Rather than throw in the towel after a fire in an adjoining motorcycle shop heavily damaged Spike’s Bottle Shop in March of 2012, the store’s owner saw the opportunity to reinvent the store, and fill a much-needed hole in the Butte County beer market.
“As we prepared for reopening, we looked at the fact that Chico didn’t really have a specialty beer store, and there’s a big calling for it,” said Kevin Jaradah, Spike’s proprietor. “So we decided we were going to be that store.”
Jaradah and crew restarted from the ground up, having the company doing the repairs and remodeling install the largest beer locker possible for the space: 23 doors’ worth. In addition, he had 32 feet of four-tiered shelves installed for non-refrigerated beer. Upon reopening in December 2012, Spike’s—located at 1270 E. First Ave.— had an estimated 700 craft beers from around the world, with half in the cold cases ready for consumption and the rest at room temperature for connoisseurs to enjoy at their leisure. Today the number has grown to nearly 900, which Jaradah claims is the largest selection in Butte County (although newly opened big-box store BevMo! is probably giving him a run for his money). He said five to 10 new beers come in during the average week.
“There are customers who come every single Friday to see what new beers came in,” he said. “Some spend about 45 minutes to an hour just browsing through and studying every single beer before they pick something out.”
While there isn’t a dedicated beer store in Chico, many local liquor stores and markets have responded to the increased demand by opening more of their shelves to American and imported craft beers. There are now several Chico shops—Ray’s Liquor, Star Liquors, Finnegan’s Jug, Mangrove Bottle Shop, S&S Produce and the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative, not to mention BevMo!, Cost Plus World Market, Trader Joe’s and many other area supermarkets—boasting impressive selections. Jaradah says that his store’s ever-changing roster of brews requires constant management, and he works closely with Jody Cornilsen, category and craft-brand manager at Chico’s DBI Beverage Inc., to see what’s available or to help him wrangle the brands he’s interested in. Non-sellers are sometimes abandoned, and Jaradah does as much research as possible, referencing websites like RateBeer and talking to beer lovers. When customers make requests, he does what he can to secure the brands they want. The best part of Jaradah’s research, he said, is taking home a bottle of each incoming brew to taste test at home. He takes notes on each in order to be able to give recommendations and better serve his beer-obsessed patrons.
“Kevin is really good at keeping his selection fresh and cutting edge,” Cornilsen said.
When asked what some of his most popular brands are, Jaradah explained that sales follow definite trends based not so much on specific brands as types of beer. He noted sour beers, India pale ales and Belgian white beers are particularly popular right now, and has been somewhat focused on beefing up his sour-beer collection. Unsurprisingly for Chico, Jaradah sells more Sierra Nevada than anything else. And he said one of the most fervently requested brews is Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Company’s award-winning double IPA. He stocks it as often as possible, but the beer is so in demand everywhere that supplies are always limited. Jaradah said Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale and the Belgian IPA Piraat (with 10.5 percent alcohol by volume) partly top the list of current personal and customer favorites. His go-to six-packs of the moment are the White Ale and Toasted Porter from Icelandic brewer Einstök.
“They have the best water in the world there, and you can taste it in the beer,” he said of Einstök. The brewery is located 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle and uses water that runs down through prehistoric glaciers and ancient lava fields.
Jaradah’s priciest single beer is Belgian import Deus Brut des Flandres, a “Bière de Champagne” made by Brouwerij Bosteels, and available in a 750 milliliter bottle for $40 at Spike’s. All told, Jaradah remains happy with the decision to change the store’s focus, and is dedicated to bringing the finest and most sought-after beers to Chico. The shelves are stocked to capacity, but he’s not stopping—he recently ordered more shelves—as he shoots for 1,000 varieties, and beyond.