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The Science of the Cooler and Why You Should Love Your Local Specialty Beverage Buyer

The Science of the Cooler and Why You Should Love Your Local Specialty Beverage Buyer
Jordan Palmer

So I’ve got 30 minutes to kill. The oldest son is safely absorbing useful information at his tutor’s home which happens to be three floors above the Whole Foods Market in the Central West End. Lucky for me this particular Whole Food Market happens to have a wonderful beer bar, with some excellent beers on tap.

After downing a Collaboration No. 6 – Barrel-Aged Blend by Boulevard Brewing Co., I decided to check out the bottle selection. I mosied on over to the back corner where I began my slow roll of checking out labels, brewery locations, beer types and prices. This is where I ran into David French.

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While I wasn’t there to buy, I clearly had that look of someone in deep, beer contemplation. Ever the professional, David asked if needed any help making a selection.

“No, I am just looking,” I said. “I love to look.”

From there the conversation ensues, and where I find the opening, I’ll mention I blog about beer, wine and spirits. And sometimes, the person I’m talking to introduces themselves, and that is when the conversation gets fun.

In this case, David and I began discussing the beer they had in the cooler, which led me to ask, what it was he did? He told me he was a specialty beverage buyer, and it’s his job to make sure that the cooler is stocked beautifully and creatively. I was hooked.

What the heck is a specialty beverage buyer?

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A specialty beverage buyer is, simply put, the person(s) responsible for the day to day purchasing, operations, stocking and selling of any of the alcoholic beverages at the store. They are also considered the most knowledgeable and highly trained individual in the store for anything relating to anything alcohol related. This includes wine, beer and spirits and anything else with alcohol in it (mead, cider, alcoholic soda/seltzer, sake, etc.)

Depending on the store size, location, etc., there are often more than one “buyer,” perhaps one handling wine and another beer and another taking care of spirits.

“I’ve been trained specifically for my role,” said French.

And that training continues. Whole Foods is planning to send French to a Sommelier level 1 class in Chicago this month. “Basically they let me take the reins, be autonomous in my role and provide assistance/help/education when I need and request it.”

Like any responsible position, education is key to success, but so is just having that base of hardcore knowledge, information, education, facts, understanding and expertise that have been acquired about all things booze!

“From Soju (which I don’t even currently sell) to your classiest Cabernet Sauvignon or Oakiest most traditional Chardonnay, from the macro brewery and great behemoth that is Budweiser to the smallest most obscure local St. Louis brewery and from nastiest cheap gut rot vodka to the most delicious American-made whiskeys, or the most limited and hard to find Mexican tequilas, I have quite a lot rolling around in the ole’ noggin when it comes to any of these products,” said French.

But back to the beer. French’s coolers are loved. You can just tell.

“A specialty beverage buyer dealing with beer is definitely the most sought after “buyer” position. That is probably because it is the most fun. Not that it is actually on paper more enjoyable than buying any of those other products, but because customers get excited about it. That would be the “Cachet.”

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As previously stated, a specialty beverage buyer needs to know their stuff, because as was the case with my visit, it is often them who interacts with customers like us.

“This is particularly the case with beer. As you well know craft beer has completely blown up in the last decade, and so have craft spirits. I rarely deal with, for lack of a better word “angry” beer or spirits customers. Most people are just happy to be imbibing and trying new things, and people are generally excited about its consumption. This is the “fun.”

So, the next time you’re at your favorite bottle shop, don’t be shy. Take a chance and start a conversation with someone who works there. This will be your gateway to finding something new you will like, or knowing when something you already love is ready and waiting for you.


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