We consider ourselves pretty savvy, open-minded beer consumers, with tastes that run from tart, brisk witbiers to decadently rich imperial stouts to Belgian ales so complex that mentally processing all the flavors is almost a psychedelic experience. In short, we thought we had a pretty good handle on trying the best beers available in this less-than-beer-friendly state, where geographic distance from coastal breweries, senseless legislation against homegrown breweries and a distributor stranglehold on the industry limit the number of brews consumers can choose from. Then we visited the beer aisle at Whole Foods' Park Lane location. Surrounded on both sides by more than 600 varieties of beer, we felt like the chimps in 2001 when they see the monolith. Except there were two of them, turned on their sides, chilled and filled with beers whose names we'd only heard whispered amidst furtive glances, even beers whose names we'd never heard spoken aloud.
With its sign boasting "ATM Lotto Money Order Cigars" and rack of spank mags near the front door, it looks like just another crummy, run-down convenience store where you're more likely to find Steel Reserve malt liquor and thinly veiled drug paraphernalia than a decent beer. But check out the back cooler and you'll be surprised by the selection of microbrews and imports, including a few we've never seen elsewhere. Even better, the store keeps a list of customer stocking requests. In one memorable visit, we inked in an appeal for Ten FIDY, an expensive and difficult-to-find imperial stout, just below where a shaky hand had scrawled "Strawberry Banana MD 20/20." It was heartwarming to see that the place is willing to take care of you whether you want expensive craft beer or rotgut wine—or Steel Reserve, for that matter.