What makes a great beer retail store? We asked our beer friends about the best places to buy beer, and their comments read like a how-to list for any beer retailer who aspires to be the best.

Broken down to the basics, here are the elements of greatness, in order of rarity:

 

Diversity:

The retailer offers lots of choice. Locals are happy to find rare domestic and imported beers, and visitors are happy to see local beer well represented.

 

Beer Care:

Beer is kept cool and out of harmful light. The beer is fresh, never outdated.

 

Customer Service:

The store hires great staff who are passionate and knowledgeable about beer. The staff will place special orders, or contact beer enthusiasts when special beer arrives.

 

Education:

The store hosts beer tastings for the public. There is information wherever you look. The store stocks a selection of beer literature: books, magazines, newspapers. The retailer supports experimentation by encour-aging mixed six packs or single bottle sales.

 

Other Products:

Great food doesn’t hurt. Kegs, party planning, food and beer advice are all welcome additions. The store stocks appro-priate beer glassware and other breweriana.

 

Exceptional Education:

The store conducts tastings to educate its own staff, and helps out staff members who want to improve their beer cred-entials through homebrewing, judging, or travel.

 

Service Above and Beyond:

The dream store stocks—and lovingly tends—a range of choice vintage beers. It reaches out to customers through the web or newsletters. It supports visiting speakers, lends it name to festivals and beer events, organizes beer dinners, serves as a catalyst for beer advocacy, and offers classes in cooking with beer or homebrewing. The store is a resource for local restaurants and bars that are interested in the best in beer, as well as homebrew clubs. A great retail store has a welcoming atmosphere—it’s fun to visit!

All the stores in this list have some of these qualities: a small number have mastered them all, and set standards that others can strive to reach, and beer lovers can support.

 

The Stores

 

California

The Brew Guild

1722 Mangrove Ave., Ste. 36

Chico, CA 95926-2300

530-893-9035

www.brewguild.com

 

Colorado

Liquor Mart

1750 15th St.

Boulder, CO

303-449-3374

liquormart.com

With a dimly-lit walk-in cooler the size of a small apartment…

 

Argonaut Liquors

718 E Colfax Ave.

Denver, CO 80203-2006

303-831-7788

 

Arrow Liquormart

8055 W Bowles Ave.

Littleton, CO 80123-3089

303-399-2123

www.arrowliquors.com

 

The Wine Co.

5910 S University Blvd

Littleton, CO 80121-2879

303-795-1313

Great, but pricey.

 

Applejack Wine & Spirits

3320 Youngfield St.

Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-5244

303-233-3331

www.applejack.com

 

Connecticut

Ancona’s Market

720 Branchville Rd.

Ridgefield, CT 06877-6129

203-544-8436

The owners are wonderful: a husband and wife, their son and his wife. They play great jazz on the store’s sound system.

 

Idaho

Marcellar’s Vintage Wines and Brews

431 Park Ave.

Idaho Falls, ID 83402

208-523-0503

A diverse selection of wonderful beers. The shop also has a small bar with six taps and several tables where customers can relax, catch up on the local gossip and enjoy their favorite beverage served in the appropriate glassware. Proprietor Marcella Medor always manages to track down a keg of something fun like Delirium Tremens to keep the local beer club happy.

 

Boise Co-Op

888 W Fort St.

Boise, ID 83702-5525

208-472-4500

Hundreds of beers from the region and around the world. Knowledgeable staff includes a certified beer judge. Friendly group of people ready to share experiences with various beers and more than capable of explaining beer styles. The beer section is also coupled with an extensive selection of wines.

 

Illinois

Sam’s Wines and Spirits

1720 North Marcey St.

Chicago, IL

800-777-9137

www.samswine.com/beer/index.asp

In Chicago, the top store, bar none. If you can think of it, they’ve probably got it. The same goes for wine and spirits. Next door to the Goose Island brewpub where you can enjoy a delightful pint after shopping.

 

Binny’s Beverage Depot

multiple locations in the city and suburbs

Chicago, Il

www.binnys.com

 

Iowa

John’s Grocery

401 E. Market St.

Iowa City, IA 52245

319-337-2183

www.johnsgrocery.com

A family-owned corner grocery store that happens to specialize in great beer, including about 130 Belgians. Well-informed, enthusiastic staff conduct regular tastings. John’s organizes tours of Belgium, as well. There are even plans afoot for staff ex-changes with beerstores and breweries in Belgium.

 

Kentucky

The Party Source

95 Riviera Drive

Bellevue, KY 41073

859-291-4007

www.thepartysource.com

The best selection in Kentucky. Great party planning advice, including a “consumption calculator” on line to help you plan how much alcohol to buy.

 

The Liquor Barns

Lexington and Louisville, KY

 

The Cork-n-Bottle

Covington, KY

 

The Liquor Cabinet

Burlington, KY

 

The Party Mart

Louisville, KY

 

Prospect Party Center

Louisville, KY

 

Partytown

Florence, KY

 

Roof Bros.

Paducah, KY

 

Greenwood Spirits

Bowling Green, KY

 

Chuck Evans’ Party Stores

Bowling Green, KY

 

Maine

Oak Hill Beverage Redemption Center

26 Oak Hill Plaza

 

Scarborough, ME 04074-8991

207-883-3965

Good prices and about 200-300 different beers to choose from.

 

Tully’s Beer & Wine

Route 1

Wells, ME 04090

207-641-8622

Has obscure beers; best Belgian selection in state; also has beer tastings, and workers are very helpful; good German selection also.

 

Maryland

State Line Liquors

1610 Elkton Rd.

Elkton, MD 21921

410-398-3838, 800-446-9463

www.wineaccess.com/store/statelineliquors

One of the top beer stores on the East coast, and also convenient for those traveling Interstate 95. Beer selection about 1,000, about 130 Belgian beers, American microbrews very well represented. Prices are good: even a Belgian beer sale twice a year. Manager Robert Murray holds monthly beer tastings, and is very knowledgeable.

 

Well’s Discount Liquors

6310 York Rd.

Baltimore, MD 21212-2685

410-435-2700

www.wellswine.com

The best beer selection in B’more.

 

Missouri

Gomer’s Fine Wine and Spirits

9900 Holmes

Kansas City, MO 64131

Phone: 816-942-6200

www.gomers.com

 

New Jersey

Super Saver Liquors

888 US Highway 22

Somerville, NJ 08876

908-722-6700

 

Voorhees Liquor Store

10 Berlin Rd.

Voorhees, NJ 08043-1424

856-429-5273

(Philadelphia area)

 

New York

B & E Quality Beverage

511 W 23rd St.

New York, NY

212-243-6812

Specializes in European imports.

 

Bierkraft

191 5th Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11217

718-230-7600

600 brands of beer, along with cheeses, meats, pates and general charcuterie.

 

Glenville Beverage

96 Freeman’s Bridge Rd.

Schenectady, NY 12302-3507

518-374-4615

One of the best places in the Capital Region of New York State. They have loads of single bottles (imports and micros) plus a large cooler with tons of six packs. The best part is that they have six-eight taps always going in the store for growlers. A great mix of fresh draughts. I’ve had everything from Sierra Nevada Celebrator to Young’s Chocolate Stout.

 

Premier Gourmet

3465 Delaware Ave.

Buffalo, NY 14217

716-877-3574

www.premiergourmet.com

By far the best store within a 12 hour drive, and it’s due to the tireless passion of one man: Lyle Ostrow, progeny of the family that owns the gourmet food and beer store. There are other stores not that far away which carry more actual brands than does Premier, but no one boasts the meticulously pared selection. They even have a vintage beer program, and how many stores outside of Belgium can say that?

 

North Carolina

Sam’s Quik Stop

1605 Erwin Rd.

Durham, NC

919-286-4110

What other store sells fine beer and wine, rare cigars, and Slim Jims? And lots of all of them?

 

Ohio

Jungle Jim’s Market

5440 Dixie Hwy

Fairfield, OH 45014

513-674-6000

 

Oregon

Belmont Station

4520 SW Belmont St.

Portland, OR 97215

503-232-8538

Located adjacent to Horse Brass Pub. Selection is not as large [as other places], but only one bottle is displayed on the shelf: the ones you buy are from the walk-in or the storage area, where they are kept out of the light.

 

John’s Market

3535 SW Multnomah Blvd.

Portland OR 97219

503-760-4150

Located in Multnomah Village, SW Portland,. They have at least 500 beers, the best in these parts, but the beers are left out on the shelf, and in fluorescent light. One has to be careful which beer to choose.

 

Pennsylvania

Quirky laws mean that beer must be purchased by the case from distributorships, or by the pricier six pack from taverns and delis.

 

By the bottle/sixpack:

 

The Foodery

324 S. 10th St. (10th & Pine St.)

Philadelphia, PA 19107-6149

215-928-1111

Open 7 days a week, sells single bottles, great variety. Hundreds of Belgians.

 

The Six Pack Store

7015 Roosevelt Blvd.

Philadelphia, PA 19149

215-338-6384

Philadelphia— “the city that taught New York about Belgian beer.”Encourages experimentation by letting you create your own six pack from a great range of single bottles.

 

Candlewyck Lounge

Routes 413 & 202

Buckingham, PA 215-794-8233

Package/take out. Good variety. Tavern with take out.

 

By the case:

 

Shangy’s, The Retail Beer Authority

40 E. Main St.

Emmaus, PA 18049

610-967-6793

Founded by a businessman from Tehran (his nickname, Shangy, means “Happy”), this huge warehouse handles over 3,000 kinds of beer.

 

Tanczos Beverages

2330-40 Jacksonville Rd.

Bethlehem, PA 18015

610-866-8039

 

Texas

Central Market

4001 N Lamar Blvd.

Austin, TX 78756-3733

512-206-1000

 

Virginia

Wine Warehouse

1804 Hydraulic Rd.

Charlottesville, VA 22901

434-296-1727

wineinc@aol.com

100+ Belgians, specialty beers from Quebec, sells single bottles, and a “Handcrafted Beer Manager” on staff.

 

Vintage Cellar

1340 South Main St.

Blacksburg, VA 24060

540-953-2675, 800-672-9463

 

Carytown Wine and Beer

3144 West Cary St.

Richmond, VA 23221

804-257-5910

 

Norm’s Beer and Wine

136 Branch Rd., SE

Vienna, VA 22180-4714

703-242-0100

www.radix.net/~bruce/norm/index.htm

 

Whole Foods Market (formerly Fresh Fields)

143 Maple Ave. E

Vienna, VA 22180-5724

703-319-2000

 

Washington

Bottleworks

1710 N. 45th

Seattle, WA

206-633-BIER

www.bottleworks.com

One store stands out in the Northwest. They carry more than 600 beers, over 300 of which are Belgians. Many different vintages of specialty brews are available. Some are exclusives to the store. Belgian owner Matt Van den Berghe is passionate about beer (he also carries some great chocolate). Planning to open a café nearby soon.

 

Washington, DC

Chevy Chase Wine & Liquors

5544 Connecticut Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20015-2610

202-363-4000

Jaw-dropping choice, in a city that is blessed by a large number of good beer stores.

 

Wisconsin

Discount Liquor

5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.

Milwaukee, WI 53219

414-545-2175

discountliquor@execpc.com

A non-descript store, whose wares are anything but. Highly recommended by every beerhead as the one store in the area not to miss. Germany, the British Isles, and Belgium are well-represented, an impressive selection of Eastern European beers, dozens of Wisconsin’s superb micros are available also. If it is sold in Wisconsin, it can be found here. Simply put, as good as it gets.

 

International

Austria

Sternbräu

A-6830 Rankweil

Austria

43-0-5522-44268

info@sternbrauerei.com

Former brewery, now imports British, Belgian, Swiss and German beers.

 

Belgium

Biertempel

56 Marché aux Herbes

Brussels

02-506-1906

Small store with unusually broad selection, just one block from Grand’Place.

 

Hopduvel

Rokerelsstraat 10

Ghent

A great beer house carries a shop and a warehouse of the same name in the city center. Lots of beers from small Belgian breweries. Also wholesale to restaurants, bars and importers.

 

De Caigny

Spijker 79

2910 Essen

03-667-7171

Good choice of especially Belgian beers (300): traditional gueuze, Cantillon, Girardin, Boon, all beers from “de Dolle”, Caracole, Achilles…

 

Willems & Zoon

Leopoldstraat 26

2280 Grobbendonk

Very good choice, mostly different beers than De Caigny. Cellar storage room!

 

Czech Republic

Pivni Galerie (Beer Gallery)

U Pruhonu 9

Prague—Holesovice

220-870-613

pivnigalerie@post.cz

This is the most utterly unassuming place. Anyone from a rich, degenerate western country should feel humbled to visit this totally unchanged, neighborhood store, where old comrades share a beer over back issues of Pravda and rejoice at their country’s membership of NATO and the G8.

 

Denmark

BarleyWine

Laederstarede 16

Copenhagen

www.barleywine.dk

Despite its name, this small shop specializes in Belgian beer. You can also find Danish beers, which are off the national mainstream of pale lagers.

 

Finland

Alko

Salomonkatu 1

Helsinki

www.alko.fi

Always sahti available. Also a wide range of Finnish and international (mainly European) bottled beers.

 

France

Bootlegger

82 rue de l’Ouest

Paris 14

Small shop with rarities from small regional French (and Canadian) breweries plus Belgian specialities.

 

Germany

Haus der 131 Biere

Karlshöhe 27

Hamburg 22175

Germany

www.biershop.de

www.haus-der-131-biere.de/

Beers from around the world, but focusing on lagers. A truly global selection which carries way more different beers than its name reveals. Also rarities from Africa and Asia, plus beer gifts.

 

Trink Gut

In north Germany, this chain has the best selection of German and some foreign beers. The employees are not trained to know anything about beer. That is quite normal here: the German who is not in the brewing industry knows very little about beer.

 

Japan

Tobu Department Store

1-1-25 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Located on the B1 level of the Plaza-kan, in the F10 section

03-3981-2211 (switchboard)

Adjacent to JR Ikebukuro Station.

 

The Beer House

1-47-8 Minami-Magome, Ota-ku, Tokyo

03-3777-4561

Near Nishi-Magome Station on the Toei Asakusa Line

 

Kawachiya

30 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

03-3462-6604

Near JR Shibuya Station and Shibuya Station on the Ginza and Hanzomon lines.

 

National Azabu Supermarket

4-5-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

03-3442-3186

Near Hiroo Station on the Hibiya subway line

 

Netherlands

De Bierkoning

Paleisstraat 125

1012 RB Amsterdam

020-625-2336

Good selection of Dutch, Belgian and rather rare German beers, mainly from Bamberg and Franconia.

 

Burg Bieren

Puttenseweg 45

3851 GB Ermelo (Gelderland)

0341-564934

Large selection of Dutch, Belgian, German and other international beers, also beers from the own demo brewery on the premises—every Saturday a small brew is produced. Beers are also available at the attached pub next door. Annual festival beginning of August.

 

De Bierwereld

Molenweg 281

6543 VE Nijmegen

024-373-2820

International selection of beers, including beers from the local home brew pub, De Hemel.

 

Van Erp

Grote Kromme Elleboog 16

9712 BK Groningen

050-312-6414

 

Bieren en Pintelieren

Pasqualinistraat 2

5622 AW Eindhoven

040-243-5422

 

Bert’s Bierhuis

Voorstraat 83

3512 AL Utrecht

030-234-1339

 

‘t Bierhuys

Gasthuislaan 40

2611 RB Delft

015-213-4047

 

De Man van Drank

Hartesteeg 13

2312 JW Leiden

071-512-2813

Norway

Great beer retail stores? In Norway? You must be joking. Norway probably has the worst / narrowest / smallest selection of beer types and beer labels available in Europe. All beers stronger than 4.75% alcohol are sold through governmental monopoly stores only.

 

Sweden

Systembolaget

Vasagatan 25

Stockholm

www.systembolaget.se

A good selection of beers from Swedish micros, also a big variety of international beers. Has a monopoly for selling alcoholic beverages stronger than 3.5% ABV.

 

United Kingdom

The Beer Shop

14 Pitfield St.London N1 6EY

020 7739 3701

www.pitfieldbeershop.co.uk

Close to Old Street Underground Station. Small shop in unfashionable part of London but with an amazing choice of British and beers from other countries. A flag-waver for Belgian beers from way back, now with a good choice of beers from most countries, including ones you never see elsewhere in Britain. Also on the site, the tiny Pitfield micro-brewery that concentrates on organic beers.