The View From Behind Two Counters

Beer secrets from a man who works at brewery and a liquor store.

I had the pleasure of meeting Griffin one Saturday afternoon driving through northern Indiana. I knew Chapman’s from the brown they distributed in the region and I finally had a chance to visit the place.

I had an amazing experience that afternoon. Not just from the good beer but also from a guy that really understands the art of being a good bartender. He has a unique background working at both a brewery taproom and a liquor store and I was delighted when he agreed to this interview.

Liquor store customers vs. brewery patrons

David: So Griffin, tell us about the differences between your customers at the brewery compared to those at the liquor store.

Griffin: Over at the brewery (Chapman’s) customers are way more particular. It’s usually the older guys that just want a quiet place to hang out. There’s a larger crowd on the weekend when we have music.

As opposed to the liquor store where there’s just about every one in town coming in, so it’s a different atmosphere. I don’t have a chance to have a conversation with someone when I have to get them in and out as fast as possible. They are a usually more aggressive at the liquor store.

Usually people come into our store looking for craft beer, they know exactly what they are looking for. Now I can have conversations with those guys all day long, just about the stuff they’ve drank and what their opinions are. I try to learn from them as much as I can, as it helps me to make more sales.

A lot of times they’ll be stuck between a choice and I’ll describe how the beer is versus which one I think is better. I will say with the liquors in the store they do have questions on those.

Brewery Bankruptcies

Griffin: From the pure retail point of view, we only hear about them after it’s too late. A distributor will come in to the store and we’ll ask about a particular beer. The rep will say “oh they went out of business, bankrupt they’re gone”. We get blindsided and we have to scramble to fill the shelves.

From my perspective it’s usually only two reasons;
1. They couldn’t keep up and they went out of business naturally.
2. The owners are complete idiots. Whoever was running the show was spending their money way too liberally and on the weirdest of things.

Dark Horse investing in saddles? What are you doing? It’s irritating sometimes. You had all this promise and you just threw it away. I heard though that they got bought out and will pick it up.
Note: Dark Horse merged with ROAK brewing

The Worst and Best customers

David: So tell us about your worst customer experience at the <unnamed> liquor store.

Griffin: Worst customer ever, had to be when a guy walked in and downed Fireball after about 30 seconds. So we kick him out and he keeps walking back in with his buddy. We told to him to pay for the Fireball and leave.

David: What’s your best customer experience?

Griffin: There’s not one in particular but it’s usually whenever a customer and I can just have a really good conversation about some product and everyone just leaves happy. It’s when they can get what they want and maybe I can point them to something.

A Blanton’s equivalent for $10?

My boss is a bourbon steward and he can literally talk all day about bourbon. One of things he likes to do at his house is blind tastings with friends. He will set-up Rockhill, Blanton, Benchmark 8. They all have the same mash bill. He’s setting them up for failure. He will then have blindly taste all of these bourbons. Then ask which one did you like the best? Half the group will pick Benchmark 8 and say that’s the Blanton’s. The steward will say, “no that’s $10”.

David: Some would say that it’s the process is different.

Griffin: The process, the location how long it’s aged and possibly what it’s aged in. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not the same bourbon but Blanton’s has such a hype to it. Like since your readers are into Craft beer they’ll appreciate this (reference), Zombie Dust. It’s the same issue.

When customers hoard

Griffin: Zombi Dust – It’s got a good citrus taste and everyone is hunting it down. We limit one six pack per customer. We had one guy walk up with a full case. One of my co-workers reminded him “one per customer” so he walked up to the next counter. We limit sales for bourbon too. So what some customers will do, I hate this, they will come in with their friends, wives, girlfriends because they know it’s one per person. They’ll give them all money to buy one. There was one guy that talked to a random customer to buy him a bottle. Stupid.

Makin’ friends with the beer guy

David: Is there any advantage to chummin up with a beer guy to get the special stuff?

Griffin: The owners and managers do hold stuff back for the regulars. It’s a business relationship. If you keep coming back often and you’re not a horrible person, I can give you incentives to keep coming back.

David: Let’s talk about that, it’s not just that you’re a good customer its that you’re a decent person. That goes a long way too.

Griffin: Absolutely, there’s plenty of people that spend $400-500 but they’re an ahole. Cool, thanks and please don’t come back.

Expiration Dates for those Beers in the cooler

Griffin: The best thing a beer rep has done for me is to explain beer shelf life. We checked for expiration dates. Some of the bottles said 6 months! Was it still good? The reps told me it depends on the style. Guinness and Smithwicks can last about a year in a cooler. The really light styles like the what ales and heffeweizen are in the 5-6 month range.

David: What are they telling you about IPA shelf life?

Griffin: IPAs are so popular around here they don’t stay on the shelf long.

Fun Factoid: Griffin got the job at the brewery when the previous bartender left for a job driving carriages on Mackinaw island. Reportedly he once received a $150 tip for a 10 minute drive.

How much will you tip? Your bartender already knows.

Griffin: It’s less about how they look and more about how they are acting. It’s based on their demeanor if “this guy” has a disregard for just about anything like he just doesn’t care, you probably wont get a good tip. But if you get someone coming in that is just a bit softer and open to your input, then they are probably going to tip well. It’s then up to the bartender to keep up, do their job – be generous, kind and understanding.

David: I don’t remember how I tipped but I do remember when I walked in to your brewery, my defenses went down immediately because you asked me “How is your day going?”

Griffin: My job as a bartender, as it has been explained to me, is that while I do have to serve you the beer, my main goal is just to make you comfortable. You’re at a taproom so you can hangout have a beer , possibly with friends and relax for awhile. That’s the atmosphere we want. Plus it makes good tips!

David: What do you do with unruly customers?

Griffin: Had a couple last Wednesday night. Couple of ladies, they might have been on something they couldn’t stay still. They were out of their seats going here from there. There have been times I’m uncomfortable but I just grin and bear it, eventually they will leave and hey they might be a weirdo but they gave me $10 for two beers.

Advice for those that are not Hop Heads

For those that don’t like IPAs because they are too bitter, you can forget that with doubles. A double IPA is a completely different world. I recommend that you try one to see if you like it. While they do double the hops they also double the malt to counteract it. For me there’s more hoppy flavor but it doesn’t cut quite as hard.

New Beer Discovery:

SweetWater from Georgia just released one , a 420 chocolate stout Chocolope. They brew it with terpines from the marijuana plant. Terpines look like white frosty stuff, like a winter frost. It gives the marijuana its flavor but has no THC. It kinda tasted like dirt. Just a little too dank. They tapped a mango version of it at a bar here in town and the police questioned them (because of the smell).

Insider secret about Chapman’s Englishman

Griffin: Englishman used to be the flagship beer until the IPA came out but the Englishman still holds a special place.
So … brewers keep all these tasting notes. I was allowed to print them out. Turns out the Englishman has notes of “Dark Fruit” it has nuttiness, toffee, caramel but if you look hard enough you can taste raisins.

Griffin: Chapmans has 5 different locations across northern Indiana and we have a seasonal beer coming out soon – Wry American. It’s an Imperial Red Rye Ale

David: Thanks for your time, you’ve got a great and unique background. Thanks for your time and insight. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Chapman’s or that <unnamed> liquor store.

DG Barrett
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