Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SF's HEALTHY SPIRITS ON EXPANSION, STRESS & RETAILING THE WORLD'S GREAT BEERS

Several years ago the small San Francisco bottle shop HEALTHY SPIRITS turned the proverbial page from being a great 'lil corner beer store to being an absolute giant in culling & presenting the great beers of the world to an ever-expanding group of thirsty craft beer lovers ready to gulp them down. My old beer blog, Hedonist Beer Jive, interviewed head buyer and deeply knowledgeable beer expert Dave Hauslein back in 2010, just as the store's reputation as a go-to spot for incredible beer was starting to really spread - not just locally, but for visitors from out of town as well. The store is also a temple of sorts for bourbon lovers, and even for those who love hummus. That's right: Rare and wonderful beers, bourbon and tubs of handcrafted hummus - and very little else. A special and truly unique place.

Now Healthy Spirits are about to open a second store to complement their location at 15th & Castro with a brand new location on Clement Street in San Francisco's Richmond District. The only reason Beer Samizdat knew about this was we drove by it the other day and saw a lovely Chimay sign dangling above a door. Always a good sign, nyuk nyuk. We caught up with Mr. Dave Hauslein again this week, and asked him all about the new store and other assorted & sundry beer retailing topics. Healthy Spirits' new store will be open by the end of this week, so you might want to start loading up that wallet right about now.

BEER SAMIZDAT: Tell us a little bit about the new location of Healthy Spirits on Clement Street. Why are you expanding, and why did you choose this particular location?

Dave Hauslein: We have been considering expanding for a while now. Our business has grown substantially over the past two or three years, and it seemed like the right time. We chose the Richmond district for two reasons. The first was convenience. We spent a very long time looking at real estate, and when it came down to it, the 12th and Clement storefront was one of the best options. Secondly, we get lots of customers at 15th and Castro telling us they wished we would open something in the Richmond or Sunset. It's a part of the city that isn't as covered in terms of craft beer as downtown. There are a few solid bottle shops and some great bars but nothing quite like Healthy Spirits.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: Do you have a sense that the clientele in your new location will be different than that of your 15th Street location?

Dave Hauslein: There will be a period of adjustment where we will hear from our neighborhood clientele about what they would like to see at the shop. We think it's important to listen to your neighbors and take on their input They tend to be the most steady customers and we want them to be happy.  
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What will be different in the new store as opposed to the original location? Will it have a larger or smaller beer selection, or a focus on different styles? Will there be tastings allowed? Will bourbon and hummus still play key roles in the store's appeal?

Dave Hauslein: I will be doing the beer buying for both shops, so the challenge will be to make sure each store has a comparable selection. We have a little more shelf space at the new shop, but less storage space. So you may see products rotate a little faster over there. But that remains to be seen. With breweries like Mikkeller, who are more prolific, we may split the catalogue in half and carry some at Castro and some at Clement. Bourbon and Scotch will be a similar situation. The one difference you may see between the stores are the single barrel bourbons. We haven't decided yet, but we may have a separate single barrel program for each store. Like the 15th and Castro location, there is no tasting license. We will sell the Rami's Mommy's line at both locations.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: Since we last "talked" in 2010, take me through some of the changes at Healthy Spirits and in craft/speciality beer retailing in general for you. I'd have to assume that the last two years have been quite good to you.

Dave Hauslein: We have seen a steady growth in interest. Customers are becoming more knowledgeable in general. Everybody is getting into home brewing. When you have customers who want specific technical information on what they're drinking, it raises the bar for everyone. It's a good thing. Micro and nano producers are popping up everywhere. People are very concerned with the freshness of their hoppy beers. Beer releases have gotten very hectic and competitive. Personally, I've been brewing a little more and making an effort to always be learning. Craft beer is in a turbulent phase of growth, and it's easy to fall behind if you aren't vigilant.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What have been some of the big beer releases or events for you over the past several years - things that happened that illustrated the direction the beer world is heading toward - or just bottles that sold really, really well for you guys?

Dave Hauslein: Well, the biggest one recently was the Westvleteren release. I know some people are unhappy with us about that one. That was really an impossible situation. There is an unfulfillable demand for that beer, and so little to go around. We were given strict instructions not to break up the gift packs. If we had been able to do that, a lot more people would have been able to get bottles. The price was also set basically at cost, which meant we lost money on every sale. It sold out fast and there were a lot of disappointed people. Probably the most stressful day I've had at the shop. The phone didn't stop ringing for a solid week. This is rivaled only by our bi-annual Pappy Van Winkle releases. We get at least a dozen calls a day every day of the year for those.
 
The interest in lambic, gueuze and Flanders Reds, is huge. Any limited release of a sour is a big deal these days. It has overtaken the interest in barrel-aged imperial stouts somewhat. I think the market is flooded with those, and so people have the option of being more discriminating. Sours take a long time and involve some logistics that not every brewery is willing to accommodate. 
 
Our exclusive barrel-aged releases have continued to do very well. While there aren't always lines around the block to get a bottle, they sell consistently and are very well received. I think people appreciate the low key approach and easy availability of these beers.
 
BEER SAMIZDAT: What keeps the Healthy Spirits team up at night, particularly as you're about to open a brand new second location?

Dave Hauslein: There's no shortage of things to be stressed about. We've all been putting in lots of extra hours and spending every waking moment ensuring that the Clement Street shop will live up to the reputation of our flagship store. But it's all come together nicely, and I think people are going to dig it. In spite of the challenges presented by this business, our jobs are made considerably easier by being in the Bay Area, where the local beer scene is one of the most vital and inspiring in the country. I encourage everyone to support their local craft breweries and help them thrive.  

Thank you to everyone who has helped Healthy Spirits grow and find success over the past 15 years. We appreciate your support.

2 comments:

Michael Fischer said...

Good stuff! Dave is a treasure.

Anonymous said...

I voted Dave to be "Man of the Year 2012". Brings in great selection from around the world, nice exclusive beer-aging projects, willing to explain everything, and he ain't one of those condescending hipsters who think they are beer gods.