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Beer Bargains: Stop By Trader Joe’s For a Black Toad or a Fat Weasel!

Trader Joe’s delivers an affordable beer selection with deals that appeal to a well-educated, down-to-earth shopper with an eye for competently brewed specialty craft beers, plus a shot across the bow of fizzy macro brews for the Bud/Miller crowd.

It is a perfect place for someone with caviar taste on a Cheez-Whiz budget.

But the real difference between the new Clarendon (TJ’s) beer selection and the other stores in the area is that you will find a basic spectrum of the major beer styles brewed under corporate pseudo names by several well-known craft breweries. They are craft beers exclusive to TJ’s.

For instance they offer Fat Weasel Ale from River Treat Brewing Co. in Ukiah, Ca. The location is a clue to the real identity of the brewer. Mendocino Brewing Company is the only brewing company in that neck of the woods large enough to accommodate TJ’s.

In a similar manner, the Mission St. beers list Paso Robles as the place of manufacturer that leads one to believe they come from Firestone Walker Brewing Co., which is the only brewing company with the capacity to do the trick in that part of California.

The Kennebunkport beers supposedly come from Pugsley Brewing Co. in Portland, ME. Could they possibly mean Shipyard Brewing Co., whose owner and master brewer is Alan Pugsley?

There is nothing there that pushes the envelope but they are competently made and very competitively priced.

They have a few well-known national brands (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Magic Hat 9), that you can find almost anywhere, plus a few lesser-known imports: for example, Orangeaboom instead of Heineken, and Orion instead of Kirin.

Chimay 750 ml cork-and-cage varieties will cost you the same as any other beer shop in town give or take a few quarters, along with a selection of 22-oz bomber bottles from Rogue Ales and other larger size craft beer bottles.

If you want something that’s merely thirst quenching and aren’t too picky, they offer several canned varieties in six-packs at prices ranging from $2.99 to $3.99 (any cheaper than that and they pay you to haul it away!).

The canned Simpler Times Pilsner and Lager, and Name Tag Lager come from Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, WI, an old regional brewery that used to be called the Joseph Uber Brewing Co. before a Canadian company bought it out.

If you don’t mind light fizzy lager, one of the great bargains is Trader Jose’s Light Lager from Cerveceria Mexicana Brewery in Mexico, which is priced at $5.49 a six-pack, a full $3 cheaper than the Corona Light on a neighboring shelf.

At the other end of the scale is Trader Joe’s 2011 Vintage Ale, a strong Belgian-style dark ale that many consider a bargain at $4.99 a bottle for 750 ml. At 9.4% alcohol by volume, it's herbal with lots of holiday spices like cinnamon, citrus peel, and coriander combined with some fruity sugar plum flavors.

“It is a tradition among employees to buy one bottle of the yearly produced ale, and put another aside,” said wine and beer leader Rick Martin, a veteran of several other TJ's locations.

They also carry cider. Newton’s Folley Authentic Cider is reportedly a product of Woodchuck Brewery whose own Granny Smith Cider is also available at a substantially higher price.

If it is mind-boggling variety that you seek then you’ll have to seek elsewhere. But if you are happy with a decent selection that’s very reasonably priced, you’ve found your niche market.

Our hope is that they might expand their beer selection so it is on a par with their wine department and maybe throw in a cooler to keep the beer better preserved.

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