Monday, February 08, 2010


I wasn’t yet a rabid, frothing fan of San Francisco’s HEALTHY SPIRITS beer store until my most recent couple of visits there, when I realized that over the past two years the place has become the SF Bay Area’s finest retail location for off-beat, one-of-a-kind, artisanal beers. The place has gradually changed from being merely an awesome beer store to a mind-blowing beer emporium - full of Belgian specialty ales, Scandinavian brews, Japanese craft beers and yes, the best in American microbrews as well. If you look hard enough you can also pick up some middle eastern treats and a pack of gum & some chips, too.

We decided to commission an interview with DAVE HAUSLEIN, beer manager at Healthy Spirits, as he’s been presiding over this transition and growth the past couple of years. Take a look at what Mr. Hauslein has to say here and you’ll revel that we live in an age where such a store not only exists, but thrives. Oh – and definitely put it on your beergenda when you visit our town – HEALTHY SPIRITS is located at 2299 15th Street @ Castro. Here goes:

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Tell me a little bit about how Healthy Spirits, which was just a normal corner convenience store for most of its existance, has morphed & changed the past few years.

Dave Hauslein: Healthy Spirits has never had a traditional approach to the neighborhood corner store. In its infancy, the store focused on the diverse tastes of the neighborhood, putting a lot of energy into supplying the large Irish population with their favorite UK specialty items (candy, chips, etc.). Another popular, long running aspect of the store has been the Rami’s Mommy’s line of home-made Middle-Eastern food, which is made from scratch by the owner’s mother, from old family recipes. A little over 3 years ago Rami saw the growing interest in craft beer in San Francisco and decided to become a part of that scene. The original beer guy, Matt Pushinsky, worked with Rami to set up the solid foundation we have in the craft beer community. In the 2+ years I have been at the store, I have tried to continue in that direction, expanding our selection and starting the Beer of the Month Club.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What are you looking for when you choose beer for the store - Rarity? Quality? Ability to sell through?

Dave Hauslein: I have been into beer for a long time, and I know most of the major brands inside and out, so I tend to get excited whenever someone new comes along. I look for innovation, and obviously quality. Since we have so many beers at the store, we have the ability to bring in less known breweries and not always buy based on what sells fast. I am also careful about buying based on what’s rare, because sometimes it’s nothing more than a marketing strategy. Besides being as active in the San Francisco beer scene as we can there are some great resources out there such as beer advocate and rate beer, that really help us ascertain which beers are really worth seeking out. Of course the best method of determining quality is always going to be tasting them yourself.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Who buys beer at Healthy Spirits? Give me some examples of your most dedicated customers.

Dave Hauslein: Our customers are as eclectic as the beer we sell. We get local neighborhood people, people who drive in from out of town, and even out of state people. I find that the most dedicated customers are the Beer of the Month Club members. They get 15% off coupons with every issue that’s released, so many of them come in and buy large amounts of beer at once. There is also a growing number of customers who cellar beer at home. These people tend to buy limited release beers by the case.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Healthy Spirits is located in the Castro District, a heavily gay neighborhood with some families and scattered twentysomethings. Why do you feel this store fits the neighborhood well?

Dave Hauslein: The Castro is a neighborhood that has always been on the cutting edge, and with the rising interest in craft beer, we are in the right place. It’s an affluent area, where people feel comfortable spending a little bit of money to try something just to see if they’ll like it. We are also within walking distance of The Toronado, one of the best beer bars in the world. So we get a lot of cross traffic.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: The focus at Healthy Spirits seems to be on Belgians, but I'm noticing a huge selection now of some of the most offbeat & artisanal beers from Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Norway and elsewhere. Is there a demand for those, and what are the best ones & the most popular ones?

Dave Hauslein: We began by focusing primarily on Belgians, but it’s just one of the many countries that are now producing noteworthy beer. In the past few years we have seen mini-Renaissances in Scandinavia and Italy, as well as rising interest in American-style craft beers in countries like Japan. The demand is limited, but I am confident it will grow with time as people become more aware of what’s available to them. I am happy to see that breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and Stone are collaborating with Scandinavian breweries and creating interesting new beers with cross-cultural influences. And then there’s BFM from Switzerland, one of my all time favorite producers. Their Abbaye De Saint Bon Chien is a transcendent beer. A grand cru aged in oak that ends up somewhere between a Flemish sour ale and a Belgian grand cru.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What's the pricing strategy at Healthy Spirits? I've noticed that it's a place where you can drop a lot of cash in a hurry, and is perhaps the most "high-end" beer shop I've ever been to.

Dave Hauslein: Since we are a specialty shop and carry such a large selection, the prices are going to be higher than places like Bev-Mo, where they get special deals and sell based on bulk. But we think it’s worth it, especially when you consider the level of service we provide. We are able to give detailed information on most every beer we carry, and will assist customers in putting together vertical tastings, pairing beer with food, and helping them to find beers that are suited to their taste. We can even recommend glassware, show the proper way to pour various beers, and explain the history/background of many producers. That being said, we currently offer a 10% discount on mixed 6 packs, which includes all bottles and cans.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: You told me that you're looking to also become a destination for high-end spirits the way you are for beer. What are some examples?

Dave Hauslein: Nate Breed is our wine and spirits buyer, and resident expert. He just launched a bourbon blog, and we have developed a sizeable selection of high quality bourbons. Nate hand selects each wine and bourbon that comes into the store, which ensures that we carry only the best.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: How did you personally get involved with Healthy Spirits? Do you have a personal "beer resume" you can share with us?

Dave Hauslein: I first got into craft beer when I was about 19 years old. I tried a mixed case of Unibroue beers one New Year’s Eve, and that was it. I had never tried any Belgian-style beer before, and it turned into a minor obsession. This was when I still lived in Pennsylvania. I found a few specialty beer stores that didn’t ask me for ID and started experimenting with different styles. When I moved to Philadelphia to attend college I got a job at The Foodery, which is easily one of the best beer stores on the East Coast. There I learned a lot, and drank a lot. When I moved to San Francisco I worked at BevMo for a little while. When I found an opportunity to work at Healthy Spirits I jumped on it. I have been at the store for over 2 years and in that time Rami, Nate and myself have made major strides towards being San Francisco’s top bottle shop destination.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: What are some of your personal favorite beers, either that you sell or that you wish you sold?

Dave Hauslein: It’s a tough question, because I change my mind all the time. I’ll start with a top 5 of stuff that we are currently selling at the store.

1. De Dolle Stille Nacht
2. Deschutes Black Butte XXI
3. BFM Abbaye De Saint Bon Chien Vintage 2007
4. Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo
5. Drie Fontinen Oude Gueuze

New and interesting beers are coming in all the time, so if you were to ask me next week, I’d probably give you a completely different list. As far as beers I wish we carried, most of them are things I miss from the East Coast. Yuengling Lager brings back pleasant memories. I would love to have access to stuff from the Troeg’s Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery, Bell’s, Tyranena, Duck Rabbit, General Lafayette, and a few dozen others. Thank God we finally got some Victory brews out here!

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Are there any plans to sell some of the beers you carry online, or are there legal hoops to leap through to do so?

Dave Hauslein: We ship beer on a very small scale. Beer laws vary state to state, so we have to check before we send anything.

HEDONIST BEER JIVE: Finally, how do you see the store evolving in 2010, and then beyond that?

Dave Hauslein: We are expanding our selection while keeping the emphasis on quality. We are also investigating the possibility of having a couple of beers brewed exclusively for Healthy Spirits. As the year progresses there will be lots of surprises for beer aficionados, and some fun stuff for Beer of the Month Club members. It’s going to be our biggest year ever.

1 comment:

troymccluresf said...

But we think it’s worth it, especially when you consider the level of service we provide. We are able to give detailed information on most every beer we carry, and will assist customers in putting together vertical tastings, pairing beer with food, and helping them to find beers that are suited to their taste.

Quoted for truth. Those guys have helped me out many, many times.