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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: January 12, 2015

Whole Foods Portland store has entered the liquor business in a big way

Whole Foods’ collection of premium spirits enters a whole new realm of liquor sales in Portland. From artisanal brands around the country, including Portland and New England labels, to foreign and domestic liquors, it’s an impressive display worth checking out.

Written by: John Golden

Whatever you might think about Whole Foods, it does not rest on its laurels. And if you haven’t noticed, Whole Foods has a new department in its Portland store–liquor  Whole Foods entered the spirits business in a pretty big way late last year and the Portland store was the first in the northeast region to introduce a boutique liquor section, which debuted around Christmastime without fanfare or marketing push. Then some Boston stores followed suit. West coast chains and others throughout the country have been selling liquor for a few years in regions where local state laws allow it.

I only noticed it a few days ago. It doesn’t stand out since it blends so easily into the wine displays, but it is showcased along one long wall at the side rear of the wine department.

The new liquor department at Whole Foods

The new liquor department at Whole Foods

The collection is pretty impressive. The store stocks many local brands of vodka, gin, whiskey, rum and a varied collection of premium liquors from around the world.  I noticed, for example, rum from Martinique and tequila from Mexico.  Dolan vermouth, both sweet and white, are on the shelves, as well as brandies, cognacs and liqueurs.

The local bottlings distilled in either Portland or other parts of Maine are pretty inclusive. Besides those from Maine Craft Distilling, In’finiti Fermentation and Distillation and New England Distilling, look also for liquor from Minnesota, Montana, Massachusetts, Indiana and elsewhere around the country.

A variety of liquors from Maine and New England and other states like Death's Door  Vodka from Washington State

A variety of liquors from  New England and other states like Death’s Door Vodka from  Wisconsin

There’s no markup in pricing compared to other Agency Liquor Stores like Hannaford or RSVP because all pricing is regulated by the state. However, these are mostly premium, small-batch, highly artisanal spirits and are priced accordingly.

For instance, I bought In’finit’s Well vodka in the 750 ML size for $27.99 compared to the cost of Gordon’s 1.75 liter bottle for $19.99.  I was very impressed, however, with the depth of flavor and body of In’finiti’s Well, making Gordon’s seem watery and dull in comparison.

I think this is a welcome addition to our wine and spirits availability to have such a collection of unusual bottlings instead of the standard offerings everywhere else. Also, from a quick perusal, Whole Foods wines seem more diverse, though the store’s staff says it hasn’t really changed except for how they’re now displayed. I still prefer going to local wine shops that can often offer better value and variety.

Local whiskey, Caribbean rum

Local and New York  whiskies, Caribbean rum and vodka from the Berkshires, Mass.

The new liquor department is still a work in progress as the collection gets fleshed out.  I noticed, for example, they didn’t stock Campari nor a larger selection of vermouths.  But according to staffers these items and more will be coming soon.

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