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An Interview with a Craft Beer Bottle Shop Owner and His DFH Punkin Event…

Al’s of Hampden has become something of an icon in the central Pennsylvania beer scene. With currently 24 taps and 3 hand pumps it is a must visit for any beer geek in the Harrisburg area. Oh and if the taps list was not enough Al has a giant selection of bottles and six packs as well. In this interview we discussed the in’s and out’s of being a six pack/bottle shop/pizza shop owner and how he single handedly figured out how to carve a niche out for himself in the craft beer scene in PA. Below the interview is a video I shot at a recent Pumpkin beer event at Al’s of Hampden. The highlight of the event was Dogfish Head’s Punkin that was run through a pumpkin filled with cinnamon sticks. Both Ben and I both give a brief description in the video of what it tasted like. Cheers!

Check out Al’s Tap List here.

An Interview with Albert Kominski owner of Al’s of Hampden:

BGN: Give us a brief history of Al’s and its craft beer connection.

Al: I opened the pizza shop in 2002.  In 2008 i obtained a liquor license, I was frustrated that NOONE sold “good” six packs or singles. I would drive around east and west shore and have to settle for a case of something instead of a few sixers.

BGN: How did you get started with craft beer?

Al: When i got the license my wife actually pushed me to do the mix a six. She went to college in philly and was used to stopping at the Foodery and getting whatever she wanted, and that did not exist in this area at the time when we started selling beer. So we started small, a single door of singles. As the demand grew so did our selection.  A big mistake made by retailers is that they get to big too fast or they start out too big and the beer gets old.  We grew from a 1 door mix to  2 door mix then 3 door and now 4 doors.  Same with the draft beer selections we started with 6 drafts, then 14, then went to 24.  You see these places that boast 48 taps or 36 taps and its interesting when you visit them and the beer tastes like shit.  You taste oxidation and hoppy beers are malt bombs because they fade so quick.  I would rather have my 24 well rotating taps and have great QUALITY FRESH beer, than hold a title for most taps and sell crap.

BGN: How do you decide what to have on tap?

Al: I like good beer so I use my own personal likes to run the taps.  If I don’t like certain beers I usually dont run them.

BGN: Do you get a lot of people asking for the macro lagers? And do you recommend other beers to them?

Al: We do.  I always first reccomend something similar to what they want and if that doesnt fit thier needs they just grab a bottle.

BGN: How do you get some of the firkins you have had? i.e. Port brewing dry hopped, sculpin dry hopped etc

Al: This whole situation with the firkins has been a fight since the beginning.  When I was first researching the hand pumps the distributor told me it was “a waste of time and money” but i still asked what firkins they could get me and after waiting a few days for a response I called in to be told no one is shipping firkins at this time.  I was totally bummed for days and got the idea to start contacting the breweries about the firkins myself.  The response I got from most of  them was, ” we just don’t have the firkins to send you”.  After being bummed for a few more days I went and purchased 3 dozen firkins which was very expensive and then recontacted the breweries and low and behold about 90% of them jumped right on board.

BGN: Any word on being able to get a hold of Russian River beers?

Al: I don’t believe that we will ever see the Russian River beers here unless their is a major expansion at the brewery.  They are well over capacity as it is, although if anyone should be allowed to sell that brand it should be Al’s of Hampden because we actually care a great deal about our product we sell.  I am constantly sending kegs and csses back if they do not meet our standard of freshness and quality.

BGN: What is your favorite style of beer

Al: My favorite stlye is def. double or triple ipa but latley ive been drinking a lot of american wild ales, the sours are incredible these days.

BGN: What is your favorite and least favorite beer.

Al: My favorite is fresh Moylans Hopsikle.  You can actually taste the hops just by smelling it, I was also blown away by Bullfrog Hopgasm.  Least favorite woulf be hefe.  They just don’t work for me.

About Chris Steltz

Clinical lab scientist by day, beer geek by night.