Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bottle Drop, Bottle Stop

There is almost nothing good than can come from dropping a bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout at the checkout counter and having the resultant explosion reverberate through the store.


Because if I hadn’t dropped it, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet manager Sean Bowling, who, perhaps by dint of the nitro explosion, appeared magically at the scene to supervise the clean-up and to allay my fears of a beer fatwa being laid upon my head.

“Happens all the time,” said Bowling. “No problem. We’ll get you a replacement.”

By “we” he meant the JWG Wine and Spirits Store adjacent to Wegman’s in Woodbridge, where, ahead of the “historic storm,” I traveled near my home to lay in a supply of good, warming beers for the blizzard (hereafter known as the “Fizzard”).

But beer writers—and apparently professional meteorologists—don’t have crystal balls, so I wanted to be prepared. Hence, the Left Hand Nitro Stout in case the snowblower and the generator resisted a wake-up call from their summer slumber.

The store, which operates under the banner of Wegman’s Wine, Liquor and Beer is attached at the hip to the food giant’s building.

Bowling offered, “We are actually a completely separate store, as NJ law does not allow us to be in the Wegman’s and does not allow Wegman’s to own more than two licenses. We are connected to the store and we feed off each other much the same way a Kohl’s may be next to a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a Target may be next to a Michaels.  That being said, we have been open for almost 3 years in this location.”

I know that time is correct, because when it first opened about three years ago, I stopped in to an advertised beer-tasting with some friends and was impressed with the beer selection. I even asked the manager at the time if I could come interview her and do a story, but for whatever reason, the interview and the story didn’t happen.

Until I dropped the bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout.

I asked Sean how many beers were on hand and he said six hundred, which prompted my follow-up question about the demand for craft beer, its impact on “traditional beers” and its concomitant demands for more floor space.

Bowling said, “The craft beer section is definitely growing by leaps and bounds but the category as a whole is increasing meaning much of the traditional domestics are also on the upswing.
Regarding the floor space issue, he said, “Absolutely! Like wine, the more people explore and try, the more they want to explore and try and our goal is to stay one step ahead of them by offering a great selection while also not looking past our traditional customer.”

So who decides which beers will make it onto the floor?
“Consumer demand is always first and foremost and of course we try and mix in some new items that are interesting to us that may start with no demand and build from there,” said Bowling.

He added that the store still does beer tastings on Sundays between Noon and 2 PM. As to what kind of beers get sampled, he said, “We look for beers that go well with the store concept – items that pair well with food and that interest us in general.”  Bowling announces those tastings via store signage and email, so to be kept in the loop, stop in and sign up, as I did.

It turns out that Bowling also knows a thing or two about pairing beer with food, which would make having a Wegman’s next door very convenient. And I’m sure food shoppers who like beer and wine are just as happy about the relationship. Symbiosis, after all, is a beautiful thing.

Some folks buy food and then ask what beer would go well with it.
The PubScout does the reverse.

Priorities, baby. Priorities.

And they all go well with the dish on the left.

The PubScout

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