Barb’s Beer Emporium has closed, but craft beer stores are still thriving

Monitor staff
Published: 10/31/2016 12:08:26 AM

The closing of Concord’s first craft brew specialty store, Barb’s Beer Emporium, reflects the owner’s decision rather than any slowdown in the state’s flourishing brewing industry, a competitor said.

“I think that market is still growing, evidenced by the number of small craft breweries that are opening or on the cusp of growing,” said Bert Bingel, who has owned Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett for eight years.

What about concerns of a craft beer bubble?

“They’ve been talking about the craft beer bubble for about five years now. I haven’t seen anything,” Bingel said.

Barbara Lambert, who ran the city’s first craft brew store for two years on North Main Street before moving to a strip mall on Sheep Davis Road in 2010, closed her store earlier this month.

In online statements, she described the decision in third person: “With changes in her life, and the desire to be in warmer climates, Barb has decided that it is time to move south.” Lambert could not be reached for further comment.

New Hampshire has long been enthusiastic about small and independent beer makers. In 2011 it became the first state to license so-called nanobreweries – those producing fewer than 2,000 barrels a year – and the University of New Hampshire has launched a series of brewery-related options, including a minor in brewing, an analytical testing lab and a professional development certificate program.

We’re not alone in this enthusiasm. Nationwide, small and independent brewers grew 13 percent in 2015 and 16 percent by retail dollar value, to total sales of an estimated $22.3 billion, which is about one-fifth of total beer sales in the country, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group representing independent breweries.

In response, specialty stores like Barb’s have sprung up all over the place. New Hampshire Magazine has recently listed more than three dozen throughout the state, including Capital Beverages in Concord at 75 S. Main St.

Significantly, the list includes not just specialty stores but convenience stores that stock a number of independent and local brews, something that wasn’t true when Barb’s Beer Emporium first opened, as well as other alternatives to traditional retail outlets.

While Bingel agreed there was more competition for retail stores these days, he said business remains strong.

“People are going out and go to restaurants and go to tap rooms and breweries, but they’re still going to a craft beer store and take advantage of more selection,” he said, noting that he carries from 600 to 650 different labels at any time.

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