I don’t get down to Sydney as much as I like and when I do, I rarely leave the CBD. So it was a pleasure to get down to Sydney for a whirlwind trip that involved conducting a tasting at Camperdown Cellars in Camperdown. The Parramatta Road cellars, one of six in the group, is the sort of bottleshop that you hope to have in your neighbourhood.
I can’t offer an appraisal of their wine or spirit selections – though did note that they had a good whisky selection – but the layout and merchandising of the store suggested that they knew what they were doing. In their beer selection, you would never suggest that they had the most comprehensive range of every beer available, but then again I think it’s unrealistic to expect that any bottleshop would. I look at some of the bottleshops that boast selections of 500 or more bottles on their shelves, and wonder how often they turn over the beers that are outside of their top 20 anyway. Judging by the ring of dust that is left on the shelf you when you pick up some of the beers, I doubt very often…not ideal when the beer is sitting on a shelf rather than in a fridge. Camperdown didn’t have everything, but scanning the fridges (because all of the beer was in the fridge rather than sitting on the floor) they could have just about catered to any particular whim and just about any menu I was planning.
Where the cellars came into their own though was the staff. They were hosting a whisky and beer tasting and watching them interact with their customers made you realise the value of a good local. It was obvious that they knew many customers by name, and many more by face. It was obvious that many of the customers were regulars too. They knew the regular’s tastes and could make informed recommendations on what was new or just good. It’s the sort of thing that Facebook and Amazon try to do through an algorithm, but it will never be done as well as by a person that knows you. Most importantly, they know their stock. They had tried the beers and could make recommendations and suggestions, as well as answer questions about the product.
The prices were pretty good too. You’ll almost always pay a little more at a place like this, but that’s the cost of that sort of service. It’s easy to complain that you don’t have a good bottleshop nearby and yet, how many of us who make the complaint only buy the one or two bottles of exotic or hard-to-get beer at the boutique, leaving bread and butter purchases – the carton buys – for the big box retailers because we can save $5 on the carton. The problem with the pursuit of ‘cheap’ is that the only businesses that can make that work are those that rely on vast turnover delivered cheaply, and in that case the first thing to go is service.
I don’t have a Camperdown Cellars near me, just half a dozen big retailer outlets. They offer no real beer selection but a massive selection of RTDs in a fridge near the front door and huge piles of mainstream beer at promotional prices on the floor, because that is the lowest hanging fruit. It sells because anyone can sell it, all you need to do is sell it cheaply. The last time I asked one if they could get a particular beer in for me, the bloke behind the counter had never heard of Alpha Pale Ale, but said they had Coopers instead if I wanted.
If you have a Camperdown Cellars nearby, use it – whether for your exotic Australian craft, or for your Coopers Pale Ale at $44 instead of $39 – because if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
140 Parramatta Road Camperdown NSW 2050
tel: (02) 9517 2000
What’s your favourite bottleshop, and why?