Thursday, January 24, 2008

Northern California's Alcohol Mega-Store

I made my first trip into Total Wine today, a chain-type place that has done well for itself back east and is now coming into California. I have only a few thoughts.
  • While the beer selection is vast, there is little that we haven't seen before. That said, there were a few nuggets there for those looking. I did buy a bottle of Deus for 22 buck - that ain't bad. They've also got the Victoria Ale beer from Allagash, a beer with wine grapes added to the mash. I hadn't seen the beer before, so it found its way home with me. Other than that, bunches of beers you'll find elsewhere.
  • Good selection of whiskey. We picked up a Bookers bottle for 40 bucks - a good price for certain.
  • Walk-in humidor is fun and should be popular with the Roseville crowd. Just for fun we got an Ashton Maduro to take with us to Monterey this weekend, where it promises to be wet and windy.
  • Service is too young to gauge at this point, happy folks who know enough to get by I suppose. With the selection they have, I don't expect they'd be experts by any measure - but they're clearly giving it a go. I was greeted by a grump of a man, but after than the staff seemed generally cheerful and excited to be open.
  • Prices seem too low. I don't know a lot about this side of business, but it seems some high-end products were priced to entice people to come in. If so, it's gonna work - I called two locals to tell them about beers they need to find and stock up on while they can.
In general, the place is good. I couldn't help but feel, however, like I was shopping at a big-box store for alcohol (a feeling I don't like). While I took advantage of good pricing, I just didn't feel the same connection I get when shopping at other local places, where I think the guy selling me beer actually knows a thing or two about beer. I don't know, I think one of the coolest things about beer is the people in the industry overall, and taking that small element out of the equation seems to bother me. Of course, I think it has mostly to do with my connection with those who sell me my beer, those who have to sell at higher prices because that's what they do.

I suppose there's more to the story, there always is. I was at Nugget market tonight and talking with their beer/wine guy, Larry, a man whose enthusiasm seems to boil over whenever you see him. He was worried about a few things in the beer world, mainly price. He'll be raising prices on six-packs next week, as much as a buck-n-change, and he's worried about 'sticker shock' with his loyal customers. I suppose he should be, too.

We've heard for a while now that prices will be going up for beer this year, I don't think I was even prepared for that price hike to be so sudden. I don't know if this'll be news for any of you, but if so, consider this your head's up: the price of beer will be higher within days.

So, back to big-box store and impersonal service. What they can offer is lower prices, and I see a draw to that, especially as price of product hikes. So, call it a perfect storm if you will for those who sell good beer for a living in Placer County, just as they have to raise the prices and face the customers who don't understand, the new/shiny/enticing store will be opening its doors, perhaps willing to hold off any price increases as a means to get buyers in the door. Who knows?

I do know this, I'm looking forward to seeing the ocean tomorrow and stopping by El Toro Brewing in Morgan Hill. I'm also looking forward to fresh seafood from a little place in Monterey, chicken smoked the good way (the right way) up the hill and a chance to let life pass me by as we watch the rain in the woods with nothing more to do that eat, sleep and be merry.