Know thy beer
New local store the Brew Guild caters to the serious beer lover
Local beer lovers already know they’re in the right town, what with the Sierra Nevada Brewery being located here. Things just got a little sweeter, however, with the addition of a new specialty store called the Brew Guild, located across from Kinko’s in the Mangrove Square shopping complex.
The dream of Chico State University history grad Brandon Tucker, 29, the Brew Guild actually began as an online service several years ago, offering beer-related merchandise, from glassware and specialty shirts to beer-related accessories. The original $6,500 investment project did so well that Tucker decided to open a Chico store and commute from his home in Magalia to the new business, where he hopes to expand his product base.
“When I graduated from college, I originally wanted to open a rare-books store,” says Tucker, a friendly Los Angeles native who transferred to Chico State in 1993. “But that proved too difficult inventory-wise, so I switched to my second favorite love after books: beer.”
His new store is currently loaded with accessories only, from specialty glasses and brewery T-shirts and hats to books, novelty items and towels. But Tucker is in the process of waiting for his off-premise alcohol license so he can begin selling a diverse selection of specialty beers from around the world—which should happen in about three months, he notes.
“Mainly, I want to educate people and revive in them the memory of what beer is all about,” Tucker says. “Beer has more complexity and flavor than wine and has been around longer than any alcoholic beverage in the world.”
When asked how he first learned about beer and came to love it so, he answers quickly, “When I moved to Chico!”
After spending seven months researching the project, which included trips to beer shows and craft events throughout the northwest, Tucker says he realized that there were hardly any specialty beer shops in Northern California (he mentions Portland and San Francisco as the closest cities with this kind of specialty store).
“My passion is for craft brewing and the breweries of the world—particularly English and German … all the authentic collectibles from the specialty breweries themselves. Basically this is the kind of store I’ve always wanted to shop in but could never find anywhere.”
Walking into the store, one is surrounded by colorful beer memorabilia. More than 800 different bottles ("pretty much all from my personal collection,” Tucker says) line the walls above old-fashioned prints, classic beer trays bought off eBay, and other novelty items documenting the history of beer. Businesses represented around the store include Butte Creek Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Feather River Brewing of Magalia, Tuscan Brewing of Red Bluff, Mad River Brewing of Blue Lake, and many others from around the world.
Tucker is excited to be carrying Sierra Nevada items but also wants to maintain his support of the local “underdog” Butte Creek Brewery, which he also loves.
“Sierra Nevada Brewery is generally acknowledged as one of the 10 best breweries in the world,” he says. “They set the standard in this country for pale-ale and barleywine styles—everybody else just copies them.”
The main products in his store right now include a wide selection of brewery T-shirts, all sorts of different glassware, beer games, books and calendars, vintage poster prints ($20-$25), nifty handmade beer lamps ($45) and road maps to breweries along the West Coast ($4.95). He doesn’t plan to sell home brewing kits, as he concedes that the Home Brew Shop on Nord does an excellent job of that—besides, he says, the beer he tried to make once came out tasting more like some “awful vinaigrette.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that glasses can make a difference,” Tucker explains, pointing at the variety of shapes. “There are certain places in the world where, if they don’t have the right glass for the beer, they won’t serve it to you.”
Tucker is full of arcane information about beer. He tells me briefly about its original history in Mesopotamia and a University of Pennsylvania study that supposedly linked beer with the origins of agriculture. And also about a modern movement by doctors in Europe to promote drinking dark beer among expectant mothers because it helps enrich breast milk and actually produce more milk.
“Doctors in the know will tell you it’s true, but most are too worried about getting sued to give that advice anymore,” he says. “Basically, beer has been shown to have a lot of health benefits if consumed in moderation, everything from lowering rates of heart disease, stroke and the risk of Alzheimer’s. Beer is good for you!”
And the Brew Guild will soon have more than just trinkets and accessories. Tucker plans to offer two large wall coolers filled with about 1,000 full beer bottles for purchase by singles or sample packs, including imports and others specialties found nowhere else in Chico. He likes the idea of sampler packs so that people can try out different styles (great Belgians and Germans for example) and hopes down the line to support beer tastings from his store, which would require a different license. But for now, he says he will play it by ear and see which items are popular with shoppers.
Asked about his favorite styles, Tucker says German and English because they are less fermented, less creative with flavorings and more centered on malt and hops. He says he’s looking forward to trying to carry beers from the British Isles, Belgium, Germany and Eastern Europe (anywhere from Russia to the Baltic area and Czech Republic).
Not surprisingly, Tucker says college students don’t really comprise his customer base so far (though the store has only been open three weeks). Instead he finds that the majority of the customers coming in are true beer connoisseurs with refined tastes who “know you get what you pay for,” he says—not college students who tend to operate on a lower budget and look for quantity instead of quality.
“I have my 20-year umbrella plan set out in front of me, but it’s going to take a lot work to get there," he says, setting another empty bottle back on the wall.