Bottle Shop Tales: Snohomish County’s Finest
A few weeks back, a customer at Homebrew Heaven asked me if I had tried Dogfish Head Bitches Brew. I had. After a brief discussion about its merits he mentioned that he had had quite a bit of trouble locating the brew after learning about it via the Discovery Channel show Brew Masters. I’ve still never seen the show.
Anyhow, the customer then went on the tell me that he had gone to the DFH website and navigated to the “fish finder” section. This section of the site allows you to search for DFH brews at stores and restaurants/bars in your area by zip code. Since learning of this I have spent some time on my own with the tool and I must admit that, well…it’s just another little feather in the illustrious cap of sir Sam Calagione and another small reminder of how powerful his empire has become. I don’t know who puts in the time to keep it updated, if it gets updated at all, but it’s a pretty damn fancy and incredibly helpful device.
Getting back to the customer… he lives in Snohomish, as many HBH customers do (the shop is in Everett if you were unaware), and he was directed by said fish finder to Norm’s Market. “What the hell is Norm’s Market?”, I asked. The customer quickly answered, “It’s a convenience store in Lake Stevens with a massive bottle selection.” I knew right away that I had to check it out, but I also knew that it was Lake Stevens that we were talking about (no disrespect meant by any means, great little town you have there) and the likelihood that it would blow me away was minimal. It’s simply not a very populous area. Such a business would struggle to thrive, in my opinion. It’s especially likely that I wouldn’t be blown away because I spend inordinate amounts of time researching places to buy beer and I’d never heard of this place. You’d think that it would be on someone’s radar if it was especially remarkable.
Never-the-less, I made a point to check it out…to make my own opinion.
It became immediately obvious why the place is nowhere on any radar I am aware of (except for DFH’s apparently). Norm’s Market is the convenience store associated with a Shell Station. There is no sign outside, that I saw, that mentions anything about Norm’s Market or that the largest beer selection in Snohomish County is found within its walls. Unless you live really close by or you just happened to stop there to get gas, you’d never know what awaited you inside.
Even upon entering, I thought that I was at the wrong place. I was in a quickie mart for god sakes! Yes, a shade larger than the norm, but a quickie mart none-the-less. A bit more roaming allowed me to find the beer. About 90% of the offerings were housed in the 20+ refrigerators that wrapped around the back wall and the flanking wall closest to the door. The unrefrigerated bottles didn’t seem to have purpose. They weren’t carefully chosen to be left out of the fridge due to any particular classification or because they have been known to age or anything like that. It just seemed as though they had run out of fridge space.
The only Belgian made beers that I noticed were the two or three selections of Lindeman’s. There may have been a few imports here and there, just the standards, but it became quickly obvious that the selection weighed heavy on the domestics and American Micros. Yes, the selection is pretty vast (the manager said that they were hoping to soon carry over 900 varieties), but there was very little in stock that wowed me. It should be noted that a pretty sizable portion of the refrigerators are reserved for the BIG name beers that you would expect at a Shell Station.
The most exciting section for me was the Midnight Sun row that contained bottles of Berserker and Obliteration VII. They also had many bottle of Deschutes Abyss which was surprising. This is also a great place to go if you missed out on a seasonal. I found it most odd that they had a large inventory of Southern Tier Pumking. The DFH Festina Peche peaked my interest as well as it has been off most shelves for months now.
All in all, if you are in the area, you might as well swing through and keep your fingers crossed that they’ll have a few beers that sold out everywhere else long before you could make it to the bottle shop, but otherwise, it’s really just a glorified convenience store. I still respect the effort though Lake Stevens. It could be much worse. You could live in South Dakota.