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When is a liquor store serious about cocktails?


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#1 Dave the Cook

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 03:22 PM

Recently, I was talking to someone who has a minority financial interest in a couple of liquor stores. Before I really thought about what I was saying, I blurted out that I didn't make a habit of patronizing them because they weren't "serious about cocktails," and there were sufficient outlets for generic stuff closer to home. She asked what I meant, which of course immediately tied my tongue. Graciously, she said that if I passed along any suggestions, she'd make sure that they got to the right people. 

 

So now I had to think about it. And then I realized that I didn't, because eG Forums.

 

When you walk into an unfamiliar liquor store, what do you look for? What tells you that it might be a place worth checking out on a regular basis?

 

Or think about it along the lines of the Ten-Bottle Bar: give me a minimal list of items that qualify a liquor store as worthy of regular patronage.


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#2 Rafa

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 03:38 PM

A liquor store can be very good without catering to cocktailians at all. Some great places I know have little in the way of vermouths or amari yet have stunning collections of whisk(e)y or wine. Or they have small, but expertly curated, selections.

That said, the Haus Alpenz portfolio is a dead giveaway that a liquor store has cocktailians in mind. If you can find the Dolin and Cocchi wines, St. Liz, Batavia Arrack, and so on on a store's shelves you'll probably find most other bar essentials and popular-ish specialty items.

When it comes to liquor stores I look for a balance between selection and price. I'm fortunate to live in a market with a high density of cocktail bars and enthusiasts, with enough demand for esoteric items that big stores can buy them in bulk and sell them at a discount.

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#3 FrogPrincesse

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 04:23 PM

Dave,

 

For me, a wide selection of candy/cake flavored vodkas is dead giveaway that the liquor store is NOT serious about cocktails. But sometimes you can have good surprises when you look past this kind of stuff.

 

The ideal liquor store should have a good variety of base liquors in each category: gin (London dry, Plymouth, old tom, genever), rum (including rhum agricole), bourbon, rye, tequila, etc. It does not have to be 20 in each category or super expensive ones. Ideally it's a carefully curated collection that includes good values. For example Flor de Cana 4 year white rum is inexpensive but immensely superior to the Bacardi that you can find everywhere. Old Overholt rye does not break the bank but it's pretty good. Etc...

Then you need the basic amari: Campari, Aperol, and Cynar at a minimum, and maybe a few more. Some nice vermouths - for example Noilly Prat for the white and Dolin for the red. Bitters - if they have Angostura, Peychaud's and a decent brand of orange bitters, then it's great. Regarding liqueurs, if all they have is DeKuyper then it's pretty sad and you have to look elsewhere. Ideally as Rafa mentioned they would have a few items from Haus Alpenz in stock - then you can tell that they are really serious about cocktails. Bonus points if they have specialty syrups in stock (such as small hands or B.G.Reynolds for tiki ingredients).



#4 Hassouni

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 04:50 PM

Alpenz stuff is my dead giveaway, as is having Luxardo and Chartreuse verte. There are plenty of others, too, but these make a good start



#5 KD1191

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Posted 03 September 2013 - 06:24 PM

Alpenz stuff is my dead giveaway, as is having Luxardo and Chartreuse verte.

 

Traveling a lot, both for work and for fun, I make a habit of entering as many liquor stores in as many diverse destinations as possible. So far, the best barometer I've found for determining whether a store is 'serious' about cocktails is the price of Chartreuse. If it's $50-60/bottle, I know the cocktail revival has clearly arrived on their shores. Whereas, if it's $30-45, I immediately begin searching the shelves for rarities.

 

I guess my answer might not be in the spirit of Dave's question, since these days I'm typically more excited to find places that aren't 'serious'. If I had to play along, I'd say a selection of quality bitters (and not just multi-packs) is often a good indicator of the type of place where I know I'm likely to find what I'm looking for on a particular run to the shop.


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#6 MPruett

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Posted 06 September 2013 - 09:16 AM

I wouldn't say that a selection of mass market stuff like silly flavored vodkas and premixed liquor drinks means that a store isn't serious about cocktails.  It just means that they're not exclusively aiming at the cocktail crowd.  Spec's in downtown Houston is a good example of a great liquor store that has all that vodka crap, but also has a great selection of hardcore cocktail ingredients of all types.

 

For any old liquor store, I'd say that the Haus Alpenz and Luxardo lines (not just their maraschino) are a good sign that they're serious, as are a variety of cocktail-specific type spirits- stuff like Old Tom gin, overproof rum (not Bacardi 151) and other uncommon base spirits.

 

Things like real pomegranate grenadine, falernum, and a wide selection of bitters are also a good sign.


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#7 huiray

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Posted 06 September 2013 - 09:37 AM

Cocktailians? :-) I learned a new word today.

 

I'm not that much of a cocktailian myself.  I tend to pay attention to a store if it has a good selection of port, sherry AND MADEIRA ranging from decently-priced to more stratospheric regions, even if I don't drink that much of these.  Note: NOT "cooking Madeira".  Nice whiskeys and scotchs through the price ranges helps too, and definitely if the prices are good!


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#8 EvergreenDan

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Posted 06 September 2013 - 04:31 PM

Good: Single malt and cognac are in the row closest to the entrance

Bad: 30-packs of Bud Lite are closest to the entrance.

 

Good: Check out person is knowledgeable about the lastest interesting bottle that you've found on the shelf.

Bad: Check out person says, "You like that stuff?" as you're paying.

 

Good: Little samples of rum to taste.

Bad: Little samples of vodka whipped cream to taste.

 

Good: You scan the shelves and find lots of bottles that are at the front of your liquor cabinet. Or you wish they were.

Bad: You scan the shelves and memories from your college years send a shiver down your spine.

 

Good: Endcap has handles of Tanqueray at a great price.

Bad; Endcap has handles of Grey Goose at an astronomical price.


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#9 Tri2Cook

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Posted 06 September 2013 - 06:18 PM

Good: Single malt and cognac are in the row closest to the entrance

Bad: 30-packs of Bud Lite are closest to the entrance.

 

Good: Check out person is knowledgeable about the lastest interesting bottle that you've found on the shelf.

Bad: Check out person says, "You like that stuff?" as you're paying.

 

Good: Little samples of rum to taste.

Bad: Little samples of vodka whipped cream to taste.

 

Good: You scan the shelves and find lots of bottles that are at the front of your liquor cabinet. Or you wish they were.

Bad: You scan the shelves and memories from your college years send a shiver down your spine.

 

Good: Endcap has handles of Tanqueray at a great price.

Bad; Endcap has handles of Grey Goose at an astronomical price.


Well, that does it for my local store... but I already knew that. :biggrin:


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#10 joiei

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Posted 17 September 2013 - 11:35 PM


Coming from the perspective of a person who works in a liquor store there is a lot more to stocking than to just appeal to a cocktailan. #1- who is your primary market? We have a fairly upscale clientele but we sell a buttload of moscato at the same time. #2 - How knowledgable are your clients, from extremely knowledgable to interested to don't care. #3 - how do state laws effect your business. I live and work in Oklahoma we do the best we can.

I do have the privilege of working for one of only 21 female Master Sommeliers in the United States. We take great pride in converting those moscato drinkers into Riesling drinkers. We have built a great wine selection for our customers but we still go through several cases of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay a week.

Back to the cocktails. We will always try to special order in something that we do not carry. But here the law dictates what we can and can't sell. If it has no alcohol, we can't sell it. If it is under 3.2 abv we can't sell it, that is only available in grocery and convenience stores

As for stocking single Malt near the front door it ain't happening. The PBR is harder to walk than a $80 bottle is scotch. Product placement in a store is as important as the product itself. It would be wonderful if our clientele were so wonderful but they are not. We had a bottle thief yesterday walk with a bottle of macadamia nut liquor. Wtf.

And the bitters our clients are better off checking with Williams Sonoma or Whole Foods.

Be careful when rating a liquor store by what they might not have on their shelves. Ask. Maybe they never had anyone request that product before.
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#11 brinza

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 07:50 AM

I have to admit that PA has gotten more on the ball regarding cocktail-friendly products over the last three or four years. While our stores still have their gargantuan Wall-of-Flavored-Vodkas that could rival a Bourbon St "frozen daiquiri" joint, they also have several Haus Alpenz items, and numerous other odds and ends such as Campari, maraschino, Strega, Cherry Heering, and various amari. Certain select stores carry Cinzano, Nolly Prat, and even Carpano Antica Formula, but sadly, no Dolin or Punt e Mes. We have Lillet, but no Cocchi Americano. Our whiskey and tequila (forget mezcal) selections seem to hold their own but I think our gin and rum selections are poor. We have Smith & Cross, Zacapa, and Barbancourt, but no El Dorado, Lemon Hart, or Flor de Cana. The most exotic gin we have is Old Raj. We have no genever at all and one Aquavit. About a year ago, they finally started to carry Peychaud's Bitters. Expecting them to add orange bitters might be asking too much.

One of the more crazy juxtapositions of catering to diverse markets was the Ashebrooke Liquour Outlet in Morgantown WV, which had some interesting and unusual products, once you walked past the (literally) pallet-loads of Jägermeister. They also had Rittenhouse 100 for about $12.50, and I'm still kicking myself for not buying a whole case when I was there about 4 years ago.

A good selection doesn't always have to be about cocktails, however. There are so many things out there that, even though cocktailians like to use them, are simply wonderful products on their own, and that many people might enjoy if they knew they existed and had the opportunity to buy them.

Edited by brinza, 19 September 2013 - 07:51 AM.

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