One of the great joys of being a craft-beer nerd is finding a store surprisingly filled with liquid gems—places so unremarkable that you think twice about even walking in.
Maybe you stumble across the store yourself. Or perhaps a friend of a friend finds it, and you’re soon standing before bottles and cans with names you have heretofore only heard whispers about.
The store that sparked my interest in beer didn’t quite fit the unlikely mold: It was the Vons in La Quinta. In the mid-’90s, it carried a nice assortment of imported single bottles, as well as beer from the relatively few American breweries that were trying to forge their own paths. I experienced my first European styles thanks to this store, along with many seasonal offerings from Sierra Nevada, Anchor and Samuel Adams. Ever since, I’ve felt a little thrill at the sight of a well-stocked beer section.
This brings us to two current local exemplars of amazement-inducing craft-beer variety—places with beer from breweries I haven’t even heard of. Places with curators who exert great effort in acquiring and caring for their stock—and are willing to hear your suggestions regarding what to carry next. Places I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with any proclivity for craft beer.
I present to you University Village Food Mart in Palm Desert, and Ranch Market and Liquor in Thousand Palms.
We’ll begin with Hadi at University Village Food Mart. His journey into craft beer began about five years ago, when a sales rep piqued his interest.
“I started looking it up online to get more knowledge on it,” he said. “I was able to get a little grip on the industry and started ordering a few beers for my store. I started visiting different breweries to get in-person experience.”
While his hard work didn’t pay off right away, things started to pick up. If you build it, they will come.
“People came to my store from all over the valley to pick up beer,” Hadi said. “I was surprised that some of my customers told me that they come from Desert Hot Springs and Beaumont just to pick up their favorite beers.”
Bryan at Ranch Market and Liquor was first inspired by a classic: Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger.
“While living and working in the Bay Area, I attended great beer fests that allowed me to try different breweries,” he said. “But once I moved back to the Coachella Valley, I noticed the craft-beer scene was nearly nonexistent. I would have to drive to San Diego or Los Angeles to get some good craft beer. I wanted to change that and cultivate a craft-beer community here in the desert.”
He has learned from the shining example that is his uncle’s store in Placentia: Mr. K’s Liquor. If you are ever inclined to visit The Bruery’s tasting room, the unassuming liquor store—next to a welding-supply shop—before you turn into the parking lot has an eye-popping selection of beer. Ranch Market and Liquor has imitated this to great effect.
“I get samples from sales reps to give out to my customers, check public feedback about the breweries, and take special requests from customers if they ask to me get some beer for them,” Hadi said.
Bryan similarly does his due diligence. “A lot of the beers I seek out are from breweries that I’ve visited in the past, and I have come to love what they continue to brew,” he said. “Before any beer enters my store, I do research on how it was brewed, and I read a lot of feedback.”
If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Both of these stores stock numerous beers that are simply not available from local distributors.
“Most beers that I get are from the breweries directly. It’s all about cultivating a relationship with the brewery,” Bryan said.
Hadi also travels to get beer. This has paid dividends for all of us. “You would be surprised to know that I was the one to introduce some of the craft beers to this valley, like Societe Brewing,” he said. “I was the only one who was carrying that beer in the whole valley, and I did pretty well with it. Stone Distributing added them to their portfolio and distribute them all over the valley now.” I’ve mentioned Societe’s The Pupil IPA here before, and I will recommend it again wholeheartedly.
I finally want to point out a seemingly simple thing that is often eschewed by other craft-beer sellers: These stores refrigerate everything. Refrigeration extends the life of beer—especially in this age of canned craft beer—with hoppy beers benefitting most of all. I harp on this all the time, and I’m so grateful these men both get it.
Both asked me for suggestions about what to carry, and while I definitely had some (thank you, Hadi, for getting Burgeon Beer Company in your store!), they clearly know what they’re doing. I’ll give them the last word.
“I have a few plans for the future in regards to craft beer,” Hadi said, “but I would like to give craft-lovers a surprise. I’m working on it and trying to implement it ASAP. I definitely want to have all the great beers at my location for the great craft-beer lovers out here in the valley.”
Bryan has similar ambitions: “At this time, I’d like to continue to capture loyal local craft-beer enthusiasts and provide them all fresh and reliable stock for all their beer needs. I hope within the year, I can expand my craft-beer footprint here in the Coachella Valley and open a beer cave.”
Beer cave? Are you excited? I sure am.