Beer Sellers Speak: Covenhoven’s James Case on the Most Requested Bottles, the Continued Importance of “Local” and More


covenhoven james

Covenhoven (730 Classon Ave) has been an invaluable addition to the burgeoning Crown Heights neighborhood, offering an expertly curated draft list and a wide selection of bottles, featuring a perfect combination of special occasion and every-day beers. Plus there’s a good amount of seating and an incredibly perfect backyard. We spoke to beer manager James Case about some stuff…

How would you describe your clientele? What’s the gender breakdown of your customers like?
Our bar caters mostly to locals in the neighborhood in their mid-twenties to forties. We have a fifty-fifty split between men and women.

What’s the most consistently big seller in your shop?
We sell lots of Ballast Point, Bell’s, Maine Beer Co. and Cigar City.

 What limited-release beer have you had people inquire about the most?
Firestone Walker Parabola and Westbrook Mexican Cake had our phone ringing off the hook like we got the first televisions in NYC.

Is there a particular style that you notice people coming in for more than others?
We get a lot of hop heads. But our selection of sour and wild beer is wide, and we always have one on draft.

What beer (or beers) do you think should sell more than they do?
Our selection of dry ciders is pretty top notch, but most people think cider is always sweet, so one of the finest beverages is a little overlooked.

Do you find that a beer being locally produced makes it any more or less popular?
Having a beer be locally produced definitely makes it more popular, especially in Brooklyn, where neighborhood and community remains a big factor for a lot of people.  Other Half opening the first brick-and-mortar brewery in Brooklyn in eleven years was a huge moment for the borough. Finback in Queens and Barrier in Long Island are all carving out wonderful identities for our local scene.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a specialty shop in a city where there are so many?
Since we’re the only bottle shop with our level of selection in our neighborhood, it allows our focus to be taking care of our regulars and forging sincere relationships. Our bottle prices are pretty low, because we want to encourage people to try new things and not think that craft beer is essentially just more expensive and nerdy. I find the variety of beer styles so far-ranging  and immersive, that I want to encourage people to try new things and be surprised the way I was when I first started.

What’s your take on the local beer scene in the city? Do you find it to be a generally supportive place?
I find the beer scene to be an incredibly supportive place. The beer scene in NYC is an incredibly small and close-knit circle of people. I don’t see other bars or shops as competitors, but people also working for the same goal as everyone in the industry, which is advocating good liquid above everything else and having a good time, obviously.

Do you have any big plans for the store over the next few months or years?
We intend to house between three and four hundred snakes in our bar and become the city’s first “snake bar” since Old McBitey closed in the 19th-century. We have received dozens of signatures in support of reviving this artisanal style of tavern. We will also be offering an array of new food options very soon.  

Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @MikeConklin.