A ‘beer utopia’

Shane McDaniel’s eyes light up when he talks about the “Beer Utopia” he’s created in Lake Stevens.

Whether it’s the hundreds of microbrews that line the shelves, the TV that plays classic beer commercials on a loop, or the handmade wooden beer crates he makes in his wood shop, McDaniel loves

to talk beer in the aisles of his store, Norm’s Market.

The irony is McDaniel can’t enjoy a single drop of his passion.

“I can’t drink beer,” said McDaniel, who can’t drink carbonated beverages since undergoing a surgical procedure a few years ago to correct a lifelong problem with acid reflux. “I’ve been tempted to let a real stout beer go flat and try it, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet.”

Despite not being able to enjoy the product, McDaniel has made many beer drinkers in Snohomish County very happy. Instead of being forced to trek to specialty shops like Bottleworks and The Beer Junction in Seattle, north end beer fans can find a similar selection at Norm’s Market, which is located at 10027 Lundeen Parkway in Lake Stevens. The fact that he’s done it in what is basically a mini-mart adds to the surprise.

“Norm’s has an amazing selection,” said Andrew Poliak, a Lake Stevens resident who has spent the past two years traveling the world tasting beer. “I’ve actually been trying to search out (Shane) so that I could thank him.”

Norm’s Market’s transition from run-of-the-mill convenience store into beer mecca has taken a little less than two years. In late 2009, a customer special ordered a six-pack of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine. Since he had three six-packs left over, McDaniel threw them up on the shelf and they sold fast, sparking an idea.

“I started with one door (one refrigerated case) of specialty microbeers and it was a hit,” McDaniel said. “So I added a second door, and then another and another. It just took off. This is 100 percent driven by customers.”

Norm’s Market is now up to 15 doors of craft beer in six packs or individual bottles. Interestingly, the increased amount of craft beer hasn’t hampered the sales of the big-name domestic brews like Budweiser, Coors and Miller. And though he won’t get specific, McDaniel said beer sales at Norm’s Market over all are “way up.”

The clientele that the specialty beer has attracted is a big part of McDaniel’s passion. Beer drinkers come from as far away as Bellingham and Thurston County and they stalk the beer aisle like a lion hunting its prey. It’s far cry from the beer drinkers Norm’s used to attract.

“I could give away 18 packs of Bud and guys would just grab it off the shelf and walk out the door,” McDaniel said. “The beer fans are different. I’ll see them milling around the aisle for 20 minutes just picking out a six pack. It’s a passion for them.”

That passion has transferred to McDaniel. Though he once dreaded coming to work, McDaniel said he loves being at Norm’s now. It shows when he talks about his ideas for the future. He envisions the red chairs from Steven’s Pass he recently bought hanging from the ceiling, a beer taster station, and a place where he can sell home brewing supplies and equipment.

One idea, though, stands to change the entire specialty beer shop business. When McDaniel realized he could only stock beers from the 30 craft breweries in the state of Washington that bottle their beer, he was frustrated. Most of the other 100 craft breweries in Washington distribute their beer in kegs, which can only be sold to establishments with tavern licenses, thus out of bounds for Norm’s Market.

So McDaniel contacted state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, and crafted a piece of legislation that would allow specialty wine and beer shops to fill growlers, or half-gallon, refillable glass containers.

After testifying before the Legislature, McDaniel was on hand as Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill April 30. McDaniel said the bill should go into law in late July and that he plans to have up to 50 kegs on hand to fill growlers.

“It’s going to allow me to fill some pretty bizarre beer requests,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel may not be able to taste the beer he stocks or fights for in Olympia, but he’s definitely become somewhat of an expert. He put together what he calls his “Beer Bible,” which has the description, rating and stats of every beer he can currently carry and he loves talking to customers about their favorites.

“I can’t tell you exactly how it tastes, but I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve heard that’s the best IPA,’ or, ‘We’re selling a lot of that right now,'” McDaniel said. “I just love talking beer.”

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