In a West Sacramento shopping center anchored by a Lowe’s, there’s a 2,500-square-foot building – initially ho-hum, formerly unassuming – that has quickly become one of the best places to buy craft beer in the entire region.
From the outside, you might not think it’s your cup of tea. The name itself is misleading – RoCo Wine & Spirits (2220 Lake Washington Blvd., Suite 115). Sure, there’s a nice selection of liquor and a reasonable, albeit shrinking, wine presence. But once you enter, it’s apparent the store has seriously embraced craft beer, and the owner, a charismatic 30-year-old named Rohit Nayyar, is obsessed with it.
“This is our famous craft beer aisle at RoCo Wine & Spirits,” Nayyar said as he led me through the store. “This is our warm (room temperature) shelves. We usually try to keep our sours, stouts, barleywines and ales on the warmer shelves, and then we try to rotate them into our cold box as we run out of IPAs. ... Some of the beers that are moving good, we try to get them into the cold box and some of the beers that are not moving so well we try to discount them out. Right here we have one, two, three – about 12 doors dedicated to craft beer.”
The tall shelves are lined with all kinds of labels – not just the good stuff, but the really good and great stuff. IPAs, barrel-aged beers, stouts, porters, Pilsners, lambics, session beers, fruit beers. There’s an abundance of local, mixed with West Coast, Belgian, German and the other significant brewing centers.
Then there’s the inventory tucked away in the back, the hard-to-come-by beers that are rationed to customers who know enough to ask for them. During a recent visit, a shipment of Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic (brewed with cherries) had just arrived. It happens to be one of the most coveted beers in the world.
You could only learn about the rare beer shipments like Goose Island’s Bourbon County series, Sump coffee stout by Perrenial Artisan Ales or The Abyss, an imperial stout from Deschutes, by following the store on Facebook. Publicizing the arrival of the Cantillon would have created such a stampede among beer geeks that the store’s marketing didn’t even make note of its presence.
“Rarest beer bottle I have ever tried or held in my hands,” Nayyar gushed on his personal Facebook page.
Social media sells beer quickly.
“The minute we get a new beer, we’re posting a picture of it. ‘Hey, we got this beer. Come in and get it.’ That has helped our business a lot.”
RoCo Wine & Spirits opened six years ago as a typical mom-and-pop liquor store. As luck would have it, New Glory Craft Brewery owner Julien Lux, then a sales rep for Markstein Beverage Co., lived a block away. He convinced Nayyar to stock some craft beer, noting that it would have better margins than commodity beer and would attract a different kind of consumer.
The more Nayyar studied the market and adapted, the more the RoCo prospered. He has craft beer that costs $3.99 all the way up to $100 for Bourbon County Rare in a wood box and $200 for Samuel Adams Utopias. Now he’s a significant force in the local craft beer game. What he carries in his store and what he says on Facebook move the needle. He got so immersed that he started United Hops Farm to grow and sell hops to local breweries.
In previous editions of Beer Run, I’ve illustrated how craft beer has become an economic force in its own right – how Extreme Pizza on Exposition Boulevard and Hot City Pizza on J Street began thriving during the Great Recession when they got heavily into craft beer; and how Curtis Park Market went from a run-down convenience store to a craft beer hot spot when new owner Keenan Gorgis took stock of the local demand for great beer. Look no farther than local taste-maker Corti Brothers’ craft beer growth to see where the market is headed.
Nayyar has taken that craft beer immersion to new heights.
“The epiphany came when I looked at the liquor business. The big box stores have the purchasing power and they are so big that they can just destroy a mom-and-pop store,” he said. “We had to think of different ways how we could cater to our different customers. Especially being in West Sacramento, this crowd, this demographic, they love craft beers, craft spirits, fine wine. They’re looking for the small batch-stuff. ... We’re getting customers all the way from Reno. I have customers call us from all over the U.S.”
Which leads us to Nayyar’s next move. He has built his craft beer reputation to such an extent that he thinks there’s a market he can tap well beyond the city limits. Soon, he’s going to start shipping beer. While the name of the store might mislead you, the new website, still under construction, is more accurate: hopsgrapes.com.