In my constant quest for pretentious foodie things, I’m usually left disappointed by Oakland’s beer shops. Between Pitt’s Doggin’ It, Mellinger Beer Distribution Inc. and the Original Hot Dog Shop, there are plenty of places to get beer — good beers even — but none of these places allow me to embrace my creativity with a chose-your-own six-pack.
Luckily, this seems to have changed with the opening of The Bottle Shop on Fifth Avenue, at the site of the former Campus Bookstore. With an advertisement for “Make your own six-packs” displayed in big letters, I was drawn like a moth to a flame.
I entered the store at about 6 p.m., which I quickly learned was closing time. It seemed early for a shop on a college campus — most prep for a night of drinking comes well past that hour — but luckily the staff let me take my time picking out some brews.
The place is in the process of being renovated from its former life as a book and convenience store into a bottle shop in the front and bar in the back. The owner declared there would be a much better selection once the renovations were done, November at earliest.
Despite the owner’s worries, I was pleased with the beers available — to a point. The selection was mostly domestic craft beers — like New Belgium and Flying Dog — and the macrobrews foreign and domestic — Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and Peroni were welcome sights.
I selected my noble six brews — off to a “Sausage Party”-esque fate — and went to pay, after which the cashier tallied up each beer with a scan. I had noticed individual prices under the beers, but figured there was some overarching deal for picking my own. All together, my bill came to $19.25, but I was told prices might change once the shop was fully set up.
Despite that early snafu, I was pleasantly surprised to find the beer still cold after my walk home through the humid oven South Oakland becomes this time of year. Sometimes I find beer from other places isn’t kept as cool as I’d like in their stores, leading it to warm during my return. But the Bottle Shops’ managed to survive my travels in pristine condition.
I burned through a few that afternoon — the rest had a slower fate. Here I report the grisly aftermath with nothing but a few solemn burps.
Flying Dog Brewery
Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA
I am decidedly against the Cold War arms race level of competition in American beer right now to try and create the best hop delivery system with IPA’s. Everytime I pick one up, I’m usually left with nothing but a profound disappointment and a dry, bitter mouth. Still, there have been a few exceptions, and I’ve enjoyed the few Flying Dog beers, so I figured it could make a nice complement to the rest of my six-pack. It had a pleasant and mellow head into a slight lull in flavor. Then the inevitable hop assault began. It overwhelmed the tongue and mouth, then receded, leaving a mildly fruity finish. Would I drink one? Yes. Would I drink a six-pack of them? No. Exactly why customization is critical. 3/5
Goose Island Beer Co.
312 Urban Wheat Ale
The bottle advertised it as an award-winning beer, and as I am in a city and very much into ale on a warm night, I figured this would be a perfect match. The beer was very bubbly and drinkable, but it had no strong flavor notes besides the wheat finish, which was disappointing after a very strong sour aroma. It felt like an upscale macrobrew, meant more to avoid offending anyone’s palate by committing to a strong flavor. It certainly achieved that goal, and it would probably be a real thirst quencher on tap, but I would not waste a six-pack choice on it again. 2.5/5
Dead Guy Ale
The bottle had given me precious little details on the beer, but I wanted to take a risk in my six-pack. I smelled coffee and malt when I popped this beer. It was incredibly smooth, with few bubbles, and rather sweet, like honey or chocolate, with a bitter finish. Carbonation was present but not overwhelming, enough to be refreshing and cut the strong flavors. Overall, I was happy to see my faith rewarded, and would happily drink again. 4/5
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Eliot Ness Amber Lager
Great Lakes joins Flying Dog as another craft brewery who I wanted to explore further than I have. The ale was smooth and bitter with hops to start. Unlike an IPA’s hops, which constantly have me sipping in hope of a seemingly unattainable relief from thirst, this beer finished sweet with notes of caramel, pecan and smoke. Decently bubbly, I could see myself drinking this all day if I had the money, time and lack of responsibility. A worthy selection. 4.5/5
I figured I should grab one European beer, so I made it Delirium, with it’s lovely dancing elephant and foil wrapped bottle. A nice fruity smell greeted my nose, while the beer itself was smooth with a pleasant fizz. It had a natural palette of flavors, such as honey and barley. The beer had a nice balance between malt and hops, which gave it a pleasant, unprocessed taste — like an evening in an old-world cafe. It’s on my “go-to” list now. 4/5
Small Town Brewery
Not Your Father’s Root Beer
I’ve seen the rise of hard sodas and alcoholic root beers, and decided I’d dip my toes into the trend with this choice. Really, there’s not much to say — it tasted like a very strong root beer, with caramel, sassafras and vanilla, providing decent amounts of sweet and bitter. More carbonation might help it’s flavors meld better and complement rather than simply exist on the tongue. I could get behind the hard soda concept, but this one felt overdone. 1.5/5
Overall, while the price seemed a little high, I was pleased with my beers and the choices presented. It’s worth noting as well that the average price per beer — $3.21 — was still half what I’d be paying at a bar for the same bottle. If a $12 six-pack option becomes available, with an even wider selection, than Oakland might have itself a serious new competitor for best beer shop on campus.