this topic is so frustrating it needed its own post.
when i first started this NA beer adventure back in the fall, i began by ordering direct from breweries online. this seemed the easiest way at first to check out some of these brews. athletic brewing is smart enough to offer free shipping if you purchase two six packs – well, it’s of course not free cuz they just build the cost of the shipping into the price of the beer ($12.99/six pack) – but still, some of the other breweries charge high prices for their beer AND add on shipping. some you have to buy a whole case to get free shipping. so it can get very expensive, especially when you don’t even know if you’re going to like what you are purchasing!
then, add in all the problems that come with shipping. USPS is still having trouble so every time i order something that ships through the postal service, it takes forever to get here. (i currently have a tasteNA sample that was sent out last monday stuck in post office purgatory in mississippi for who knows how long, as tracking hasn’t been updated in more than two days.) and even when private shipping like UPS is used, it’s still a major headache and there are delays. here in new orleans, i’m always worried any delivery will get stolen off my porch if i’m not around to grab it as soon as it’s delivered. (has happened before.) i live in a rear apartment and i can’t seem to train any delivery service to actually drop packages on my back porch or at my door – they are always thrown on the front porch somewhere or sometimes even my neighbor’s back porch, so if i don’t stay on top of when something gets delivered, it can easily go missing. yesterday i left my dog sit to wait at my house specifically because UPS gave me a 3 hour window that my athletic beer delivery would arrive in, and via the app i watched the truck drive all over midcity and my neighborhood for hours without dropping my box off. (it finally arrived at 6:10pm, almost 3 hours later than they told me it would and after i’d already gone back to my dog sit.)
in addition to all this, i have received dented and leaking cans in shipments, and when much of the country suffered from severe cold weather in recent weeks, i read dozens of stories online of frozen beer arriving at folks’ doorsteps, cans completely burst open. i imagine the extreme heat will also be hazardous in the peak of summer.
so because of all the stress getting my NA beer shipped causes me, i have undertaken the even more frustrating task of searching out the various retail outlets around the city where it seems likely i might find NA beer, including grocery stores, specialty liquor/beer/wine stores, and even corner convenience stores. my findings have been disappointing across the board as to what is currently stocked, and i have endeavored to speak with beer managers and purchasers at many of these outlets to request they order beers for me, with mixed results.
i feel like i sound like a commercial for total wine these days because they have turned out to be the only place in town that carries a decent selection of NA beer, including craft varieties from the smaller breweries. during dry january they stepped up their NA marketing nationwide and have since added a singles shelf where you can sample individual bottles from packs, which is enormously helpful in determining what you might like or not. the downside is that they are out in metairie almost to clearview, so a hike from midcity, and they don’t seem to restock very quickly when they are out of things, which is often. i have yet to track down the beer manager as she is never there on the days i am out there, but i will keep trying. i did have a good convo with another worker in the beer department who said he would leave her some notes and the names of some of the beers i’m hoping to have ordered. (mostly bravus peanut butter stout and ceria’s grainwave, but brew dog beers would also be nice. maybe big drop, untitled art, or any number of the new small breweries popping up every month.) but they are still my best bet for finding something to drink.
grocery stores i’ve checked out: rouses on carrollton only has a few macros like o’douls and buckler and sharps, maybe heineken and bud. no craft, at least the last time i was in there a couple of months ago. (i stopped shopping there for political reasons.) i did not speak to a beer manager but i probably should go in there just to ask, as the more retail that carries craft NA the better for the scene in general here in NOLA.
i have looked at winn dixie on carrollton, roberts fresh market on claiborne, dorignac’s, and the big easy fresh market, which has a surprising amount of craft beer but like the other groceries, only has a few macro NAs, the more mainstream commercial brands that i’m not interested in. i haven’t found a beer manager at any of these places to speak with yet.
i have, however, spoken to beer managers at whole foods both on broad and arabella station, asking them to beef up their NA selections. (i also checked the metairie whole foods for selection but did not speak to anyone there.) the photo at the top of this post is of the selection at the whole foods on broad in midcity. both uptown and midcity carry brooklyn brewery special effects and IPA, as well as lagunitas IPNA, plus a few more mainstream NAs like heineken and beck’s. i asked each of them to order specific beers, like athletic, ceria or bravus, and they basically said they weren’t familiar with the NA craft beers and would see what they had available to them to order… that they can’t order what isn’t on their distribution lists. i haven’t been back yet to check if they’ve gotten anything in.
i’ve been in to martin wine cellar uptown and was disappointed with their meager NA selections, and on a whim stopped in at a convenience store at the corner of broadway and claiborne that i knew stocked a lot of craft beer. (probably since it is close to the universities.) they didn’t have anything but the guy working there was really nice and wrote down all the brewery names i mentioned and said he would see what he could order. i pass by there every day in my work travels so will definitely follow up with him.
and lastly, i’ve been in a few times to 504 craft beer reserve, a place that literally stocks hundreds if not thousands of craft beers. i really thought if anywhere in town would have a good NA selection, they would be the place. but no, they had maybe 4-5 options, mostly macro or commercial import, nothing craft. i spoke twice now with one of the guys who does the ordering and the second time he actually wrote stuff down and took my number to call me back when he’d researched it, to see what he could get. i’ll report back if i ever hear from him.
there’s lots of other places yet to check but the story i keep getting from the folks i do talk to is that distribution is limited for these NA craft breweries. the buyers at the national chains (like whole foods) tell me that even when a brand is available in other parts of the country at their stores, it’s not always available to us here. and they always point out they don’t have a big audience for NA so it’s not worth it to them to order a lot of new and different NA beers. they are all uneducated about the burgeoning NA craft movement but sadly most don’t seem interested in learning about it.
personally, i think local retail is really missing out on a LENT promotion opportunity. dry january comes at a really bad time here in NOLA cuz of carnival season, so it’s not as big a thing here as it might be in other parts of the country. but lent is a missed marketing opportunity, as tons of people give up alcohol during lent and might be open to trying non-alcoholic options during this time. grocery and liquor stores should have end caps promoting NA beer and spirits. it just seems dumb that they don’t. but as with most things, new orleans tends to lag behind the rest of the country, so i guess the NA craft beer trend is just one more thing in that category.
i will keep trying to educate and plant the seeds of interest in NA brews in retail outlets around the city. i feel like a one-woman NA promotional machine! if you are reading this and are in new orleans and interested in craft NA beer, please try to speak with the beer managers at whatever retail outlets you shop at to let them know there is interest. i think the only thing they will respond to is direct pressure from shoppers, and it needs to be more than just me asking repeatedly.