A few months ago Sheryl and I were having lunch at 32 SHEA, a cute little coffee shop that also serves food. While we were sitting there, across the parking lot, we noticed a local liquor store. We joked about them having a good beer selection. After lunch we walked over to see what they had. This place is called Cellars Fine Wine & Spirits, and we were blown away with their selection. At the time they had a huge cooler of cold craft beer, some available in a single bottle, and 8 taps offering some delicious options. The best part… The prices. The beer was so cheap, you could get a growler for almost the price of the bottle. We were hooked.
We kept going back and eventually befriended Mickey Salem, Store Manager at Cellars. We hit it off, he likes hops, and has an appreciation for craft beer. There are times we go in and would rather just talk to Mickey than buy anything. But we always seem to leave with something. Since we first started going there, they have expanded their selection and now offer 30 different beers on tap for you to choose from. Their prices are still unbeatable, and they will even fill a 32 ounce growler if you aren’t sure what you want a full 64 ounce pour of. This place has become our favorite liquor store in the Valley.
Last week we went in to grab a bottle of Avery Pump[KY]n Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin Porter, and ended up spending close to $100! They had new releases from Hess Brewing that we hadn’t tried, we filled a growler, and grabbed a few more random bottles. Lately, with the number of beers we have been buying, it’s hard to not spend a ton of money. I mean, the Avery was $11.99 a bottle. It’s 17.22% ABV, though. While we were there, we decided to ask Mickey a few questions about his time at Cellars, what his favorite beers are, and what beer he would choose if he could only drink the same beer for the rest of his life. It was fun learning more about him, and justifies why we shop local. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Mickey Salem. Cheers!
We found your place a few months ago by accident. Now we can’t stop spending money here. How long have you been here and what did you do before coming to Cellars?
I have been managing Cellars since July of 2012. Prior to Cellars, I managed two other liquor stores in Phoenix since moving here from NYC in 2004.
You sell beer, wine and spirits. I know you’re a craft beer drinker. Do you drink wine and spirits, too?
Ironically I manage a store called Cellars Fine Wine & Spirits, and wine is my least preferred choice. I have a sweet tooth like no other, so when I do have a glass of wine it is usually a sangria or Moscato. When it comes to liquor, I sample it all! I do find myself enjoying rum and cognac more than vodka and whiskey. I drink responsibly as long as Bailey’s, Kahlua and Amaretto is not around.
There are a of beers out there. What is your favorite style?
Naturally you would think I like flavored stouts or Hefeweizens being that I have such a sweet tooth, but that’s not the case for beer. The more hops the more happier I am. I really enjoy a good West Coast style IPA.
If you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what beer would you pick?
This is not a fair question! I can spend days, even weeks truly debating this question. Off the top of my head I would have to say Bear Republic Café Racer 15 DIPA.
Do you have a favorite brewing company?
I tend to favor Bell’s Brewery and Stone Brewing Co., but if I had to choose a favorite brewing company then it would be BridgePort Brewing Company, simply because they are the ones that got me started into craft beer as well as inspiring a lot of other breweries to become what they are today.
Your store has a drive-thru. You don’t see many of those around. Do you have any funny, or scary, stories about that?
Ahh, yes… The drive-thru! I can tell you a lot of crazy stories about the drive-thru but I don’t think it would be appropriate in an interview. I met a couple of a famous people in the drive-thru. One of them was former NBA star Mike Bibby. To make a long story short, he gave me a hard time about a price on an item and so I teased him about how he never won a championship, so he didn’t deserve to get a price match. After the trash talking went back and forth a few times, I gave in and gave him a $5 discount to price match my competitor. Before he drives off he leaves me a $20 tip which tells me he was only testing me out or only doing it to challenge me. He won, I guess!
Are there any beers you don’t like?
I don’t care for spicy beers and I think the Cave Creek Chili Beer is just too much for me.
You recently added more taps to your growler room. How many did you have and how many do you have now?
I originally started with 4 taps. Not even a week after installing the 4 taps, I knew I needed to add more. 2 weeks later I expanded to 8 taps. Not even 2 months into the growler station and it became a battle ground between distributors for putting their beer on tap. We ended up going to 10 tap handles. At this point the draught tech’s are getting annoyed at me, because I keep calling them to expand. I promised them I wouldn’t bother them again but that wasn’t true. I ran into the problem of having too many customers hooked on one type of beer and wouldn’t drink anything else, while I have other customers that got tired of the same beers on tap and nothing new and exciting. I knew I had to expand again but this time take one big step instead of always being cautious and taking a bunch of little steps. So far the response has been above and beyond I ever imagined.
Besides us, do you have many regulars that shop here?
80-90% of our customers are regulars. The other 10-20% are weekend fly by customers. I usually know everybody on a first name basis. Mom and pop shops like us become part of the neighborhood. This is what makes us stand out over the corporate giants. My customers are more personal with me. I hear about their highs and lows and try to give advice the best I can. Sometimes it’s the other way around where I am asking the questions. Like I said, it’s more personal, but in a very good way!
What are your goals with adding so many taps?
The ultimate goal is to get more recognition from the brewers and distributors to where they will give me the limited or special release beers not only in packages but in kegs, as well. Sometimes a beer can be so much more tastier on tap then in a bottle and I would like to find out first hand or should I say first tongue… (Laughs.)
When you aren’t working, where are you drinking?
When you work in this business, its hard to go out and pay for something you already have available to you daily at a fraction of the cost. I usually fill up a growler and head home to spend time with my lady and puppy. When I do go out its because I have been invited, which in that case they usually choose the spot. On my days off, I usually plan to take my boat out on the lake or drive up north to Sedona or Flagstaff which, in either case, I play it safe by not drinking.
What’s next for Cellars?
A lot of ideas but never 100% sure how many of the ideas I’m actually going to make a reality. For certain, I plan to expand our bomber (22 ounces) beer selection. Drinking and smoking for most people go hand in hand but for the others food and beer go just as well, if not better. I think about adding hot food items to the mix, such as nachos, hot dogs, pretzels, etc. I don’t know how realistic that will be but definitely a thought in the back of my mind. In the mean time the plans are the same, give good customer service, keep the store well stocked and always try new and different things.
As for my future goals, I always thought the mafia movies that had a neighborhood restaurant that had another door that leads you to the back of the restaurant or basement for mafia members only was super cool. My dream is to have a bottle shop in the front of the building that leads to a sports/jazz bar in the back except everybody is welcome. It would be the best of both worlds.
Till then Cheers!
I told you Mickey was cool! Guys like this are what craft beer is all about. It was an honor interviewing Mickey, and I can’t wait to get back and see what new beers they have on tap. You can follow them on Facebook and on TapHunter to see what new beers they have. He does a great job with TapHunter, too, unlike some other bars and restaurants that don’t use it at all. As Mickey said, cheers!