Do’s & Don’ts of Bottle Shopping
As a Beer Hunter, we search high and low to find something that pleases our taste buds or is something that we’ve never had before. We hunt locally and nationally, traveling to various cities and states to add to our homebase beer reserve. No. We’re not collecting or hoarding craft beer. We’re just all about keeping things stocked as we deplete my liquid inventory.
One of our most favorite places to hunt beer is bottle shops. Why? You don’t have to buy a whole case of beer of something you’re never tried before. You can buy just 1 bottle or several. The choice is ours to make.
It’s very easy to get carried away when confronted with the variety and stellar selection of some of the best beer shops. “Must-Have-All-The-Beers!” goes through our minds every single time we step in the door and behold the splendor. We first start out at a standstill and just stare. Mostly with a blissful grin on our faces. Amazed by all the pretty colors, labels, beer styles and breweries represented. It’s sensory overload. And, we want to buy every single bottle in the shop.
We’ve visited tons of bottle shops over the past 20-some years and have a few helpful tips for those folks just getting started on the craft beer exploration and even for the most experienced Beer Hunter.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET!
I have to admit that I’m still not very good at this one but am trying to work on it. Purchasing single bottles can get pricey. Depending on the shop you’re in, the state you’re in, where the beer is coming from, the rarity of the beer, the bottle size, etc, a bottle of beer can run you anywhere from $5-$50. Plunk 10 or more bottles in your shopping cart and the sticker shock will cause a proverbial heart attack at the register when your total is declared to the world and you’re expected to pay up!
DO: Look at your monthly budget to figure out how much you can afford to spend prior to even stepping foot in the bottle shop. If it’s $20, $80, $300, $1,000, or whatever, know your limits AND STICK WITH IT! Go with a friend to help keep you on track and talk you down from making that big spend if you don’t have the bankroll to fund your splurge.
Better yet, bring cash with you. If your budget is $100, bring exactly a $100 and that is all. Then track each bottle on your mobile device’s calculator as you shop to get a gauge if you’re getting close to your max spend amount. Remember, there may be tax added depending what state you’re in.
DON’T: Wing it if you know you’re an impulse shopper. The bottle shop with all of its enticing beers will win… it will always win. Let’s not get into a situation where you’re signing over your entire paycheck. OK? You’ve been warned. ?
RESEARCH BREWS & CREATE A WISHLIST
Another good way to stay on budget is to have a wishlist of what you want to look for or buy. It will help keep you focused on the must-haves versus the nice-to-haves if dollars are limited.
The wishlist approach also helps curb the amount of time you spend in the bottle shop. It’s very easy to blow an hour or more just looking at everything and trying to research each selection on the fly in Untappd, Ratebeer.com or Beeradvocate.com. But DO, use those tools to do your pre-research.
DO: Check to see if the bottle shop you’ll be visiting has a website. Many will and sometimes they list what brands are carried and their current beer inventory. Start here to build your wishlist.
The shop doesn’t have a website or inventory list? No worries. Follow them on social media (Twitter, Instagram or Facebook). That’s where I learn about new arrivals hitting their shelves. Then I consult my handy-dandy wishlist that I actively update on Untappd. Never used it before? When you see someone on your friend list check-in a beer that you might like, click that beer selection and then the Wishlist button to add it to yours. Cool! Right?!
DON’T: Just assume because it’s from a popular brewery that it will be something you will like. While you can never be certain that the beer will definitely please your palette, researching the beer will give you insight into the flavor notes and overall rating. If the beer in your hand has a rating of 2 out of 5, chances are it’s a dud. Put it back on the shelf and spend your money on quality.
CHECK FOR A BOTTLING DATE
Believe it or not, old beer can be lurking on the shelves of bottle shops. Some shops are better than others at weeding out less-than-fresh brews. We’ve gotten burned a few times on IPAs that were well over a year old. Blah!
DO: Look for a bottling date stamp. Not all breweries stamp their bottles. Sometimes they’ll simply print the year on the label.
With that said, please note that not all Old Beer is Bad Beer. Barrel-aged beers, stouts and porters for instance, age quite nicely and take on a smoother taste and mouthfeel a year or two after bottling.
DON’T: Blindly buy IPAs, lagers, kolschs, or helles, for example without first looking for a date. These styles lose a lot of their intended flavor or take on off-flavors if they’re not relatively fresh.
TALK WITH THE STAFF
The best bottle shops have knowledgeable staff. It’s so refreshing when you walk into a shop, are greeted with a friendly “Welcome!” and are asked if you’re looking for something in particular.
DO: Continue the conversation with them. They can help guide you toward the styles of beer you prefer or the beers you have on your wishlist. Not to mention, every bottle shop is laid out in a different manner. Knowing the layout will help you navigate the selection more quickly.
Also, if you don’t see something from your wishlist on the shelves, that doesn’t mean they don’t have it for purchase. Sometimes, it may have just come in and is waiting to be tagged and shelved. Ask the staff if they have what you’re looking for. Oh… and sometimes things are not shelved on purpose. Kind of a super secret stash, if you will, for Beer Hunters.
DON’T: Keep your head down and avoid conversation. I mean, unless you’re in a time crunch and need to snag a bottle or two so you can be on your way, just don’t. The craft beer community is very, very social. It thrives on knowledge sharing and making new connections.
A ‘BONUS POINTS’ DO: If there’s a bottle shop you like to frequent and you’ve developed a rapport with the owner, it’s nice to bring them a bottle of something special from time to time. Especially if they’re super helpful during your visits. You never know. They may just offer up something special in their own collection for you to try!
LOOK FOR SALES
DO THIS! Whether it be watching for announced sales on a bottle shop’s website or social media page or by looking for a sale rack in the shop itself.
The good shops will weed out their inventory of beers that are about to be less-than-fresh or perhaps something they’re no longer going to stock. Those brews get placed on a sale rack. Remember! Check the dates on the bottle. Consume IPAs fresh – don’t buy it if it’s a year old. Please, for the love of all things good and tasty. Just DON’T! Saisons, porters, stouts, barrel-aged and such will be just fine to keep for a while if they’re dated 6 – 12 months ago. DO buy these and save big!
Also, depending on state regulations and beer laws, some states allow retailers to offer a customer rewards program. Ask if this is available at your favorite bottle shop. It could save you big dollars on your purchases especially if the deal is that you get 10-20 percent discount off of your beer purchases!
BUYING SELECTIONS FROM A LOCAL BREWERY
So this one is not cut and dry, but merely some guidance from yours truly. And, each situation is different so make your own judgement on this tip.
DO: Buy local selections at a bottle shop if your time in the area is limited – perhaps you’re just passing through. You won’t always be able to make it to each and every brewery in said state or city. So snagging several bottles from local breweries at a bottle shop is a good way to do so quickly allowing you to taste what the region has to offer… but at a later date. When you’re back home and can kick back and truly enjoy the brew.
DON’T: Buy local selections at a bottle shop if you are able to go directly to the brewery to make the purchase. Fresh is best in most cases in terms of flavor! And, the price will tend to be lower when you buy direct. That means you can buy MORE for less $$$. Plus, who doesn’t love sitting down in a local brewpub and getting to know the folks around you, taking in the experience and relaxing while sipping some well-crafted beer!
Originally posted on StoutsandStilettos.com.