The Liquor Stores We Rely On: the Specialist

Posted on Sep 13, 2017


The Liquor Stores We Rely On: 

The Specialist

We write many words about where we buy drinks, and about what bottles we buy. We’ve realized recently that we’ve written very few on the very crucial question of where we find those bottles. Where would we be without a good spirits supplier? In fact we find that we rely on an entire team of stores to insure that we get the bottles we want, when we want them, at a price we’re willing to pay.

Our specific suggestions will be most useful to people who live on Capitol Hill or in Cambridge, MA. But we’ll also be speaking more generally about the types of liquor stores we turn to, and the characteristics we look for  in them. We started  with a description of the All-Purpose, that store you rely on to fulfill the large majority of your liquor needs. After a brief vacation break, we started up again this week with the Local, the place you run out to quickly when you realize in the middle of mixing a drink that you’re out of vermouth.

Today, we turn our attention to the Specialist. It’s the store that’s not very good at hiding that it has a favorite. It’s too far out of the way to be the Local, and if it were conveniently located its inventory is too uneven for it to be an All-Purpose. But you’re willing to travel to it for that one thing it’s good at. As we mentioned, even the best of All-Purposes doesn’t have a deep bench at every position. They always have a suitable alternative, but maybe not the exact bottle you’re looking for or maybe not the range of choice you’d really want. That’s where the specialist comes in. While the rest of their stock may be uninspiring, they have an unexpected enthusiasm for one odd corner of the liquor world. While the All-Purpose might be satisfied with covering that corner with a bottle or two, or even with having a suitable alternative, the Specialist is a true fanatic of one little area, devoting an outsized proportion of their shelf space to exploring its ins and outs.

It’s hard to know where you’ll find a specialist. Usually, it’s a pleasant surprise discovery. When you do find it, note it, particularly if their passion is an area you have some affection for yourself.

Profile in a Specialist: Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits

Location: Seward Square, Capitol Hill, DC

Best Feature: good selection of Irish whiskey

Best Buy: Donegal Estates Irish Whiskey

Weakness: none, as long as we’re talking about Irish Whiskey

Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits is a small storefront on Pennsylvania Ave SE near the Capitol. It’s clean and well-organized, but otherwise unremarkable. The customers are just as likely to be there for a lottery ticket as for alcohol, and they’re far more likely to be buying a lottery ticket than some fancy vermouth, which is what we’re more often than not looking for.

We’re only familiar with Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits because it’s our alternate Local. As we mentioned, while otherwise just what we’d want, our Local has the significant downside of being closed half of the weekend, when we’re most likely to need the services of a Local. Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits is a few blocks farther away from us than our Local, but still several blocks closer than our All-Purpose; so, if we need something very standard, we’ll go there and save ourselves a few minutes of travel time.

For the most part, their coverage of ingredients needed for craft cocktail is quite bare bones, but we happened to notice on one of our Sunday visits that they have the largest selection of Irish Whiskey we’ve ever seen. That turned us from somewhat begrudging customers only when necessary to being huge fans of the place. We’ve recently but quickly become quite enthusiastic about Irish whiskey in cocktails, an enthusiasm that our All-Purpose neither shares nor supports. Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits might be a little far away and a little spare to be our Local, but as the one place we know we can find craft Irish whiskey it’s amazingly convenient.