For those of you in the Northeast who are so blessed as to have a Wegmans in your neighborhood, there may be some exciting news. You may remember that a scant five days ago I reported that Wegmans was likely to be expanding their beer selection as of Monday, July 21. I finally made it to the Wegmans in Dewitt (Syracuse) New York to find out if this was a hoax or whether it was something that beer aficianados can believe in.
Hopefully, the pictures below speak for themselves.
Wegmans clearly has gotten the memo that craft beer is a popular -- and profitable -- enterprise, as they have transformed their already solid beer selection into a full-fledged craft beer department. Not only have they greatly expanded the variety of breweries and styles that they had previously offered, but they have doubled, if not tripled the floor space to which their beer is devoted.
Previously, Wegmans had a cooler area where you could find some popular macroswill choices such as Busch, Bud, Natty Ice, Miller Lite, etc. They had a walk-in cooler where local beers could thankfully be found (lots of Middle Ages in Syracuse, lots of Dundees and Customer Brewcrafters in Rochester). They would also go above and beyond by carrying not only regional brands (Souther Tier, Ithaca, Ellicottville, Saranac, etc), but also some find craft offerings from around the country (Stone, Dogfish Head, Rogue).
Today when I walked in, I found a grocery store section transformed into an excellent source for craft beers. They had some selections I had never seen previously (Flying Dog, River Horse, Stoudt's, Clipper City/Heavy Seas). They expanded the number of large bottles as well, carrying some more 22oz bottles of Rogue, Lindeman's and Stone.
Wegmans has also smartly decided to keep a large selection of craft beers in the cooler, and offering their counterparts on non-refrigerated shelves as well, so you can either buy for immediate consumption (like in the parking lot while loading groceries) or for storage.
Another encouraging developement is that Wegmans seems to be committed to furthering craft beer as a valid part of American culture. For a few months, they have had a whiteboard with beer/food pairings that I found quite positive. Today, they not only have beer books (some informative, some novelty), but also sets of Guinness pint glasses and sets of "international" glasses (an nonic pint, a pilsner glass, etc).
Furthermore, Wegmans has added small cards next to select beers, explaining more about them. For example, the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA gives a brief lists of food it is best paired with, as well as a "Mild" to "Extreme" spectrum, so novice beer drinkers can better select what they want. It explains the beer thusly:
A session India Pale Ale brewed with Warrior, Amarillo and "Mystery Hop X." Goes With: Spicy food, pesto, grilled salmon, pizza, vintage cheddar.(Hopefully, even Busch-swilling frat boys will see the word "extreme" and pick up several cases.) Granted, the only three options on this continuum are "mild," "extreme" and in the middle, but it's a start. It even says what type of glass from which each selection should be consumed.
While none of these developments are going to blow the mind of the average beergeek, it almost brings a tear to the eye to see really good craft beers thrust onto the stage of a mainstream grocery store.
No, this isn't going to supplant specialty beer stores altogether (and why should it) and Wegmans is probably never going to carry true-school beergeek classics like Anderson Valley, Avery or Three Floyds, they do have Weyerbacher, Green Flash, North Coast and other semi-obscure offerings for this area, as well as expanding their Smuttynose, Victory and Otter Creek, to name a few.
The bottom line: While this still isn't Beers of the World in Rochester, Finger Lakes Beverage in Ithaca or Oliver's in Albany, it's a quantum leap in the Syracuse area, and hopefully one that will challenge the other beer stores in the area to step up their game. One thing, however, is for sure: the days of having to "settle" on the beer that's sold in Wegmans are over.