors in the the east bay is a great bottle shop with a wide selection of American craft and import, including a good selection of Begian and German beers. At Ledgers, you will also find beers that are no where else in the East Bay, like Lost Abbey, Pizza Port, Russian River. The Contra Costa equivalent to Ledgers is of course Monument Liquors which some of my 925 friends had renamed the “beer mecca”.
Now let’s start talking about lesser known spots. Now we are getting to liquor stores that, similar to Ledgers and Monument, are not in gentrified areas of town. Mainly tranisitional neighborhoods that have stores run by contemporary US immigrants and they probably have baseball bats behind the counter. The first one to mention is Alcatel Liquors on Telegraph Ave. just south of Alcatraz Ave. The store doesn’t look like it offers too much in the way of craft beer….their are your standard cigarette and malt liquor propaganda ads on the wall and the owners are looking at you in a way that lets you know they are assessing your threat level. Low and behold, you go to the beer fridges and not only do you have 22oz Bombers, but corked and caged 750s of both US and Belgian ales. Along side these are a satisfying amount of craft six packs….a surprising amount given your first impression of the store. There are beers here that you won’t find at the up the street College Ave liquors. Which is also a good store and services the UC berkeley college kids for kegs and local folks as well.
So maybe you already know all this (or hell, maybe it was helpful). My point is if you, like me, are already armed with this information then perhaps when you pass a liquor store it is worth taking a look inside. I did this just the other day at a store located on San Pablo Ave in El Cerrito (across from the pasttime hardware store). I was sized up as I walked in and I returned an honest nod of hello. I went immediately to the fridges in back to check things out. Excellent, they had a few doors devoted to craft beer sixers and bombers. But wait, I’ll make a long story short, not only did I find two beers that I had not seen yet (cerntainly not at bevmo) but one beer that I didn’t even know had made it to our county. That beer is Old Chub by Oskar Blues. I knew they started distribution in Sacramento county a couple months ago but what the hell? I excitedly asked the counter guy about the beer and gave him a very quick littany about distribution of the beer. His reponse was only slightly better that “take your beer a go!”. I’m still in shock by what I found here.
The other two beers? Spaten Dunkel and Chau Tien by Anderson Valley. Spaten Dunkel is nothing new but I have never seen it at any other store. Spaten Premium Pils is everywhere of course. Looking forward to trying this one but I’m not expecting much. I don’t have alot of hope that it will stack well against Ayinger’s Dunkel. Cool to find it though. The Chau Tien was surprising. I had no idea this beer was out there and for all I know I just ended up at this store on the right day. It certainly could be available other places right now. So, here I was looking at bombers and my first thought about Chau Tien was “wow, a brewery in Asia is doing a pale ale and getting it in the states”. That went to me thinking that Fal Allen (former Anderson Valley brewer, now brewing in Singapore) had something to do with it. Then I just grabbed the bottle and looked at it. I could have the story all wrong but a brewer from Sierra Nevada carried a Pale Ale recipe with him from there to Anderson Valley and brewed it there. More research here is in order. The bottle itself is very well done and you would have no idea this is an Anderson Valley beer (click on the photo and check it out)
More and more corner liquors stores are carrying craft beer in the east bay. It is worth pulling over at any one of these shops and having a look. Most of these hidden jewels of stores seem to be in transitional areas of town (still a little rough but potentially headed to gentrification one day). I don’t think you are going to find any of these beers in the dogtown area of west oakland (unless Nate can prove me wrong) but it is great to know that there are even more options these days as demand grows. As Easter gets close it is nice to point out the easter egg hunt aspect of this. Some people may like pulling over at garage sales for perhaps that one special item that could be there. Craft beer lovers in the east bay can now pull over at any corner store and see what cool beers they come up with.