So, we're buying beer, yes? Neophytes quickly realize that there are three main ways of going about this:
- Supermarket Shopping: your Whole Foods, your New Seasons, your Market of Choice - these spots all have beer selections that can easily satisfy your immediate needs. Even Safeway or Fred Meyer works in a pinch. Not so different from anywhere across the country, Oregon locations usually have a nice mix of local and regional selections. On rare occasions, head-turning options will just magically appear. Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary series, for example, (bottle #1 - the stout) had a slow rollout and I was having a hard time running it down in the first few days. Ended up snagging one from a Market of Choice while ducking in to grab a loaf of bread. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
- Brewpubs: on the one hand, you're limited to what they are pouring on the premises. On the other, this is why growlers were invented. While more expensive than a six-pack (a $10 growler fill is on par with an $11 sixer), you're still getting draft beer at much, MUCH cheaper prices than they will sell at the bar. Four pints to a growler, 10 bucks per? By my weak math skills, that $2.50 pints. That completely works for me. And having several growler options available for a party is a good way to look cool. You're also getting beer straight from the brewer - both from an 'economically-rewarding-the-creator' and a 'it don't get no fresher' viewpoint, this is a good thing.
- Bottle Shops. Pretty much in two styles - Total Beverage/Total Wine joints with near-warehouse capacities of wine and beer, and smaller locations with a more limited selection. But while TB/TW possess tons of alcohol, the beer selections lean toward single distributor lineups and you see nothing but the "large and local" range. Total Wine in Virginia, for example, can be counted on for Brooklyn, Rogue, Magic Hat, Sam Adams, Stone, Dogfish Head and others that qualify as big for the area or nationally-known micros. But the odds of you finding a great deal of, say, Rogue's extended lineup vs. Dead Guy, Amber, and maybe Mocha Porter are not in your favor. And there's no way in hell you're finding something like Russian River or Pelican. Foreign beer? The brew had better be a pillar of it's country (Beck's, Dos Equis, etc) or you need to be equipped with a plane to fly there and get it yourself.
Smaller shops may be limited on the total number of bottles or square footage, but the harder-to-find stuff and local brewery offerings make it worthwhile. And while I met people at larger shops who could reasonably speak about beer, they don't hold a candle to the knowledge in the average bottleshop shelf-stocker.
John's Market in Multnomah Village is one such location. And let me get this out of the way now: if you are viewing this, live within 30 minutes of Portland, and have never been to this place? Stop reading and get over there now. You'll thank me later. Actually, I can even save you some time and give you your reactions in advance:
Outside: " Ugh, seriously? I'm looking for beer, not sunflower seeds and Mountain Dew."
5ft Inside: "The guy that sent me here is getting punched in the throat."
10ft Right: "Cute wine selection, but I-- . . . wait, what's to the left?"
Turning Left: " . . . oh my god."
Sprinting Forward: *hyperventilating noises* / *mortal fear for your wallet* / *tears*
Excellent domestic options to the left, an Epic-Tour-Of-The-Planet foreign selection to the right, and awe-struck first timers wandering the aisles - you can't go wrong. I love watching new people in there for the first time. Disbelieving grins and phone-cam shots tend to dominate, along with mutterings of "I'm going to spend so much money here." Good times, good times.
John's should be given gifts. I'm in there pretty much on a bi-weekly basis to replenish the Beer Fridge and I bring new people in as much as possible. I'm not going to get into arguing if Belmont Station or Bottlemongers are better spots (there are pluses and minuses for each), but John's can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any place in town from a sheer selection standpoint. By all means, visit - just remember to keep to a budget. Either that or you're hiring a Sherpa in advance to mule your purchases home.