New Craft Beer Store Opens in New Hampshire

The Craft Beer Cellar franchise comes to New Hampshire



Craft beer lovers rejoice! Craft Beer Cellar, a franchise dedicated to finding and selling the latest, greatest and "local-est" craft beer, recently opened in Portsmouth.

Craft Beer Cellar was founded in 2010 by Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, with two main purposes in mind: good beer and great people. Self-proclaimed "beer geeks," the founders wanted to create a beer store that they would want to shop at, wanted to share their immense passion for craft beer and are committed to changing the industry and what people classify as "good beer."

They must be doing something right: by the end of 2013, they had a total of six stores open across two states and two new locations opened this January in Portsmouth and in Brandon, Florida. Four more stores are in the planning stages, including a future Nashua location opening in June.

With the recent boom of breweries popping up in the Portsmouth area, it may have been easy to think that this was another company jumping on the bandwagon. Schalow’s reasons were far nobler. "Portsmouth was on the list two plus years ago,” she says. “We were interested in Portsmouth ever since we decided to do a franchise business model. We are long-time fans of Smuttynose and Portsmouth Brewery. People are liking better beer and we are advocates for good beer." So to Schalow, whose passion for beer and what she does is immediately apparent, the Portsmouth store just made sense.

Craft Beer Cellar carries a wide variety of local craft beers. In fact, not all of their stores have the same inventory because of the commitment to local flavor. The "mothership" store, their very first one, in Belmont, Mass., has between 1,150 – 1,200 varieties, both local and imported craft beers. By comparison, the new Portsmouth store has over 300 different varieties, which may seem small, but don't be fooled! Suzanne says that Belmont was the first store open, and has had three and a half years to expand the inventory.

Beer knowledge is very important to Baker and Schalow and they are both Cicerone Certified, which is something like wine sommelier training, but for beer. The program teaches everything from identifying styles and flavors to proper beer storage practices.

Currently, both Baker and Schalow are studying to become Master Cicerones, the third and final level in the Cicerone Certification Process (see more on cicerone.org). All of their employees are at least a Certified Beer Server, which is the first step in the process. The purpose of all this is "to solidify their knowledge [so they have] more to offer to the customer," explains Suzanne.

Schalow and Baker personally interview every one of their franchise owners multiple times to make sure that they fit the brand and are "beer geeks" themselves. Mike Lynch, who is the franchise owner for the Portsmouth location, "is super cool and calm under pressure," says Schalow. Indeed, Lynch who gives off the vibe of that cool bartender in the old movies who everyone knows and can talk to, even though he himself confesses to being an introvert.

Opening this store was a huge risk for Lynch. With an undergraduate degree in finance and an MBA, he used to work in accounting. After visiting a craft beer store in New York, and becoming a loyal customer at the original Belmont store, the idea of becoming a part of the craft beer scene was planted. After finding out that opening a franchise store was more affordable than he thought and speaking to his wife about it, he jumped at the chance and is much happier for it. He loves that the emphasis is on local flavor. “The local market emphasis means that I get a label that no one else can because it is a NH exclusive,” he explains. “This keeps the competitor in me happy!"

One of the newer labels they just started carrying is Out.haus Ales, located in Northwood, which just started opened this past November. Talk about local! According to Mike, "The response has been hugely positive and keeps me motivated. People keep telling me, 'This is just what the area needed!' Customers love the variety. I think of this as a sweet market for the good suds."      

What will you find when you go to Craft Beer Cellar? For starters, the floor plan puts the local flavor at the front and imports in the back. Knowledgeable, friendly staff will help you find what you are looking for and suggest new flavors to try. For those who do not want to commit to a single flavor, there is a "Make-Your-Own-Six-Pack" feature, which allows you to pick up different beers. In addition to this convenience are frequent tastings, which allow you to be adventurous and try something new without the commitment of buying, or you may just find a new favorite and walk out with a few bottles.

Opening day was a huge success, with lines outside the door before they even opened, which Lynch credits to social media since they did not yet have their "Grand Opening" signs yet. Lynch will continue to work on getting the word out, but he may not have to work as hard as he thinks because he says that, "people who come in now are return customers or those who are just curious and were driving by."

As for Baker and Schalow, they have eyes on expanding further in New Hampshire. In addition to the planned Nashua store, they hope to find viable locations in northern parts of the state at some point in 2015. For now, the focus will be on supporting Portsmouth's success.

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