Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Four Firkins

For this post I thought I would do a review of Minnesota's first and only purely craft beer store, The Four Firkins.  I have been going to this place for years and they really were at the forefront of the local (and national) craft beer revolution.  A firkin is a quarter barrel of beer for those who wonder what the name means.

The shop was started by Jason Alvey, an Australian ex-pat with a great accent, whom I had known from a short lived but educational beer podcast called What Ales Thee?  Initially the store was located in a tiny storefront between a laundry and a car repair joint, with the world's worst parking lot.  It was a tough sell to get people to come to a small store that only sold beer...no wine, no liquor, no Budweiser or Coors, just craft beer.  In the first year there were limited hours and Alvey was the only guy working there, pulling long hours and scraping by.  Slowly the local craft beer scene changed, with more interesting beers to be found, and more and more media coverage.  Alvey has become a local beer expert, tapped frequently for news spots and articles, and bringing attention to his store as well as the craft beer boom.  Business picked up and new faces were seen running the store.  Special tasting events were held, but the tiny store could not hold more than 15 people at a time and this size limitation prompted Alvey to find a new space for the store. 

The new store is located just off HWY 100 and Excelsior BLVD in Minnetonka, and has a nice parking lot in back.  Still small and cozy, but more room to move around and display a lot more specialty beers.   The custom shelving is dark wood, filled with more beers than you can count, most have decorative old empty growlers or cool glassware perched atop them.  The centrally located cash register area is nearly an open gazebo made of matching dark wood, and easily accessible from either side for quick check out.  Large cooler cases line one wall for those who need to drink their beer right away.  An amazing array of brewerania lines the few open walls that aren't lined with shelving.

They remain the only all-beer store in the state, though they do have an expanding selection of hard ciders and meads.  They have a tiny glass case filled with spirits that are made by breweries such as New Holland and Rogue, but are very selective about what they sell.  That selectivity goes for all of their products as well.  They don't carry mass market beers at all, but have an amazing selection of craft beers, arranged by style.  Sections exist for Belgian, IPA, Strong ales, sours, etc.  There is a large wall filled with singles so one can make a mix pack of beers for those of  us with difficulty making decisions.  Special and limited release beers abound here, making it the first stop when looking for something cool and unusual.  My wife heads here for Christmas shopping, asking them to help her pick out something new and rare for under the tree.  The staff is always busy, but helpful and I believe that all are trained as Ciccerones or BJCP judges so they really know their stuff. 

The Firkins has become my way of keeping up with what beers are around.  They have embraced beer geek culture and social media, and checking their facebook status and e-mails often alerts one to special beers that sell out fast.  I'll often have to send my mom out to get those beers since they quickly disappear before I can get home from work! 

There is a small but well attended bar in the corner of the space where they have tastings of beers and often have distributors and brewers there for beer unveilings.  They also have a small selection of beer related books and magazines to fulfill all of your reading needs.

Not content to just run a beer store, Alvey has taken it upon himself to get involved in changing some of the historic blue laws in the state of Minnesota.  He was instrumental in getting a law passed that allows liquor stores to sell apparel, though he had to fight a long and difficult battle for this.  Now he sells truly humorous shirts and hats at the store, and the antediluvian law has been changed to fit with our modern time of advertising and product placement.  He is currently working on educating and encouraging liquor sellers to change the No-Beer-On-Sunday laws, pointing out that folks can drive across the border to Wisconsin and buy beer on Sunday.  So far he hasn't had a lot of backing from local sellers.  From my standpoint as a buyer, I am much more likely to take a trip out to the store on a Sunday when I'm not working than during the week after a long busy workday.  The Firkins was also involved with Midwest Supplies and Steel Toe Brewery in a large fundraiser this summer called the Beermuda Triangle.

Overall, The Four Firkins is certainly my favorite beer store and I really respect Alvey and the staff here for their knowledge and for their passion for craft beer.  If you haven't been there yet, you need to take a field trip here...try a Saturday morning and go over to Steel Toe for tastings and Growler sales after!


Drawdy said...

Do you pay a premium at this place or do you think they sell at or below MSRP usually?

Eric Wentling said...

They are sometimes slightly more expensive than an MGM, but being able to get nearly every beer in the store as a single and getting a knowledgable staff makes up for that. They also offer a discount for paying in cash.