The Whole Foods on P Street was absolutely bustling when I stopped in on a Sunday morning to sit down and chat with Randy Kuczor, the mastermind behind one of the best beer selections in the District. Soon after Randy and I were introduced, it became extremely clear just why this is many DC beer lovers’ favorite place to shop for beer. Randy is passionate, knowledgeable, and has a very unique vision for the beer department at this Whole Foods, which as he says, is a “very small department that is run like a small beer store.”
When Randy became the beer buyer in 2005, Stella Artois was considered an exotic pick, and the most popular craft beers were coming out of Belgium. Now, the department stocks 700-750 beers at a time, about 700 of which are American beers. Randy’s efforts to keep a solid mix of local breweries, a smattering of international offerings, and representation from the 50 states on the shelves are evident. Randy does a lot to keep the beer department ever-changing and always ready to meet his customers needs, and each week there are five to ten new brews in stock.
When I asked Randy how he makes decisions about what to purchase for the store, he mentioned working to anticipate what his customers would ask for in advance of them needing to ask for it. This includes knowing what sporting events are happening and what customers will want to drink during these as well as paying special attention to the demographics this Whole Foods serves. For example, Randy carries a huge can supply, due mostly to the way many people travel to the location. Because people are taking public transportation, walking, and biking, Whole Foods on P Street carries no glass 12-packs and has a huge supply of single bottles and cans.
Another unique aspect to the P Street Whole Foods beer department is that Randy will not stock any beer he hasn’t tasted. In this way, the department, and the choices available to you as a customer, really represent a level of quality, taste, and freshness that takes out a bit of the guessing-game that beer-buying can be. Even if you’re not sure about your choice (and especially if you’re not sure it’s the best choice out of the huge number of choices you have available to you), you know it’s Randy-approved.
Randy treats his job as beer buyer as though he is running his own business, and he does it because it’s fun. This approach is clear in the quality of the department, the number of options available, and the care with which Randy treats the customer. Randy shows up to work at 5am every day to meet the delivery truck. He gets an order every single day due to the small amount of storage he has and the speed at which beers leave his shelves. He likes to work with customers to build their taste profiles, assessing what they do and don’t like in a beer in order to give them the knowledge they need to find suitable options in every season and for every mood.
During our interview, Randy and I had a chance to taste through a variety of the beers available at the store, including:
- Ginger-Lemon Radler from Boulevard Brewing Company (Coming in at 4.05% ABV, this radler out of Kansas City, Missouri is incredibly refreshing.)
- Exaltation–Wine Barrel Aged Christmas in July from DC Brau Brewing Company with Randy Kuczor (Randy collaborated with DC Brau to create this hop-less brew currently on tap at Whole Foods P Street. Exaltation was made with 30 pounds of fresh ginger, 20 pounds of cherries, and aged in wine barrels. It does not taste like it, but it boasts a 13% ABV.)
- Smoking Wood Rye Barrel Aged from The Bruery (This is one of Randy’s favorite brews and it is unfortunately being discontinued. 13% ABV and tastes like its name–complex and smoky with strong caramel notes.)
- Gulden Draak Brewmaster’s Edition from the Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. (This Belgian strong ale tastes almost cider-like with gorgeous notes of apple and caramel, despite its 10.5% ABV and it having no cider-like ingredients to speak of.)
Meeting with Randy was a great opportunity for me to soak up some of the knowledge he has built over the years. His passion for beer, the quality of his selections, and the freshness of what’s available were amazing to see. See the full DCBeer buying guide for information on hours, and check out the other great places to buy brews in your area!