Consider the local liquor store

Denver Post/Nov. 2015

By Alex Miller

On Halloween this year, we stopped by the most excellent liquor store near our home for their regular Saturday tasting. We enjoy these events at Davidson’s Liquors on Holly and Countyline because we get to try sips of wines, beers and cocktails we’ve never had before. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, the selection is excellent and the prices, while not bargain-basement, are reasonable.

We emerged from Davidson’s that day with ingredients for “Blood of the Kraken,” one of four “spooky cocktails” that spirits maven Chris whipped up that day. On other occasions, we’ve gotten tutorials on wine from the store’s several wine experts, learning about vintners, grapes, terroire and as much arcane detail of an oenological bent we care to process.

These guys know their stuff.

On the rare occasions I’ve gone into the Littleton Safeway — the only one in the state that has a liquor store — I’m greeted by exactly no one. There are no wine or beer experts camped out looking to dispense knowledge or suggestions, no tastings, the selection is fair at best and no matter how much gray hair you possess, you will be ignominiously carded at checkout because, y’know, corporate regulation stuff.

So when people tell me “it’ll be great” if and when we have full-strength beer, wine and liquor in every grocery store, I always ask them to think about that just a bit. Beyond the obvious (minor) convenience and perhaps slightly lower prices, the big-chain grocery-liquor store offers little to those who go beyond grabbing the same old Bud Light suitcase, handle of Jim Beam or execrable 750 of Yellowtail Cab.

OK, so maybe I’m a little snobby about what I drink, but this is, after all, Colorado – aren’t most of us beer snobs at least? Do we really think King Soopers is going to find room on the shelf for that great new microbrewery, or that Walmart will have a cooler for craft bombers? Of course not. This is the grocery industry, where shelf space is bought, fought over and wrangled for maximum profit, whether it’s toothpicks or toilet paper. When the decision comes down to a few square feet for hopped-up local IPAs vs. more room for those miserable PBR 12-packs, we know who wins.

There is a compelling argument for allowing retailers to sell what they want, within reason. Certainly many of us don’t like the government going too far in telling us what we can do, buy or ingest. But these old “blue” laws have been in place for quite some time, we’re used to them, and they’ve had the side benefit of creating a thriving mom-and-pop liquor store culture in Colorado.  If Walmart is looking to find more profit, they can add just about anything they want besides potent potables in Colorado. Our local liquor stores enjoy no such luxury: they focus on one category of product and, for the most part, serve us all well.

As Teresa Keegan pointed out in her Nov. 1 Post column on this subject, consumers are not the ones clamoring for this change — it’s the big chains. And typically, we’ve learned, when big business in America is trying to push for something the citizenry is not, the latter generally ends up hosed in some way.

No matter the result, my loyalties will remain with stores like Davidson’s, where wine specialist Aaron meets us in the aisle and points out an exceptional bottle along the lines of what he knows we like. I shall sneer at the towering 12-pack displays and wrinkle my nose at the 55-gallon jugs of industrial vodka presented in Costco.

Supporting local businesses like liquor stores is just the right thing to do, especially down here in the ‘burbs, where hellish chains hold sway and the only way you can tell one town from the next is when the Chik-fil-A’s start repeating.

Writer Alex Miller was a Colorado Voices columnist. He lives in Highlands Ranch.

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