Grand Cru: A Place For Tasting Craft Beer And Artisanal Cheese
All photos courtesy of Grand Cru.
By Andrea Pyros
Rod Johnson often hears from people who claim not to like beer. His response? “You just haven’t had the right one!” Johnson, along with his wife Alicia Lenhart, is the owner of Grand Cru, a popular hybrid bar and retail shop in Rhinebeck that features beer — and plenty of it — along with artisanal cheese, wines by the glass and tasty local snacks. “If you don’t like star fruit, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to like an apple,” he adds. “There are so many kinds of beers out there today. There’s something for everyone.” Johnson gets customers who think they’d never like beer or who drink wine exclusively, and he’s able to find them a beer that absolutely “blows them away.”
Johnson and Lenhart have been ambassadors for craft beer in the Hudson Valley ever since they bought Grand Cru in 2012 from the original owners. The couple divides and conquers the store’s workload, with Lenhart helping behind the scenes on marketing, scheduling artists who showcase their work in the store and selecting the wine list. “She’s been drinking good wine longer than I have,” laughs Johnson. Together the pair picks the musical acts that perform, with Steven Spost, Cathy Young, and The Gold Hope Duo on tap for the coming months.
When it comes to finding new and exciting craft beer, the responsibility falls to Johnson, who works in the shop full time. Johnson [in photo, left] strives to locate beers no one else nearby stocks. Unlike wine, where a sales rep will come in and do a tasting for bar and shop owners, there are rarely samples for beer. Instead, Johnson seeks out craft beers whenever he’s traveling, talks to other beer lovers, uses a variety of resources on the Internet and scours the massive lists from distributors that arrive each week.
“It’s tough,” he says. “There is a brewery opening every day, so it’s hard to keep up. I can only have 300 beers and there are tens of thousands of options.” Johnson won’t carry the big brands, saying, “That’s not what we’re here for,” but he does offer affordable beers starting in the $3 range (and as low as $1.40 to go).
The bar has six taps (Johnson plans to double that in the near future), and almost every day there are changes to at least one of the beers listed. Every few weeks Grand Cru hosts a Tasting Team Event, featuring one brewery on all taps with free samples and reduced prices on growler fills or glasses in-house. Most recently Grand Cru welcomed Stone Brewing, one of the store’s top-selling brands, and Troegs Brewing Company is scheduled next.
Stop in to the casual and relaxed space and Johnson or his helpful staff will give you suggestions and allow you to sample the beers on draft. Recently, we tried the Chimay Premiere ($11), a very fine — and very rare Stateside — Belgian red, and Victory Brewery’s Summer Love ($6), a light, refreshing blond beer. Friends took advantage of the recent Stone Brewing tap takeover, enjoying the wine-like notes of the Stone Cali-Belgique ($8) and the popular Stone Go-To IPA ($6.50).
Don’t skip the cheese plate. There are typically five to choose from (one for $8, two for $12 or three for $16). Johnson tries to purchase cheese within a 100-mile radius. “I do believe in trying to consume locally. I know the farms and have visited a lot of them. I’m an ex farm boy and I want the animals treated well, the staff treated well. We’re lucky to have really great cheese makers in the Northeast and New York.”
Rich, creamy and flavorful cheeses hail from Sprout Creek (Poughkeepsie), Nettle Meadows (Warrensburgh), Chaseholm Farm Creamery (Pine Plains) and Berkshire Blue (Great Barrington) among others, and it’s why Johnson has plenty of customers who trek in for the Cru’s cheese offerings alone.
One evening, we sampled the rich, complex Truffle Falls cow’s milk cheese, and the sheep’s milk El Trigal Mantangeo, an excellent, not overly sharp selection. We added charcuterie ($2/$4), so our plate also included macadamia nuts, almonds, dates and bread from Design’s Bakery in Kingston. Grand Cru also sells other tasty vittles, like Deising’s soft pretzels, venison from Highland Farm, snack jars from The Local and Spacey Tracy’s pickles.
Though they welcome plenty of visitors who travel to seek out their craft beer, Johnson says at its heart Grand Cru is a locally driven business. “That’s important in Rhinebeck. You can’t rely on the tourists. Even with the winter we had, we still had double-digit growth from last year. Our locals and regulars really drive the heartbeat of Grand Cru.”
Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market
6384 Mill St., Rhinebeck, NY
Tuesday & Wednesday: Noon—8:30 p.m.
Thursday: Noon—9:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: Noon—11 p.m.
Sunday: Noon—7 p.m.