I use the term booze indiscriminately — affectionately — to describe anything with alcohol. There are many liquid options besides water and my favorites contain alcohol. I always say I’ll drink anything once and many things twice. Liquid science fascinates me; I’m writing this, drinking a vermouth bianco, and thinking about the friend who sold it to me. He happens to know the producer. As with many bottles, this particular vermouth came to me on his strong recommendation. This is how I learned the value of knowing the right place to buy booze.
Having a place to buy booze is important. Familiarizing yourself with the layout, selection, and nuance of a store is invaluable. You’ll find yourself making decisions on your own terms, which is a great feeling. If you’re getting angsty in the aisle there’s a good chance you’re in an unfamiliar place and that leads to giving/opening bad bottles. There’s a lot of booze out there to dig through; not all of it is good. There are plenty of times when I walk out of a store with a bottle of something new and can only hope that it will be good, both subjectively and of objectively. If you’re floating in and out of your local package store with the same bottle in hand every time you leave; you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s great to have favorites, but you should also be venturing out. You don’t know everything — likely the salesperson doesn’t either — but you should give yourself the chance to at least learn that. Have a friend you can trade bottles with if you don’t like something that was recommended to you. That way you both end up knowing a bit more about your preferences and what is available. Never judge a beverage store by anything more than what is on the shelf and what the prices are. If you have a great guy who knows his stuff making the purchasing decisions you will have no problem finding something awesome to try. The friend I referred to earlier worked at Kroger, a chain grocery store on the east coast. Prior to this job he owned a well established importing company in Chicago, and he also happens to be Italian. You better believe that he could bring in great wine at an incredible price. He’s a believer in small producers, organic wines, and authenticity. That combination makes for great drinking.
If you need help, ask for it. Patronize the same stores and approach them from an informed perspective. If you have a general idea what you want, do some research on the category and find a few leads. If someone asks what you’re looking for you’ll have an idea. If they don’t have the bottle or can you are looking for, chances are good they’ll recommend something similar. One of my favorite questions to ask a sales rep is: “Do you guys have anything interesting that’s not on the shelf yet?” This question is a great way to get invited to small tastings or sometimes to be able to buy rarer alcohol that may be in a back room. Developing a relationship with someone where you buy your spirits is a great move. Over time they will pick up on your preferences or even know when to offer you something that might open your horizons. If you don’t yet ‘have a guy’ casual conversations can lead to a new favorite beverage or at least an experience. It’s a win-win because you both benefit from this interaction.