The shore road running southeast along the St. Lawrence between Ogdensburg and Alexandria Bay New York is a pretty quiet time on a Friday evening in mid-autumn. Bottles clinked in the back. They and I were unaware that we were minutes from a duty free customs wave through. Joy. Bliss. Forty bucks still in my pocket. I was on the way back from a day of being part of the membership drive on North Country Public Radio which supplies my part of Canada with its great programming on 88.1 FM from just across the river. Usually that means a bit of talking good beer with Joel, the station's production manager, but it also means talking about a lot of things with a lot of the staff as well as the other volunteers. Today, however, it meant a bit more - we went beer shopping.
Upper upstate New York, the bit near the Canadian border, has been poorly served in terms of craft beer. There are college towns, tourist towns, working joe towns and a big honking military base but compared to other places in the US northeast there just aren't the specialty shops that you find in Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester or Albany. But maybe things are changing. We had eyeballed the Big M grocery store in Potsdam. I had been looking for a review of CJ's Kegs on beer advocate and came across these two recent reviews for Big M, too.
We headed in an immediately saw a big display facing the checkout telling customers: "diversify your beerfolio." Somebody was on a wee mission, it seemed. Seeing as we were two guys pointing at a display and taking photos it was not long until management arrived. Rick Cross, the proprietor in fact, told us all about his task of the next hour to double the craft beer shelving and get more stuff out of the back. "Show us the back" we said - and he did. We stood around palates of fresh craft beer as his staff crack jokes and gave us looks like "more beer nerds." Rick told us he was buying everything new he could find to give his customers a taste of everything. He was growing an audience, his base. He told us to call him anytime to order in a special case.
After Big M we headed over to CJ's. While Big M is a neighbourhood grocery, CJ's is a keg store a rough and ready sort of place called "the party store" in other small upstate towns. But when we started walking there was Rochfort 10. Here was Bernardus Abt 12. And plenty of interesting six packs. And mixed packs. And bombers and fancy pants corked bottles. Many things not at Big M. When we got to the counter, the lady on the till figured that we were beer nerds and asked us if she should get into homebrewing kits. Expand the line. She wanted to know what people wanted, too.
We headed back to the station and I took calls until five o'clock when the shift changed. Back I headed to both Big M where I picked up beer from the newly expanded display: Jewbelation, Avery 16, Samuri Rice, Southern Tier 2x IPA. I figure there had to be at least 100 different sorts of beer now - not counting the regular grocery store beer over in the cooler. I picked up more at CJs. An easy drive from Ottawa and en route from Montreal to Syracuse and points beyond, these two shops form a quite reasonable triumvirate when nearby Bessette's is added. Just be warned - the wholesalers from central NY deliver every two weeks. Call ahead and get your timing right. It's worth it.