THE NEWS HAS been spreading around town for the past week, and it does not sound good.
“Did you hear? Adrian sold the Foodery. ”
That’s Adrian Paulus, the Dutch-born owner of the very best beer store in Philadelphia. With more than 500 different labels, from California micros to Belgian lambics, the Foodery is mecca for Philly beer freaks.
I call Adrian immediately.
I’ve been one of his devoted customers for more than two decades, since the days I lived across the street from his tiny spot at 10th and Pine. In those hop-deprived days, craft brew meant a 45-cent mug of Prior Double Dark at McGlinchey’s. So, when the Foodery filled its glass-door coolers with hard-to-pronounce Bavarian treats, well, let’s just say a single bottle of Wurzburger Oktoberfest pulled from Adrian’s fridge and wrapped in a brown paper bag for immediate consumption on my front steps may have been the start of Joe Sixpack’s lifelong beer jones.
“It is true,” Adrian says in his precise, clipped English. “As of Aug. 1, the Foodery is owned by Mr. Jack Lee. ”
I gulp. Bug before I ask the next obvious question, Adrian says, “Don’t worry. He’s going to keep the store just like it is.”
“Beer is volume with profit.” – Miller Brewing sales slogan.
When you put it like that, there really is no reason for a store like the Foodery to exist. Even in these supposedly enlightened days of hand-crafted ales, 80 percent of the beer we drink is factory-made Budcoorsmiller.
Adrian could mindlessly fill his row of coolers with 12-packs of Bud Light and and make a healthy buck. Just turn on the neon and the 40s pour out the door. Shelf space is the currency of the megabrew economy. The Big 3 battle for it with an artillery of brands (Miller, MGD, Icehouse . . . ) and packaging (cans, quarts, 30-packs . . . .) that balkanizes the cooler and edges out the little guys. Detailed sales models designed by the breweries’ humorless numbers-crunchers can predict exactly how many six-packs of Miller Light they’ll sell if they move the Slim Jims to the other side of the cash register.
Is it any wonder, then, that your corner store can’t find room for an obscure label like Heavyweight Baltus?
The economic reality of mass beer marketing is all the more troublesome in Pennsylvania, where anti-consumer laws thwart the sale of singles and six-packs. The businesses that actually have the space to stock three or four hundred different labels – distributors – can sell only by the case. Even if you had 90 bucks for a case of Liefman’s Goudenband, who the heck wants 24 bottles of the stuff?
Thus, you can count on one hand the number of takeout stores in Center City where you can buy a single bottle of Fuller’s ESB.
So, why does the Foodery exist?
The same reason Monk’s Cafe pours draft lambic. The same reason Standard Tap refuses to serve any brew that’s not made within 50 miles of the city.
The same reason Shangy’s in Emmaus and Friedland’s in North Philly carry 20 different bocks. The same reason Flying Fish and Victory and Yards are still brewing even as other micros have turned to dust.
“I run it myself,” says Adrian when I ask him how he’s made the Foodery work for 25 years. “It is some trouble to get the beer, to harass the distributors. Plus, the organization is important. The people here know beer. ”
Computers help, too. A database sorts the brands by style and country of origin, leading customers to new favorites. Computers also allow the deli to fairly price every bottle, so customers don’t end up shelling out 10 bucks for a Belgian-style Hennepin just because it happens to have a cork, like a pricier Chimay.
You understand how rare that commitment is when you visit a run-of-the-mill take-out store. Say, the one at the Ivy Ridge shopping center in Roxborough, where the sign promises “Beers of the World. ” Inside, of course, the coolers are filled with Budcoorsmiller, Harp, Heineken, Corona, the usual dreck. There are no micros, not even Yards, which is brewed and bottled exactly three-fourths of a mile away.
I ask the guy behind the counter how he decides what to stock.
“Oh, we just carry the basic things. You know, that’s what the neighborhood people want. ”
“Don’t worry,” Adrian assures me again. “Mr. Lee is already studying hard on his beers. Make sure your readers know the selection won’t change. ”
OK. But either way, I’m raising a glass now to Adrian Paulus, a Philly beer drinking hero.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with Humboldt Oatmeal Stout.