A selection of more than 600 beers surrounded me on refrigerated grocery shelves that seemed to stretch on forever, and a money clip brimming with cash in my jacket pocket bounced against my ribs like a reassuring pat with each step. Yet I had to hold back from the splurge that would have otherwise been irresistible.
Why the restraint? Because the store is offering 20 percent off all six packs -- including build-your-own packs made up of single bottles -- this Sunday.
If one's liver can get blue balls, mine had a serious case.
But that didn't mean I came away empty-handed.
I had heard tale of the awesome selection, but yesterday was my first visit to the new Park Lane Whole Foods. First, but most certainly not my last. When it comes to beer, it stomps Central Market, literally and figuratively its nearest competitor, with consistently lower prices and what felt like twice the shelf space.
An entire aisle of American beers -- easily more than half of them small-batch craft brewers -- took up one side of the beer row, while the other was dedicated to imports, large-format bottles and assorted singles. It was beautiful.
And like the most memorably beautiful people in the world, it had its flaw.
A small corner of the shelf space was conceded to Budweiser, Coors and Miller and their light variants. Hopefully that beauty mark doesn't turn out to be a tumor.
"We've kept it friendly enough to shop, but esoteric enough to be interesting," said beer and wine head honcho Chris DeMers.
By "friendly," he means the idea was to not overwhelm shoppers with an intimidating selection. Indeed, there are many familiar faces on the shelves, as not-so-micro microbrewers like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Stone hold sizable plots of real estate on the shelves. And Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson-Coors' tentacles extend beyond their Bud/Coors/Miller corner, with their simulations of craft beers like Shock Top.
A leisurely stroll through the aisles yielded several beers I'd never seen elsewhere, some of which I'd never even heard of. A random sampling of new faces: Brewdog Hardcore IPA, Widmer Deadlift IPA, Buffalo Bill's Brewery's Orange Blossom Cream Ale; Indian Wells' Mojave Red, Mojave Gold and Lobotomy Duck; Lhasa (a Tibetan beer, apparently); Qulmes ("Argentina's favorite beer"); Fullers Vintage Ale (which came in a box!); and Dubvisson Scaldis.
Best of all is the news from DeMers that "everything is moving."
"We don't have any dogs on the shelf," he said. "There are some high points, but it's all selling."
Up to 20 percent of what the store stocks is his choice, and right now it sounds as if DeMers is taking requests for any and all beers available in the area.
"Yeah, I've had a lot of obscure requests," he said. "Some of them, I had to go upstairs and Google."
I held off on buying six-packs, but picked up a 22-oz. bottle of Brother David's Triple Abbey Style Ale and a bottle of Erdinger Dunkel. Also, on the recommendation of specialty team member Alex Blue, I picked up a bottle of Orval Trappist Ale. At $4.99 for an 11.2-oz. bottle, it had better be as good as he made it sound. Haven't tried it or the dunkel yet, but following is the Hophead Beer Scoring System evaluation of Brother David's Triple.
There's no Hophead ranking system for stores or bars (yet) but right now it's got my hearty recommendation. Hopefully the selection stays just as creative as it is now and doesn't stagnate -- and the low-quality macro-brews stay confined to that tiny little corner.
Appearance: Hazy golden orange, with a small head that left no lacing. The label's drawing of, presumably, David in a monk's outfit waist-deep in water is a funny tongue-in-cheek touch, and I like the "You Are Worthy" slogan -- a sly jab at Arrogant Bastard, no doubt. Too bad the first sentence of the beer bio negates any possible bonus points for packaging, as it starts off "The brewer's [sic] of Anderson Valley..." Extraneous apostrophes are my all-time punctuation pet peeve. 8/10
Nose: Yeasty and wild, with alcohol and sugars intertwined like lovers. 9/10
Taste: Very smooth caramel, toffee and honey sweetness with the effervescent rowdiness and potent yeast character of a good Abbey-style ale, but with some hop assertiveness to it. Addictively drinkable. 35/40
Body: Nice carbonation despite a humble head, a bit thin but pleasant and appropriate to the style. 8/10
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Finish: Nice refreshing bitterness at the end. 9/10
Style/originality: A very well-done Abbey-style ale with a California accent. 10/10
Party factor: 10.0 ABV, and a 22-oz. bottle cost $7.49, which comes to a score of 2.45, rounding down to 2.
Total: A very respectable 81