Many of us have experienced that longing for a watering hole we could call our own. Call it the Cheers Effect, we are enamored with the idea that there would be a place where everybody really did know our name. (And no, the grocery store doesn’t count.) Many of us have also appreciated walking into a liquor store or wine shop and trusting the staff to make a great pairing for an upcoming dinner we are creating, or give us suggestions on something new to try. What we probably didn’t expect, was for someone to create a place that attempted to do both…with beer.
Enter Taylor Ramos and The Davis Beer Shoppe.
When the sign first appeared in the window next to Woodstock’s Pizza on G Street a few weeks ago, I assumed that what was coming would be something in the order of a home-brewing shop. A place where brewers would go to get ingredients for their home-brewing aspirations, maybe some gear, and tips for recipes. The rumors were it would also have a tasting room, but I had no idea what that meant. Instead, what Ramos has created is a cross between Cheers and the best retail beer space in the area – if you’ve ever been to the City Beer Store in San Francisco, then you’ve seen what he’s aiming at, and frankly should be thrilled he chose Davis. What makes the Beer Shoppe unique is the smallish tasting room at the front of the store that functions as an on-site sample area or Cheers-esque meeting place for beer and some conversation.
If you are interested in finding the perfect beer for the perfect dinner you are preparing, you can purchase a single bottle, then walk into the tasting room and sample it on site. Or if you just want to spend some time getting to know different beers, pick a few out, keep them in the cooler behind the counter, and open them at your leisure. The beers are wisely categorized on huge chalkboards over the counter in simple taste categories like “Light” or “Hoppy” or “Malty.” Just as exciting are the daily tastings from 5 PM to close. Poured from bottles, Ramos wants to highlight different varieties of beers each day. You can order a flight of 4 ounce pours which is the perfect way to figure out which brewery’s take on any given styleyou find most compelling. The Shoppe (as it will soon be known around my home) also has 5 or so beers on tap that Ramos says will always be rotating.
Since it would be shameful to walk into The Shoppe and not actually try something, and since the weather was more reminiscent of winter than spring last week, I ordered the Gonzo Imperial Porter from the folks at Flying Dog Brewery. I had tried some of their other offerings, but not this porter. Ramos adeptly grabbed a short stemmed wine glass and poured the black porter into it, and when I peaked behind the counter to see the variety of glassware available for the different styles of beer, I started looking around the tasting area to see which table I would be occupying for years to come.
The beer itself poured a gorgeous frothy head that didn’t last long, and its nose held some of the fruitiness you expect in certain porters. That first sip banished the fruit away however, and the burnt malts took over. Some chocolate, some coffee, but mostly I just tasted the malts. It was initially a bit shrill, but as the beer warmed up, the entire thing mellowed into a better drinking experience. It was probably a beer better served late in the evening than late in the afternoon, but still, I didn’t mind. I was enjoying the surroundings as much as the beer. The music playing was as tasteful as the atmosphere and the entire aura of the Davis Beer Shoppe is, dare I say, a place for grown ups. If you want to drink beer from a funnel, this probably isn’t your joint.
The Davis Beer Shoppe is a store for beer lovers, not just beer drinkers. “We wanted to create a store where people can come in, see beers they’ve never seen before, educate them, and then they can even try the beer on site,” says Ramos. The shelves are stocked with plenty of breweries you have heard of, but also many you haven’t, and that is part of the point. This is a place, and Taylor is a guy, you can walk into and get some advice from. We’ve been doing it with good wine and liquor shops for years – trusting knowledgeable staff to guide us into things we didn’t know about or hadn’t tried. It’s part of the allure of a specialty shop in the first place – knowing that a professional who is familiar with their product is there to help. (Unlike many specialty shops, however, the Davis Beer Shoppe is reasonably priced throughout the store. I meandered around checking the prices on some of my favorite beers and found him at the very least competitive on everything, and most of them were actually cheaper at the DBS.) The whole experience is for those who appreciate beer, not just consume it.
But lest you think this place pretentious, Ramos insists it isn’t. He is interested in “promoting beer culture” but not “beer snobbery.” In his estimation, “All beers have their place.” My sense is, his new store has its place in Davis as well. Wether you need a new beer to try, the perfect pairing, or just want to sit and sip with a friend or two, do yourself a favor and head on in to the Davis Beer Shoppe. It is a welcome addition to the beer scene in Davis, and while Ramos might not remember your name like Sam or Woody from Cheers (hey, cut him some slack, he’s new), the sign on the front counter reads “We Make Friends Here Quickly” and I suspect that’s true.
More than once during my time there some curious Davisites wandered in, looked around, then waved with a friendly “Just checking the place out. I’ll be seeing you again, you can count on it.” As Ramos slung his bar towel over his shoulder and waved back, I half expected that familiar piano music to cue up and Norm to come bursting through the door.