Wednesday, October 17, 2012

8 Degrees Plato in Ferndale: Michigan’s Only Strictly Beer Store

Written by  Jeff Priskorn
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8 Degrees Plato in Ferndale: Michigan’s Only Strictly Beer Store

“What guy doesn’t dream of owning a beer store?” – Tim Costello, owner of 8 Degrees Plato

When 8 Degrees Plato opened in Ferndale on October 7, 2011, it filled a desperate niche for many of southeast Michigan’s craft beer lovers. As Michigan’s only strictly beer store – they don’t sell liquor or lottery – 8 Degrees exists to educate and indoctrinate its customers into the craft brewing universe. Owner Tim Costello spent 25 years on the road as a stand-up comic, and whenever he’d return home to Ann Arbor, he would invariably bring with him as many regional beers as he could find, to share with his family and friends. And from much sampling and experimentation (why can’t all of our homework be like that!) grew his love of craft beer and the genesis of an idea for a new business.
Beer nerds and homebrewers will probably understand the significance of the name of the business (it refers to a scale for measuring density of beer wort), but for the rest of the population the question of “How did you come up with the name?” or “What is a degree Plato?” is a great conversation starter for a guy who is unfailingly approachable and made his living interacting with audiences for a quarter of a century.

Tim estimates that 60-70% of his stock is Michigan craft beer, with the remainder encompassing craft beers from across America and around the world, along with a small sampling of wines, meads, and local charcuterie and chocolates. The beer selection is partially driven by customer demand, but most of the offerings come from Tim’s vast experience and his voracious reading and research, using web sites like Rate Beer and Beer Advocate to further his knowledge.

In an industry as expansive and diverse as craft beer, many less adventurous patrons might be unwilling to risk purchasing a 6-pack taste unseen. (Ed. Note: Please pardon the mixed metaphor. “Taste untasted” didn’t sound right!) To mitigate some of the risks involved, customers at 8 Degrees Plato can build their own 6-packs, a practice that now seems commonplace at many stores, but which this author saw first at 8 Degrees. And with new beers arriving almost daily, there really is no better way to sample everything one’s heart, or palate, desires.

8 Degrees Plato hosts several special events and classes each month, all in the name of educating the masses on the wide world of beer. Every Friday from 6-8 pm, Tim and his wife Brigid offer a beer/cider/mead tasting in store. Each week features a different brewery or beer style (see their Facebook page, which is updated daily, for details), and at times a representative of the brewery in the spotlight may be on hand. Some Friday events include a food pairing as well, including an excellent “Ciders and Sliders” event this author attended earlier this summer. Throughout the month of July, a Monday night “Intro to Beer Styles” class was taught by AHBA and BJCP member Fred Bonjour. The class sold out all four Mondays, and Tim hopes to host more classes based on Fred’s availability. And to further drum up loyalty and taste experimentation, Tim offers $0.15 for returnables on some Sundays, provided one spends the deposit money at 8 Degrees, of course.

In the future, Tim plans to expand the size of his store in order to stock more beer choices. The Ferndale community has been very supportive of the fledgling endeavor, and 8 Degrees supports them right back with various charitable donations and publicity. However, Tim is not opposed to expanding into other welcoming cities. He dreams of small stores with personality – stores that reflect the craft beer movement. And with regular customers from as far away as the Thumb and West Branch, one can see that 8 Degrees Plato has truly arrived and is solidly fulfilling its goal of educating, and slaking the thirst of, the masses.

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn is a guy who didn’t even like beer until he was 25, which isn’t all that surprising given that the family fridge was stocked with Goebel and Carling Black Label during his tender years. Now an elderly young man, he can finally say that Bud Light is swill and is a proud proselyte to the microbrew world and a loud (and sometimes annoying) advocate for Michigan-made beer. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 100+ Michigan microbreweries and brewpubs, and he’s at least 60% there. In addition to drinking and writing about beer, Jeff is a software guy, actor, voice artist, and musician. Check him out at JeffPriskorn.com, come see his band Mad Rabbit (Michigan’s Live Jukebox™) at a bar near you, and sample his fledgling beer blog at phruityonbeer.blogspot.com.