Jeff Vincent

Bottle Shop R(evolution): the South Bay’s purveyors of brew

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It was a dark time before the revolution. For ages, men wandered far and wide just to find a liquor store with a decent beer selection. A refined thirst drove them to search beyond the standard display of yellow-fizzy domestic offerings; beyond the feigned attempt at carrying “good beer” by stocking Samuel Adams Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. And once they found one, a “bottle shop,” it was like belonging to a secret inner circle.

In fact, the term “bottle shop” wasn’t even en vogue yet, while the concept and popularity of carrying more than domestic lager and malt liquor still remained a trickle in the greater Los Angeles market. Admittedly, the almost mythical Beverage Warehouse has sat in our outskirts in del Rey since 1970, Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market have always done a good job with their selections, but places like Beverages & More (who hadn’t re-branded as BevMo! until 2001) and Total Wine weren’t even around yet.

Sure, innovative watering holes like Naja’s Place and Café Boogaloo catered to the South Bay’s minority demographic of beer connoisseurs and experimentalists as far back as the ‘80s and ‘90s. But good beer or no, when you linger around the bar too long, you become a barfly. And so you had your spots, where, like a kid in a candy store, you knew your eyes would be delighted by the colorful fancy of labels curled around glass vessels containing elixirs from strange breweries like Acme, Dogfish Head, Nectar Ales, or Mendocino Brew Co…

Early birds

One of the earliest in the area, pushing “different” beer up to 19 years ago, was Quick Stop Market & Liquor (located at 2301 Artesia Blvd. in Redondo Beach). When I was in high school at RUHS, in the late ‘90s and too young to drink, I remember ogling over fridge after fridge of epic beer in this store – a very long time before the whole craze had hopheads lining up for Pliny The Younger and scheduling their week around Dogfish Head 120. It was one of the few places to find bottles from then little-known breweries like Dogfish Head, and they even had the cojones to carry Samuel Adams Utopias: a massive beer that’s only been released four times since its debut in 2001, ranging 20 to 25.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), costing at least $150 per 24 oz. bottle, blended from batches aged up to ten years in various wood liquor barrels. To date, Quick Stop maintains over 250 different beers in the store at one time.

With an almost sly, yet always humble smile, Quick Stop owner Steve Joudi says, “We were country before country was cool, if I may say so.”

Quick Stop owner Steve Joudi suggests several new beers to local resident and customer Samantha Debastiani. Photo by Jeff Vincent.

To be sure, they rode along the wagon trail well before others felt it safe enough.

“For awhile, people were not receptive to new stuff… We saw the demand for beer grow and we took a chance, and people took a chance on us… We would have people ask for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and not have to force them to try something different… I hope we can continue to make the difference, as far as people’s taste buds.”

Joudi, whose overt sense of customer service adopted the beer formula of “we turn on your taste buds, you come back and tell us about it,” has traditionally been so determined to provide a topnotch eclectic selection, that he used to drive to San Diego every other month to fill his truck with Karl Strauss Red Trolley Amber Ale.

“This was when you couldn’t even get it,” he says. “Now it’s everywhere. We really tried hard to pull stuff that’s not available… It’s really taken a lot of hard work on our part to keep that ‘extra’ for our customers.”

He also considers himself instrumental in bringing New Belgium’s Fat Tire Amber Ale to the Los Angeles area and Southern California –which, he admits, is no big deal now since it’s everywhere, but was one of the earlier craft beers to penetrate the mass market, behind Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada.

“I kept hounding the brew master in Colorado… said, ‘We don’t deliver’ …Finally, they sent out a scout to find out about the area… asked which distributor we would recommend… we kind of helped them come around, I was really happy they finally realized there’s a market in the South Bay.

“This is how it evolved in this little corner of the world… It’s been really interesting to see how the industry has evolved. Now it’s becoming like wine, that’s how sophisticated it’s become.”

In line with this statement, Joudi also mentions that between Christmas and New Year’s they bring out older vintages that were kept throughout the year. Ever the innovator, for the past 5-6 years he has also offered free home delivery from Quick Stop to help deter DUI drivers.

Second wave

As the craft beer movement gained momentum, by the early to mid-2000s a second wave of neighborhood markets/liquor stores who embraced taste and selection gradually appeared. It became easier to walk into a corner mart or deli and discover it’d also become a “bottle shop” stocking IPAs, Double and Imperial IPAs, Pales, Goldens, Blueberry Wheats, Imperial Pumpkins, Belgian Triples, Quads, Stouts, Coffee Porters, and even collaborative Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porters!

I may have missed some, but… Shops like Number 1 Liquor Mart (located at 1520 Aviation Blvd. in Redondo Beach, who carried breweries like Moylan’s and Speakeasy well before many, and currently offers make your own cold 6-packs), Adam’s Fine Wines & Liquors (located at 1306 South Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, where often found hiding among an immense spread are various bottles, several years aged), Catalina Liquor & Deli (located at 144 North Catalina Ave. in Redondo Beach, who added a craft element to its beach deli almost overnight), Liquor Depot (located at 801 Torrance Blvd. in Redondo Beach, long supporting local and international breweries alike within their vast selection), and Ashley’s Deli & Market (located at 828 Hermosa Ave. in Hermosa Beach, who’s remained the choicest spot to leave a sandy seat on the beach and retrieve some great food with a good brew since all the way back in 1999).

In the last five years especially, craft beer has exploded onto the scene as if God blew upon a dandelion made of malt and barley that’s rained down beer ever after, and bottle shops have since sprouted across the horizon like mushrooms from the sud-soaked land. The once-weary wanderer can now find a decent selection on almost every street corner, in every supermarket, and in chain megastores focused on booze and beer. Even the South Bay’s first legitimized bottle shop surfaced in the last year: Select Beer Store, Bottle Shop and Tap Room (located at 1613 S. PCH in Redondo Beach).

With a view

But standard becomes standard, and between the expected still sits the removed. While important places like Quick Stop Market & Liquor haven’t been overshadowed or left behind, new spots have emerged in the in-between. Oceanview Liquor (located at 3232 Manhattan Ave. in Hermosa Beach) is of the most outstanding.

Owner Norm Kalosh was working at his family’s shop in Studio City when a sales rep tipped him off about a store for sale in the South Bay with an ocean view. He saw potential and jumped at the opportunity in 2007, just as the craft beer craze was gaining major steam. Already a craft beer hobbyist and enthusiast himself, he did a bit of research and believed there was a niche for his new business.

“Demand for fine craft beers is still on the rise,” says Kalosh. “And once you start drinking them it’s hard to go back, your palate kind of takes to it. You can’t really go back to a pale lager or a pilsner, because now your palate has gotten used to this ‘hoppiness.’ It almost needs more flavor.”

By no means is the essence of a good beer based in hops, but it’s true: the West Coast is sick on them, hopheads all the way! And Oceanview is one of the few places where you can find Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA (a hop monster).

Along with a great staff, Kalosh has since transformed his shop into a personable neighborhood establishment with one of the best beer selections in town. Like Quick Stop (who’s currently stocking Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, brewed with real Rappahannock River Oysters), Oceanview is one of those places that seems to get things before they even come out. Over the years, their range has grown from 20 to 30 breweries to more than 150 today. And like a true bottle shop, you’re not always sure what they have.

Employee and “beerman” Kurt Lautenbach has taken to stashing bottles and cases in the storeroom. “They never see daylight,” he says. “At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I don’t want to sell it to just anyone. I want to sell to someone who will appreciate the beer.”

With larger than life chain stores having latched onto the market trend, Kalosh realizes that a lot of the same beers at Oceanview also sit on the shelves of places like Ralphs and BevMo!. Lautenbach goes on to say that being good isn’t good enough, and that selection has to be exceptional. But there’s still a bit of exclusivity with beers brewed in batches small enough to duck the radar of bulk stock giants, which find their way into the better of the beer-focused mom & pop local businesses.

“We kind of have that niche,” says Kalosh.

Oceanview Liquor owner Norm Kalosh with beerman Kurt Lautenbach. Photo by Ed Pilolla.

While the craft industry is still germinating from its infancy in the LA area, unquenchable demand will continue to drive more liquor stores into becoming cultured “bottle shops.” Once the dispensaries for cheap booze, porn, and eye drops, these beacons of taste now provide the community with one of man’s finest artisanal achievements: craft beer.

Additional reporting by Ed Pillola. B