Beer Run: Curtis Park grocer meets a bottled-up need for craft brews
05/07/2014 5:00 PM
05/09/2014 9:56 AM
“The place is a big mess,” says Keenan Gorgis as he welcomes me at the front of Curtis Park Market, an unassuming neighborhood grocery store from the outside and an eye-popping one the moment you encounter the beer section.
It’s an impressive mess. In fact, Gorgis is in the process of rearranging and transforming his small store. He’s adding a gourmet deli in the back. But we’re here to talk beer.
Word is slowly getting out that this place is poised to become a destination for lovers of craft beer. Two years ago, Gorgis bought the store at the corner of Second Avenue and 24th Street. It was run-down, and its reputation had withered since its tenure as a Compton’s Market.
Gorgis, 28, recognized an opportunity to revamp the store’s image by stocking a few high-caliber beers.
“When I got the store, I had nothing but space. It was in bad shape. I was trying to fill it up,” Gorgis said as we headed toward the beer section.
By being curious and open-minded, by asking lots of questions, doing plenty of research and zeroing in on beers that are both highly regarded and reasonably priced, Gorgis has created a noteworthy beer inventory. He’s got popular imports. He’s got national treasures. He’s got limited editions and seasonal brews and the really good local stuff, too. There’s cider, lambics, sours, saisons, Belgian farmhouse and esoteric barrel-aged beer.
There’s Pliny the Elder, too. It’s in the back. You have to ask for it, and he’ll give you one bottle because the demand is always rabid. He’s also likely to tell you there are plenty of other great IPAs in the store. In fact, one of the noteworthy things about the selection is that there are no bad choices.
Before I met Gorgis, I had stopped by Curtis Park Market last month to get a bottle of Knee Deep’s Citra, which had just won the coveted Bistro IPA Festival. While I was there, I picked up a six-pack of Panic IPA by Track 7 Brewing, the hot brewery about a mile away. I was blown away by the selection, and so are lots of other people.
From the street, this looks like the kind of store you’d stop by for a loaf of bread or sour cream on the way home from work. But you might wind up, as I did, with a Parabola from Firestone Walker, Midnight Hoppyness by Knee Deep (also a U.S. Open gold medal winner), Bryeian by The Bruery and, OK, I confess, I snagged a Pliny for good measure.
“It has definitely changed the crowd. There are lots of hipsters here now,” Gorgis said with a smile. “It’s amazing. I would say the age range of my customers is from 21 to well into their 50s. Everybody is catching on.”
I asked Gorgis if he was nervous about BevMo opening soon in midtown, and he didn’t hesitate – no way. Gorgis can do things corporate giants such as BevMo and Total Wine cannot. He’ll never be able to stock everything, and doesn’t want to. His selection is tight and smart and ever-changing. If he hears of a great beer, he’ll get it. If you ask him to carry something, he’ll listen. When regulars come in, the engaging Gorgis will point out some new stuff they might like. Maybe he’s got something stashed behind the counter for his very best regulars.
What’s more, with the ongoing controversy about the ban on single beer sales on the grid (midtown and downtown), Curtis Park Market is the closest serious beer store where you can get singles (along with Pangaea, which is a pub and small bottle shop).
Ruhstaller opens up
In the four years it has been brewing beer, Ruhstaller has made a name for itself with its embrace of Sacramento’s beer history and, most recently, by growing its own hops. Its beers have been largely well-received, including a black IPA called Captain California, a gold medal winner at the 2013 U.S. Open Beer Championship (“American style black ale” category). Its Hop Sac beer, on the other hand, was panned recently by a tasting panel in a much-discussed article on local IPAs in the Sacramento News & Review.
The biggest knock on Ruhstaller has been that it doesn’t have its own brewery, and until now didn’t have a taproom. That’s important because beer enthusiasts can connect with the beer and the people behind it by visiting brewery taprooms. I just visited Ruhstaller’s new taproom, dubbed Swiss Rifle Club, at 630 K St. (entrance is on Seventh Street), and found it to be a very stylish space that really projects the Ruhstaller vibe and sense of place. Owner J-E Paino and wife Mellissa Cleveland-Paino worked on the décor, using plenty of burlap, pallets and furnishings from a used tractor supply store.
“It’s the Sacramento farmer style. We take what’s around us and put it together,” said Paino, noting that the tap handles are springs from the tractor shop. The large table is reclaimed lumber from the rafters of an old barn. There are eight beers on tap ($5 per glass or $10 for a tasting flight of four 5-ounce pours).
The entrance doors are locked, mostly because the immediate neighborhood is a tad sketchy, or as Paino says, “We’re a little bit ahead of the neighborhood.” The taproom is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday by appointment. Call (916) 447-1881 and tell them you’re coming, then knock on the door when you arrive.
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About This BlogBlair Anthony Robertson, The Sacramento Bee's restaurant critic, writes Beer Run. In addition to visiting the area's breweries, restaurants and coffee shops, he enjoys riding his road bike, playing golf and hiking with his dogs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1099. Twitter: @Blarob.
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