While beer bars and bartenders often get all the glory, experimentation and education oft takes place at the local liquor store. And how that beer ends up on the shelf, and the chances of you being persuaded to try something new, lies with the store’s beer buyer.
As the beer buyer for Davis Square’s Downtown Wine and Spirits, 27-year-old Alex Brynolfson has landed the dream job for many beer geeks.
He has a huge budget to order whatever beer he wants, an incredible beer cellar to stock, and he gets paid to do it.
Of course, the job’s not all a dream (ever clean out a can machine?), and involves learning skills—like when to order seasonal beer—that takes a combination of experience and intuition. Brynolfson took some time off the sales floor to give Honest Pint a look at how the job’s done.
ON LEARNING TO SAY NO: In the beginning, I was so excited when I found out what was available that we didn’t have. The first six weeks were a great six weeks, but I spent entirely too much money. I was ordering everything, so I definitely learned to play by the rules, specifically my budget. I would go home and take the Mass Beverage book with me and circle everything we didn’t have in the store.
ON SPECIALTY RELEASES: It’s frustrating, it’s really frustrating, because you can never get enough and you can’t get it to everybody. It’s a shitty part of the business actually. We got a case of Heady Topper in last week. We did one can at a time, and it was gone in two days. People came in the rest of the week asking for it, and what can you tell them? You whittled it down as much as you could.
ON SEASONALS: I try and hold on to the season as long as it makes sense. What’s funny is for all the bitching that people do about the summer coming out too soon, or whatever season it is, they’re so excited to see it. Sam [Adams] Summer comes out when it’s practically still winter and they start buying it up, it’s ridiculous. People are saying, ‘Why is it already out? … I’ll just take three six-packs.’ …
The beer buyer before me, she said something I should start paying a lot more attention to: whenever Sam changes seasonals you should too. So when spring comes out, stop ordering any winter stuff.
ON CUSTOMERS FIRST: It’s really good to talk to the customers, because it adds that sense of humanity because you’re not just looking at how many bottles you sold. You’re actually talking to these people and they’re telling you what it is exactly that they’re thinking. Because it’s drinking, they enjoy it, and they want to enjoy it more. It’s a wonderful little business.
ON SUPPORTING SMALL: I have a set schedule with the [distribution] reps that I meet with. I try to do the littler things, the smaller people first, and support them as much as we can, and that helps me not spend too much with the giants.
ON MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS: You feel out the person and you’re able to get them what it is that they want that they didn’t even know they were going to walk out with. And part of it is luck, but it’s also intuition and feeling out the other person.
ON BEST SELLERS: We crush Narragansett, we destroy Pabst Blue Ribbon. (Other top sellers include: Sam Adams, Smuttynose, Geary’s, Notch, Great Divide, and Lagunitas.) But what’s rewarding for me is the little things that I see, especially the bombers. The bombers are my babies. Those are the good shit, my heart and soul.
Downtown Wine and Spirits
225 Elm St.
Davis Square, Somerville