Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
Years ago, August Rosa was a grad student working in Albany who just wanted access to quality beer. After one particularly long day of work–and longer evening of classes–all he wanted was to get home and crack open a cold brew. So, he went out into a snowy night in search of a case he knew he didn’t have at home. After driving out and back, then spending nearly an hour to find parking in Albany during a snow emergency, he began wishing there was a craft beer store in his neighborhood to save him the headache.
After acquiring a beer license, Brew opened on the corner of State and Lark Street amongst festivities and fireworks on July 4, 2014. Today, products line the walls in neatly lined four and six-pack bottles, a giant cooler of stacked cans, assorted accessories that include Brew-labeled growlers and novelty mason jar canisters and a shelf for specialty coffee. Located on Lark Street, the tiny distribution shop has become a staple to the community.
“We’re definitely a neighborhood targeted place,” Rosa says. “I get it all the time from the residents here that they’re super grateful to have this to bring out the walkability of Lark Street and how awesome it is to live in Center Square and not really have to leave.”
From their opening, Brew sold both local craft beer and coffee. But since their start, the shop has faced confusion over exactly what materials they sell and how. Visiting customers were disappointed when they dropped in under the assumption that Brew was a full scale espresso shop, others came looking for home brew materials. Rosa and his associates decided the shop was in need of a focus.
“It was time to hit the reset button,” he says. “Our focus is going to be shifting towards what we do best and that’s part of our rebrand,” Rosa says.
Meet Pint-Sized. The shop has been reborn with a focus on what its staff loves the most: craft beer. Keeping with the retail model, Pint-Sized will only add to what locals have loved about Brew, adding in the ability for visitors have a beer onsite at their new Broadway shop in Saratoga Springs. On Lark Street, Rosa says, “Often times people will ask, ‘oh, can I have a pint?’ and we can’t. We’re excited to jump into this new territory where there’s this hybrid approach where you’re an onsite and offsite establishment.”
The Saratoga shop and bar will include seating for up to 20 people, depending on how Rosa and his associates experiment with their new spot, with space around the seating area to shop comfortably.
Rosa is excited to see how Saratoga will live up to the following of Pint-Sized in Albany. The Lark Street shop has garnered a reputation for bringing unique, fresh taste to the capital city. The store rotates about 15 different canned beers and five to 10 bottle products each week.
“That is the huge advantage to our small model,” Rosa explains. “We keep our inventory as tight as possible so that our beer is always wicked fresh. That goes with the kegs too. When we kick a keg, that’s when we need to get a new keg. Because we have limited square footage, we don’t have room for crap, so if something is sub-par, I won’t even bring it on because I don’t have the room to take a chance on it.”
Their selection of ales, sours, lagers, stouts and IPAs range from local companies such as Chatham, Common Roots or Paradox Brewing to West Coast features such as Breakside (Ore.) and Boulder (Col.) Brewery. Depending on the most demand of rare brews, Pint-Sized doesn’t carry each brand for very long. Common Roots and Paradox, for example, usually last about 24 to 48 hours in the store.
Shipments of coveted brands with limited releases–like New York City’s nomadic Grimm Ales–can sell out in the span of 30 minutes after Rosa posts the shipment announcement on Instagram. The shop’s robust social media presence helps build their following–to somewhat extreme levels.
“The whole rare beer thing and beer on a small scale is very exciting, to the point where we would have people who would follow trucks here to pick up the beer. I actually had a customer waiting here for about an hour and a half to get a couple cans of Grimm. He was pretty adamant about it,” Rosa says.
Though Lark Street is not yet equipped for onsite drinking, the shop features draught line taps for growlers, with the currently featured brew scrawled onto small chalkboards. Throughout the evening, customers pop in to refill their jugs (with as much as 64 oz.), making conversation about the new features, flavors, ingredients and brewing styles with the staff as they wait for their fill or try a taste of something new–the shop distributes particular brews in shot glasses each Tuesday from 5-8 PM.
Like the various brewery taprooms in the region, Pint-Sized runs their growler filling with customer cards (Stewart’s milk-club style) that keep regulars coming in weekly to punch in and fill up for a discount. Next to the register, Rosa pats two long plastic cases. Inside, hundreds of customer punch cards are organized by name.
“There’s definitely a convenience factor here,” he says, nodding his head towards the street outside. “The growler thing has been great because even just from the periphery of my corner here I can see somebody leave their stoop over there, come by, get a growler and then bring it home.”
Just as successful as the growler business is the shop’s massive collection of cans, a source of pride for the Lark Street and what will surely be a high seller in Saratoga. With the massive influx of tourists to the Saratoga Racetrack in the summer–where no glass is allowed– Pint-Sized is looking to be a staple for visitors looking to pick up craft beers for a day at the track.
“Our can game is super strong,” Rosa says. With the Saratoga opening scheduled between late April and early May, Pint-Sized has plans to introduce stainless steel growlers for the track and hopes to introduce crowlers (giant cans that can be filled onsite like their glass counterparts) soon after. After spending some time on the Saratoga spot, Rosa hopes to open more small-scale, specialty beer shops around the Capital Region.
“I got into this business as a beer drinker,” he says. “Craft brews are growing and expanding and if I didn’t think it was going to be big, I wouldn’t have gotten into this business.”