WHERE TO START? New arrivals at Grapes & Grains.
In April, we columnized about building the Best Beer Store. We trumpeted shopper-friendly displays, well-chosen stock (bigger is not always better), making new releases easy to find, mix-a-six options, and fresh stock.
There are 246 liquor stores in Rhode Island; most of those have a few token craft beer selections. Beer Advocate lists 62 stores as craft-friendly, with a more-than-respectable selection of the good stuff. I've been asking beer industry folks (distributors, bar and store owners) and customers for their top tier places; 20 or so garnered multiple mentions. Nikki's is the king of the hill, acing every requirement on the Best Beer Store checklist. And they always get the new releases first, as my frequent calls when seeking seasonals and small batches proves over and over. For instance, two weeks ago, the tiny giant had Founders' Backwoods Bastard (the astoundingly good bourbon barrel aged ale) and Sierra Nevada Narwhal (the astoundingly good imperial stout) before anyone else. The flip side, though, is that everyone knows Nikki's gets the real good stuff first and it sells out fast. For instance, last year they blew through 10 cases of Gandhi-Bot in a few days; weeks later you could still find cans of the double IPA at stores that don't have the big rep. When they move to their new location on Broadway, watch out.
Here are the other most-cited Best Beer Stores: in Providence, High Spirits, Bottles, and Madeira; in Cranston, Heritage and Wines & More; and in the rest of the Biggest Little: B&C Liquors (Smithfield), Dick's World of Wines (Westerly), Sandy's Liquors (Middletown), Wakefield Liquors, Charlestown Wine & Spirits, Crestwood Wine & Spirits (Coventry), Vickers' Liquors (Newport), Mendon Wines & More (Cumberland), I.M. Gan (Warwick), Grapes & Grains (Barrington), Clift's Liquors (Riverside), Pier Liquors (Narragansett), the Wyoming Package Store, and the Wickford Package Store.
Most days you settle for the best selection you can get on your way home, but some days you have to shake things up. In our tireless mission to experience all things beer 'round here, we're going to visit all of those far-flung distinguished establishments (or as many as the Bottles & Cans expense account will allow). We started with treks to B&C Liquors and Grapes & Grains.
B&C is a grey, nondescript building on Putnam Pike/Route 44 (right off 295), but inside it's a better beer wonderland (on Beer Advocate, quite a few converts mention how many times they had passed the place assuming it was just another liquor store). Nine or 10 coolers are crammed with six-packs (they stock about 500 beers), and there are multiple racks of bombers and Belgians. On two recent trips I got a four-pack of Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, the aforementioned Northern Hemisphere Ale, Berkshire's Holidale (a terrific barleywine), and North Coast's Pranqster ($7.50 a four-pack!). It's a true diamond in the rough and a best-kept secret worth sharing.