I spent most of the month of July in Oregon visiting family and putting together a few Beers Made By Walking events. The summers there are wonderful, after nine months of clouds and drizzle the sun comes out for about 60-90 days. Luckily this year I didn’t have to sift through the grey skies, I just showed up at the right time. While I was there, I was reminded of how much I appreciate having beer half a block down the street. I’d like to share a few of my experiences. Unlike what I’ve done in the past I’m not trying to come to any conclusions on Colorado convenience stores and 3.2 laws, I just want to share my experiences.
The store we are in here is a Plaid Pantry, a common convenience store found around Oregon. You can see here that the fridge is stocked full of good looking beer from around the country. What’s more is that many of the beers on the top shelves and in the 22oz bombers are very local, small brewery bottles. I was surprised when I picked up 2 bombers and the total bill was under $8. I remember moving to Colorado and being upset at the beer prices, but now I’ve gotten so used to them that I forgot all about Oregon pricing. This liquor shop is located about 5 doors down from my friend’s house, which is where I always stay when I visit. It’s a great place to go when we decide to do a fire pit in the backyard at midnight and need a few quick six-packs. I most often go a little out of my way, to Belmont Station, to buy my beer.
There’s a number of beer bottle shops in Portland. They sell only beer…no liquor…no wine…just beer. My favorite by a long-shot is Belmont Station, and unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of this awesome little place! But please promise me that you’ll check it out next time you visit. They have over 1300 unique beers available and they organize the store by geography, so you can check out the West Coast beers, Oregon has it’s own section, Belgium, Germany, etc. There’s also a seasonal section so if you’re wanting the newest offerings you can go straight to that area. An interesting thing about this place, to me, is that it’s located within a mile of Fred Meyer and New Seasons. Both of these are grocery stores, Fred Meyer is a franchise (think King Soopers) and has 800 unique beers. New Seasons started in Portland and has a selection of about 300. There’s also a convenience store nearby with a hundred or so unique beers. Even though all these places are near by, Belmont Station is thriving and the store is always buzzing with customers.
|At Fred Meyer, with craft beer front and center getting all the proper attention.|
I talked to the owner about why he thinks he does such great business in the face of such close competition. He had been a bit nervous when the first store expanded their selection because they were carrying so many of the same titles. Now, however, Belmont Station has a larger selection and they also carry the rare stuff. His guess was that it was just too difficult for the grocery store to have a full time staff keeping tabs and answering customer questions the same way that his shop operates. Fred Meyer’s selection shifted and they now carry the standard lineups for breweries up and down the West Coast, just not really the specialty stuff. Surprisingly, New Seasons had a few specialty things. I hung out in the beer aisle there for a few minutes and I was visited by two different staff people who asked if they could help me find something. They knew all about the beers and they knew which beers had citrus notes, pine, or maltiness. They also knew their fair share about Sours and Brett beers. So, I picked up a Logsdon Wit and it was a great recommendation.
I understand that the laws for beer in liquor stores, convenience stores, and grocery stores is pretty firm in Colorado and that breweries have set up their business models to match these laws, not necessarily to anticipate any changes. I’ve talked to many brewers about the law and almost all of them agree that things need to stay the same, that many liquor stores would go out of business if they lost their monopoly on full-strength beer, that only the bigger breweries would receive shelf space at grocery/convenience stores, and that there would be no one to help you decide what to buy. I’ve seen both sides, I often go to liquor stores here in Colorado that have shitty selection, and some that have a great selection but no knowledgeable staff. I’m very thankful that I live near Weber and Coaltrain, both have helpful staff and a good selection. I’ve been to convenience stores in Oregon that have helpful staff and good selection. I don’t know what to think about it anymore and I don’t really know if I care too much either. As far as I know, the fight over changing the 3.2 laws aren’t on the books this year but they easily could be next year. My hope is that whatever happens, the craft beer sector will continue to grow, that it will see new markets for its beer, and that if things change there will be a strong entrepreneurial spirit behind brewers and liquor stores to know how to adapt.