Somewhere in California, a lady cop is watching for Nima Hadian’s beer truck.
“She sits at the bottom of a hill on this one little road along the coast, north of San Francisco, and she inspects every truck,” says Hadian, who runs the mammoth Shangy’s Beverage in Emmaus, Pa.
The maximum truck length on this road is 48 feet. The truck Hadian’s been leasing is 53 feet.
“And she catches us every time. It’s a $500 ticket.
“So, not only do I have to deal with gas prices and refrigeration and trucking companies and storage and a mess of other stuff. But now I’ve got to deal with a lady cop in California! “
Such are the headaches for a man in pursuit of excellent beer. But as Hadian says, “I’m good at not just knowing the difference between a good beer and a [bad] beer, but in finding ways to get the product here. “
“Here” is in an otherwise obscure town outside of Allentown, 50 miles north of Philadelphia. Along a busy highway running into Emmaus, Hadian’s family has built possibly the best retail beer distributor in America.
I say “possibly” because I haven’t visited ’em all, yet. Other outlets may move more beer or offer bigger discounts. And I confess, I have a soft place in my heart for hard-working neighborhood places like Javies in Manayunk, Stone’s in Fairmount and Beer City in Fishtown.
But nobody I know of sells more varieties than Shangy’s. At last count, the beer list topped 2,300 different labels.
Twenty-three-hundred! That’s more than all the brews listed in the Bible of ale-worshippers, Michael Jackson’s “Pocket Guide to Beer. ” Hadian thinks it’s enough to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He’s asked the Guinness reps to stop by for a look-see. In the meantime, he welcomed Joe Sixpack for a perusal.
The last time I’d visited, Shangy’s was bursting at the seams in a roadside spot about the size of a Wawa. Now, they’ve moved down the road and into a clean, brightly lit 35,000-square-foot store where the showroom is like, well, nothing you’ve ever seen at a beer distributor.
Instead of the cobwebs and heaps of cardboard boxes piled on wooden skids that are the rule at most beer stores, neatly stacked displays beckon like sirens. Hadian tells me the place cost $3 million to build, that the cooler alone can fit 5,000 barrels – about the annual production of a healthy microbrewery. But I’m not listening because I’m already diving into the suds. Unpronounceable Hefe-weizens from Bavaria, Trappist ales from tiny monasteries in Belgium, 200-year-old bitters from Britain and dozens of others from countries (Slovenia and Guatemala) that I didn’t even know produced beer. There are 100 feet of American microbrews alone.
I stand there slack-jawed, unable to narrow down my selection to fewer than 10 cases. I defy a beer freak to leave the place without finding at least 50 beers he’s never tasted, maybe never even heard of.
How does Hadian find them? The same way you or I find ’em. We sample everything we see, share with our friends, mail-order sixpacks, take beer vacations and come home with bottles wrapped in the dirty underwear.
“About 40 percent of our customers know good beer, and they bring us samples,” he said. “If a credible customer tells me he had a great IPA from X-brewery, I’ll send away for it. “
Right now, he’s trying to get his mitts on Arrogant Bastard Ale from Oregon’s Stone Brewing. The brewery describes it as “an aggressive beer [that] you probably won’t like. “
“Our bread and butter is those little brands,” Hadian said.
The problem is, most of them are too small to ship outside of their backyards. It’s a nightmare of logistics, and most of them are satisfied selling to locals. Shangy’s solves that problem by paying truck drivers to go on cross-country beer runs.
“We send a truck out west about once a week and hit three or four northern California breweries,” Hadian said.
Since Shangy’s also serves as an area importing distributor, it re-sells many of these small brands to about 1,800 other Philadelphia-area bars, restaurants and retailers. If you’ve recently tasted hard-to-find left-coast gems like Moylan Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale and Lost Coast Indica IPA and anything from Anderson Valley, it’s because of Shangy’s.
But a visit to Emmaus is a must for the true beer fan. It’s an hour up the Northeast Extension. Call Nima at 610-967-1701 for directions.
And watch out for those California troopers.
Speaking of Jackson’s “Pocket Guide,” the 7th edition from Philadelphia’s Running Press is out. Locally, Eric Savage of Dock Street Brasserie (18th and Cherry streets, Logan Circle) gets a well-deserved four stars (world classic) for his Barleywine and Grand Cru. Though it’s an excellent tome for out-of-town travels, be warned that, like most beer guides, it’s quickly dated. Our town’s listings still include the sadly departed Poor Henry’s and Independence brewing companies. . .
Baseball cap slogan spotted by sharp-eyed copy editor Jerry Carrier, at the Bridge & Pratt SEPTA terminal: “Beer drinkers make better lovers. They just don’t remember the next day. . . “
‘Shrooms and beer from 20 local breweries are the main attraction at tomorrow’s Kennett Mushroom Festival brewfest. The fungi starts at 2 p.m., at the First Union parking lot on State Street in Kennett Square.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Big Hole Mythical White Grand Cru.