Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beer Shopping in Oshkosh

When Jordy’s Beverage Mart opened in 1962 there were just seven Class “A” (or retail) liquor license’s held in the city of Oshkosh. Now there are almost 130 of them. Jordy’s, though, is the last of the old-guard liquor stores. For the rest, selling beer, wine and spirits serves as a highly-profitable compliment to their primary offering, be it gasoline, food or pharmaceuticals. My personal favorite of these hybrids is JT's Wash & Mart on Wisconsin, the only liquor store/laundromat I’ve ever seen.

Jordy’s continues to do what they’ve always done - sell mainstream beer and booze to people who aren’t looking to be surprised by what they pour into their glass. And most of the other Class “A” beer peddlers in town adhere to this same profile. So when it comes to craft beer, the lion’s share of the retail action in Oshkosh falls to Festival Foods and the two Pick 'n Save stores.

At Pick 'n Save you get the impression craft beer is something they’d rather not bother with. Their coolers are dominated by BudMillerCoors and even the segment they’ve given over to “better” beer is largely occupied with InBev imports such as Corona and Becks; beers that may have possessed a foreign allure 20 years ago, but are hardly considered premium now.
Most of the micro-brews are shunted off to the side. At the North-side store they have something of a craft-beer ghetto - a dusty set of shelves where the beer cures under a bank of fluorescent lights.

Pick 'n Save may not respect the beer, but they certainly like to pay it lip service. A few weeks ago they had a sign harping “Wisconsin Owns Craft Beer.” Ironically, this came on the heels of another reduction to the cooler space given to Sprecher. Empty sloganeering aside, Pick 'n Save is rapidly being outflanked by gas stations such as the Blue Moose on Murdock where their “Beer Cave” is packed to the rafters with macro-brew, but fringed with surprising offerings such as Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Chimay and the Unplugged series of New Glarus beers.

And that leaves us with Festival Foods on Westowne. It may not be the perfect place to buy beer, but it’s head and shoulders above anything else in town. The selection is good and their prices are usually excellent. At Festival, they also seem to actually enjoy having all that beer on hand. They’ve made a point of  featuring  Wisconsin beer and they treat almost all of it well by keeping it in their huge cooler. And rarest of all, a few of the clerks actually seem to know a thing or two about what they’re selling. The Oshkosh store may not have quite the selection of, say, the Fond du Lac store, but you’ll usually be able to find something to satisfy whatever beer urge you’re currently having.

The thing to keep in mind with all of this is that you never really need to put yourself at the mercy of any retailer. The best solution to scratching your own peculiar beer itch is to brew your own. It’s not that hard and there’s no shortage of information to get you started. Here’s one LINK that will lead you to all the information you’ll need to get started. The beer you make will taste like no other you’ve had and best of all, it’s fun. A hell of a lot more fun than shopping.

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