For Ephs who thirst for good beer, a new day is dawning in the Purple Valley. A new North Adams beer and wine store called Vins et Viandes (V&V for short) makes even the most jaded craft beer fan feel like they are a little kid inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The place proves that buying beer need not be another chore before the weekend, but an experience that is just plain fun.
That’s certainly what Lou Matney Jr., V&V’s enterprising founder, wants his customers to think when they step through the glass doors of his 15,000 square foot “beertopia.” Mr. Matney (everyone calls him Lou) believes his unparalleled selection, “mix and match” policies and customer service gives his customers a unique experience that will keep them coming back.
Let’s go through what makes V&V special.The numbers speak for themselves. V&V has over 800 types of beer. Though I go often, I still find myself dumbstruck, staggering through the aisles wondering if this is a beer store or some kind of alcoholic Noah’s Ark. Trappists from Belgium, Oatmeal Stouts from Tadcaster, IPA’s from Denver… I could go on and on. An elderly German man comes in each week to select his favorite libation, Pinkus Beer, which hails from Munster, the town in Germany where his son was born. Lou often greets me when I enter the store with a host of new beers he’s added that week. It’s starting to get ridiculous (he could be on A&E’s “Hoarders”), but I’m not complaining. I hope there’s a party when he cracks 1,000.
V&V’s gargantuan inventory has another important aspect; its generous mix and match policies. Customers are allowed to choose from all 800 beers (with a few exceptions) to make their own six pack. This is an invaluable service that allows customers to take risks and try new beers without the chance of being stuck with 5 more they don’t like. It’s been said that as the American craft brew market continues to expand, “mix and match” will probably become more common; fortunately, at V&V we don’t have to wait.
Oh, and should you not find a beer you want, tell Lou. A lot of my favorite West Coast beers are hard to find in New England, so when I asked if Lou could order my favorite beer, Alesmith IPA, he happily obliged. Without charging me a cent, he asked his distributor to send him a crate, and now V&V stocks Alesmith.
And one more thing: V&V has a loyalty program where you get free beer memorabilia (mugs, free six packs, neon beer signs, etc.) for shopping there often. This can’t be real life.
While this review is mainly focused on beer, it’s worth noting that V&V also carries over 700 varieties of wine. Managed by Lou’s wife, Michele, the store hosts tastings from 6-9 p.m. on Fridays and 3-6 p.m. on Saturdays. Bottle prices are generally in the student friendly $5 to $20 range.
In addition, V&V also has a deli, which boasts delicious $4 sandwiches. Make sure you say hi to the deli’s manager (the aunt of a current Williams sophomore). She spent nearly a decade running a foods company and teaching English in Istanbul and always has a tale to tell.
When you step into V&V you’ll immediately notice the clientele is a little different from Spring Street. V&V customers range from well-heeled Williams professors to blue-collar North Adams residents and Lou cares about them all. He often says this place is a community, and if that’s the case, he’s the mayor. It’s a common sight to see him working the aisles, greeting customers by name, often with a recommendation of which beers they should try. Whether you edit pages for Beer Advocate or are just looking to branch out from Keystone, Lou will be gladly lend a hand to help you make your perfect six pack.
So the next time you open your fridge to find that last night was not kind to your beer supply, consider heading to North Adams and giving V&V a try. Just don’t do it when you’re in a hurry. The countless hours you’ll spend wandering those aisles in awe of hop-filled riches will fly by faster than a 30 pack of Keystone (which by the way you can also get at V&V).