Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beer Grotto Now Open in Dexter Hybrid Store First of Many Envisioned in Michigan

Written by  David Bardallis
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The Beer Grotto, a new-concept beer and wine bar and retail shop, that opened last Wednesday to a full house packed into 8059 Main St. in Dexter. The 3,000 sq. ft. space, formerly occupied by the Dexter Pharmacy, encompasses a merchandise area featuring wine and beer bottles, apparel, glassware, books, and more as well as a lounge space with a multitap bar, light snacks, and seating for a few dozen customers.
The first of several other planned locations around Michigan, The Beer Grotto was the brainchild of partners Troy Ontko and Brandon Ansel, who got the idea from a similar concept store down in Georgia.

They then brought on as president bar and retail specialist Sam Short, formerly of BarFly Ventures, the parent company of the HopCat bar and brewpub chain. Lisa Manno, director of marketing and sales, rounds out the ownership and management team.

“This is such a neat concept, really a different way of selling and drinking wine and beer,” said Short. “We have what we call tasting pods, little island counters where people can wander through the store, taste samples, and engage with our staff if that’s what they want, or they can use the iPads we’ve set up to scroll through the full tasting notes for the beers and wines we have, constantly updated in real time.”

Short leads the crew of a dozen “Beer Geeks” and “Cork Dorks,” all of whom can “talk intelligently” about both beer and wine, thanks to their training as Cicerone Certified Beer Servers and a sommelier program equivalent.

“If you want to get geeky with a staff member, you can taste through 15 beers and then take a growler home,” he said. “Or maybe you just want to look at wine yourself and taste something here and there kind of on your own. We’ve designed it so you can get whatever experience you want.”

On the lounge side, customers can sit on stools at a more traditional bar area and order samples, full glasses, or growlers from among the different bottles and a complement of 48 taps, which Short says is “well maintained” and automatically updated on the Beer Grotto website as kegs are moved on and off.

“There are too many places out there that will have 20 drafts and 10 of them will be IPAs,” he said. “How about some breadth? Do some sours, do some pales, do some Belgians, do some browns, porters, stouts. If you’re really, truly going to be a craft beer place, you need curation.”

Short says 20 of the taps will be regular staples that people can rely on to always be there, while another 20 taps will offer different seasonal brews. The last eight handles will be for “big, unique, or one-off” beers like Belgian quadrupels, bourbon barrel aged brews, or nitro-forced beers.

“Our first order of business is quality,” said Short. “There’s now a massive selection out there, and a lot of is very good. But along with the hits there are some misses. We’ll always be making what we think are great selections and monitoring the list.”

A small number of cocktails and snacks are also available, including a cheese board, truffle popcorn, and soft pretzels made by the neighboring Dexter Bakery.

The Beer Grotto team has already picked out a location for their second store at 303 S. Ashley St. in Ann Arbor, which Short says should be open in September. After that, they expect to open in Lansing in November and Ferndale in December or January.

“And next year, hopefully you’ll see a whole lot more Beer Grottos,” Short said. The Beer Grotto is open Sundays through Thursdays from noon to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight. For more information, visit beergrotto.com.

David Bardallis

David Bardallis

David writes regular columns for The Ann Arbor News and Great Lakes Brewing News, along with occasional features for Michigan Beer Guide and other publications. His book, Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing, is available on Amazon.com and wherever fine paperbacks are sold. A lifelong Michigander, longtime craft beer drinker, and sometime homebrewer, he lives in Ann Arbor, where he maintains his blog at AnnArborBeer.com.