Total Wine & More has a few locations around Orange County, and although the staff is knowledgeable and friendly, I find its method of sorting beer by style confusing. Remember record stores? Imagine a Bowie album in the pop section, another in the rock section, and yet another in the classic rock area. Unless you comb from top to bottom, it’s easy to miss a new beer release. This method of sorting leads to another issue: stale beer (aka “shelf turds”). A study on flavor loss in bottled and canned products conducted by one of the large breweries suggested a 3-30-300 Rule: Beer will lose its optimum flavor if it’s stored in your car’s trunk for three days at 90°F, at room temperature (72°F) for 30 days, or at 38°F for 300 days. When beer is off on its lonesome on the bottom shelf, bottling dates often are overlooked. When in doubt, check the date code yourself: three months for hoppy beer (IPA or Pale Ale), and up to eight months for a maltier or bottle-conditioned beer. I like that this place gives plenty of shelf space to O.C. breweries, but I’d be happier if the more volatile hoppy beers were given access to the cooler. I rate them a solid thumb’s up, followed by a lengthy stare while nodding slowly.
Whole Foods fully embraced craft beer a few years ago, and the shelf space it devotes to beer continues to grow, perhaps because beer is profitable. It’s grouped by format and brand, which makes scanning the shelf easy. Most of the beer is in coolers. Maltier and bottle-conditioned beers are near the cooler at cellar temp, which is ideal. Selection is great as well, but it disappears quickly thanks to staff social media accounts that highlight the latest shipments. Prices are higher here, but so is the attention to detail. Some stores are better than others, but overall I give Whole Foods two thumbs up, followed by slow applause, hoping the gluten-free shoppers nearby join in. Add in the draft beer bars in some of the stores? A solid salute.
BevMo! is similar to Total Wine & More with warm shelf-beer aplenty, and its cooler looks like an average grocery store beer selection. Only two O.C. breweries are represented at the Irvine location, and it doesn’t take long to find old beer at BevMo!, considering a Pumpkin Ale from a New York brewery was the first thing I found while looking for spring seasonals. Although prices are low if you stick to club-card specials, I give BevMo! a stern folded-arm staredown in the parking lot, followed by a roadside tear running down my well-weathered cheek.