Beer Sellers Speak: The Sampler’s Rafael Martinez on His Most Popular Beers, the Local Scene, and More

sampler lead

Over the course of the year since they opened, Bushwick’s combination bar and bottle shop, The Sampler (234 Starr St), has become one of the more reliable sources in the borough for craft beer–their draft list is nicely varied and ever changing, and their bottle selection is admirably up to date, featuring a nice mix of standards and harder-to-find beers. The vibe is pleasant, the service is great, and the prices aren’t even offensive. We spoke to general manager Rafael Martinez about the shop, the neighborhood, your drinking habits, and more.

How would you describe your clientele?
Mostly it’s the artist community of Bushwick: painters, photographers, designers, musicians, comedians, etc. There are a lot of home-brewers within our group of regulars, too, and a lot of young parents who bring their kids all the time. I’d say it’s 50/50 male and female.  

What’s the most consistently big seller in your shop?
Bell’s Two Hearted is the one that people buy the most, so we always keep it in stock. Westbrook Gose people buy it by the case, but unfortunately it’s very limited. Old Rasputin from North Coast is an all-time favorite for stout enthusiasts, and Anchor Lager for the easy drinkers.


What limited-release beer have you had people inquire about the most?
KBS and Westbrook’s Mexican Cake and Gose.

Is there a particular style that you notice people coming in for more than others?
Sours, Imperial IPAs and anything barrel-aged.

What beer (or beers) do you think should sell more than they do?
Imported micro breweries like T’Gaverhopke, Naparbier, and Dieu du Ciel.

Do you find that a beer being locally produced makes it any more or less popular?
At our place we strongly recommend people try local breweries. Even if our customers are looking for another beer, we give them samples of the featured local brewery. This is how a small breweries like Bridge and Tunnel, a nano-brewery from Maspeth, became one of the big-time favorites of our customers.

sampler shelves

What are the biggest challenges you face as a specialty shop in a city where there are so many?
We have to reinvent ourselves constantly. Customers are thirsty for new things all the time; they get bored easily, so we need to stay fresh and offer new exciting things every week. It’s challenging but exciting and fun.

What’s your take on the local beer scene in the city? Do you find it to be a generally supportive place?
When we arrived in Bushwick a year ago, our neighbors were really excited because we were the only place offering craft beer. Today we can see our influence in restaurants and bars around us. They adapted their beer menus to include the beers they tasted at our establishment, and the come back constantly to try new things. Definitely, our dear community of Bushwick have supported big time our ideas and offerings, attending our special events and becoming familiar faces.

Do you have any big plans for the store in the near future?
Definitely. Right now we’re getting ready to welcome an attractive lineup of local distilleries. We’re very excited to offer such quality spirits made in Brooklyn and New York state! We should be ready with our first batch in the coming days. Looking forward to hosting brewing classes offer by cool brewers and food pairing events collaborating with local restaurateurs.

Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.


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