On September 26th, Prestige Liquors in Westmont, IL held a tasting event in which three breweries – Pipeworks Brewing (Chicago), Arcade Brewery (Chicago), and Urban Legend Brewing (Westmont) — and bacon sausage makers, Big Fork (Chicago), attended. This mini-series of blog posts will detail those breweries, the sausage, Prestige Liquor, and the connection between local beer (local craft breweries) and the family owned, neighborhood liquor store.
Part III: Urban Legend Brewing | Prestige Liquors
Part IV: Prestige Liquors
In this final series, and what inspired it all, I will discuss a local liquor store – Prestige Wine and Spirits. Thirty, twenty, or maybe even ten years ago the idea of profiling a neighborhood liquor store may have seemed bizarre for a writer, if not plain boring. But, that has changed. In the world of craft beer, craft whiskey, independent wines, a culture of connoisseurship, and an appreciation for local businesses — the local, family-owned, independent liquor store has become the all-important cog in the wheel of the vehicle that brings you to flavortown.
Prestige Liquors fits that bill, and it is certainly worth writing about.
When one thinks of craft, it is easy to think of taprooms, cool labels, pictures shared on Untappd, or beer festivals. Those are all great. However, outside of the nano brewery or restaurant pub, canning and bottling beer help a brewery survive — and thrive. Local bars, such as Tap House Grill or Burger Bar Chicago and local liquor stores exist as the conduit between brewery and consumer, between brewmaster and drinker.
As I have mentioned many times in my previous posts (probably ad nauseum), craft and community go together like hops and malt. Craft beer sells to local places, which helps the craft brewery survive. In turn, the local business has more good products to sell, which helps them do well. Additionally, for those in love with craft beer, spirits, and independently produced wines, local liquor stores serve a niche market (a rather large niche nowadays).
One of the things that helped Prestige grow was its use of the popular website, beermenus.com, which allows places like Prestige to automatically to update what beer is available. In a moment’s notice, one can get a digital update about a beer they love and head to the store to purchase said beer. Prestige’s Beer Guru — that’s my name for him — Dillon Walentin, noted that several customers have come to Prestige as a direct result of updating their BeerMenus list. Unlike the days of “location, location, location.” the craft market is all about “information, information, information.” In order to survive, Prestige must cater both to Joe Six Pack who is looking for mainstream, big-named cheap beer or vodka and to consumer that is particular about what he or she drinks, and that is the craft brew drinker, for sure.
The old strategy for liquor stores was about stacking “flats” of 24-case-cans like mini-skyscrapers in order to move as much product as possible is not enough, these days. That was the factory mentality that this nation understood for a long time. An example of that mentality exists on the former hit TV show, Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld’s father, Morty, tried to work for hip, cool J. Peterman catalog company, but he found himself lost in the shuffle. Morty commented, “Cheap fabric, and dim lighting. That’s how you move merchandise.”
That was the old America: It was about numbers and it was about moving merchandise. That is not the case today. In fact, Dylan commented, “Dedicating much of our store to craft beer helped our business grow.”
Today, with farmer’s markets, gourmet cupcake shops, and even private distilleries popping up throughout the nation, people are gravitating to products that go beyond “cheaply made, cheaply sold.” Increasingly, a new generation of people want something they not only know is good, but they want to talk to the people directly involved in the process. In turn, they do not want to be a number, they want to be a valued customer.
Prestige Liquors, a family owned liquor store that opened in 1997 recently went through a major renovation, including devoting an entire room to craft brewing. The room is largely dedicated to Chicago crafts and a few neighbors, such as Wisconsin and Michigan breweries, but one can also get some of the nation’s finest, too. But, if you are in Chicago and you want to buy beers from say, Marz, Only Child, or Mikerphone — this is your place. Not to mention, it is a place that can host an event like the 9/26 tasting event that allowed people to taste Urban Legend Brewing, Arcade Brewery, and Pipeworks Brewing.
In essence, Prestige exists as the conduit between the local craft beer market and your taste buds.
More to the point, the main contact, Dylan Walentin, is in Chicago, knows Chicago, and talks to these breweries on a regular basis. He knows the beer well and can tell you about the beers. He also knows what people like and can then talk to the breweries in Chicago directly. Basically, if you are a customer at a place like Prestige, you can actually get get customer service that helps you get the beer you really want.
Oh, by the way, you can also find wines from all over the world, including from independent wineries. There’s also craft whiskey and, if it behooves you, a Japanese whiskey that I have tasted and can promise you — it’s GOOD!
Regularly, Dylan interacts with the customers coming into the store. He not only is happy to help those who are searching for a good beer, but he interacts regularly with Chicago brew vendors, as well as throughout the region (and country!) as a means of understanding what product they are offering and brewing. Dylan commented, “I am constantly researching. I am constantly up to 3 a.m just seeing what the trends are, what people are doing, and what is being rated highly.” He added, “I have to know everything about the beer being sold.”
It reminds me a bit of the old hardware store. That idea that if you had something wrong in your house, you could go to the store and have the people there not only tell you exactly what you need, but they probably know how to fix it or they knew the name of a good handyman you could trust. Prestige knows the beer you want and they know the people that make the beer.
If this story reminds you of how shopping for wine has been for many years, you are not far off. Craft beer drinkers are far from pretentious or “fussy,” but they are educated and they are picky. For novices, it can be a daunting task to walk into a liquor store and see a litany of beers, all with different styles and tastes. In fact, Dylan got his start in the wine business. He commented on that transition, “Yeah, you know. It is a lot like the win business. But, it’s more than that. The wine business has changed a lot, too. It’s not just about the big winery, anymore. There’s a lot of little guys out there, too, and people who like wine are looking for something new and different, too.” He added, “Craft beer and craft liquor are all signs that there are a lot of people with different tastes.”
Dylan’s wine background explains why he, and Prestige, are fond of hosting tasting events. Dylan noted that people within the wine community are accustomed to going into a winery and being allowed to sample a product prior to tasting it. As he said, “tasting allows a consumer to become comfortable with a drink before buying it.” Dylan and Prestige are big believers in hosting tasting events so that people can not only become acquainted with their products, they can know they are spending their money on something they know they like. Moreso, it allows people to try “new beers” for the first time. It’s easy for Dylan, you, or I to say, “oh, I love a good Barleywine Rye.” To one that is new to the craft scene, that sounds like a foreign language. Case in point, the first time I had a Pale Ale, I assumed it was like a Miller or Bud. It does say “Pale!”. And then I had it and thought, “ooh, that’s GOOD.” It was a Sierra Nevada. And now, well, I’m a big beer geek. Ok, fine, I’m just a geek and I like beer.
Even better, Dylan knows that tastings allow people to meet people from the brewery. Events allow people to feel welcome at Prestige. Prestige gets to know the brewers and employers. It’s community. It’s craft. And, it’s family.
Yes, it’s a liquor store. More importantly, it is a family-owned, local business. The owners and employees live in your community, pay the same taxes as you do, and they are helping Chicago area brews find homes in Chicago area refrigerators…and tummies.
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