I try not to be the guy who judges a book by it’s cover, but more often than not that’s what I do, and in my defense I’m right more often than not, but occasionally my snap judgments fail me.
I recently encountered one of those moments when I judged unfairly.
I took the family to North Conway, New Hampshire a couple weekends ago, I don’t travel without taking a peek at the local beer offerings, and in North Conway there aren’t many options. I had asked a few people and done a Google search which all led me to one place to buy bottles, The Vista Country Store.
I punched the address in the GPS, hardly necessary because the store is just off the main drag, but probably a good thing because I’d have driven right by without giving this place a second glance, it’s not flashy, see how I’m already passing judgement before I’ve parked the car?
Stepping inside I was still not sold, looks like any number of small “General Stores” or “Country Stores” you might find scattered across New England, they had coffee and pizza, snacks, a few cases for cold beverages, nothing thrilling at first glance but I wasn’t in the store for snacks or magazines or pizza I wanted some beer. The cold cases had a few of the usual suspects, some macro stuff, a few locals, and then I spotted the Firestone Walker and the Oskar Blues, wait maybe this isn’t what I thought.
Then from behind me the proprietor (or at least I think he was, I didn’t really ask) asked me “Can I help you find anything?” to which I responded “I think I’m all set, just checking out the beer selection” to which he replied “Oh, well then come around here and see the Craft Beer and Wine room.”
Craft Beer and Wine Room?
Yep, I had judged, then I saw some gems in the cooler, cast a doubt on my judgment and was nailed with the reality that this tiny little store that I would have never just popped into on my own had a craft beer and wine room, and as observant as I am, I walked in with no thought to explore past the cooler and would have missed out completely.
The selection in the craft beer and wine room was slim, but pretty stellar, the space in the store is limited which means they can’t mess around with average, and they don’t, there is a selection of locally brewed beers, some of Maine’s finest and stuff that doesn’t make it to Maine, I didn’t spend any time looking at the wine but it looked like a decent selection and there was cider as well.
The Vista Country Store turned out to be a diamond in the rough for beer geeks, like others I’ve encountered, Hogan Road Deli in Bangor looks like a gas/service station and it is but they carry a killer beer selection. The Warren General Store in Warren, Vermont just looks like a small town general store leaning towards tourist trap and if you didn’t know you’d probably never guess they are one of the places that Lawson’s Finest Liquids makes drops and the few other beers they carry are impressive as well.
Stores like Vista that venture into the world of craft, and have an enthusiastic, craft beer minded buyer have the opportunity to cater their selection towards higher end or unique without having to worry about filling the shelves, their space constrictions allow them to drop out the average, if they want to, it also makes it easier to shop, I love getting lost in the big bottle shops with aisle after aisle of beer but it can be overwhelming, where Vista, from what I could see, carries under 100 different beers, probably well under that mark and in a few short minutes you have the lay of the land and can begin choosing what speaks to you without getting drowned in options.
Check out Vista Country Store if you’re passing through North Conway, New Hampshire, the selections are great, just go to the back of the store, the owner is excited about beer, I don’t know if it’s normal or if he just liked my selections but he threw in a bottle opener keyring and the latest issue of Beer Advocate Magazine, who does that? Vista Country Store. I’ll continue to work on my quick judgment problem and maybe I’ll just start popping into random stores to find out who’s got an amazing beer selection just waiting to be discovered.