Trader Moe’s: Destination Shopping for Beer Connoisseurs
Got beer? For entrepreneur Josh Cohen, the answer is a definitive, resounding YES! For nearly five years he’s been introducing his customers to the joys of craft ale at his bar, Moe’s Tavern, on a back street in the center of Lee, Massachusetts. Now he’s opened a Main Street retail shop filled with hard-to-find, seasonal, and limited-edition beer from across the country and around the globe. Confused by the difference between a Pilsner and a Porter? Don’t know an IPA from an Imperial Stout? Don’t worry. As Nichole Dupont discovered, Cohen and his beer-besotted brethren will be glad to help find the right brew for you.
Trader Moe’s proprietor Josh Cohen with Jimmy McGuire of The Happy Hour Guys.
“You know how there are six degrees of separation with people?” Josh Cohen asks, wiping down the counter of his bar, Moe’s Tavern, on a quiet afternoon. “With beer, there are only two degrees. Each beer brings you to a different state, or even a different country. I’ve had five years worth of conversations while people are sitting at the bar telling me I should open a store.”
Which is exactly what he has done. The 42-year-old father of two young girls, who grew up in the Berkshires and five years ago opened Moe’s Tavern, a popular bar specializing in craft ales, tucked behind Main Street in Lee, MA, is on to his next project: Trader Moe’s.
On top of its clever name, Trader Moe’s is a clever concept, filling a particular niche in the region. It’s part retail shop, part gallery, and all beer. The store’s signage is an etched wooden barrel slat stuck in the front window. Inside, light bounces off hundreds of bottles of specialty ales, mead, and hybrid brews adorned with art-quality labels, attractively arrayed with precision and style in wooden shelves and coolers. Massive casks hint at the ancient art of fermentation.
The newly renovated storefront reveals two things; beer possibilities are infinite, and Cohen is a master at spotting possibilities. Apricot Wheat Ale from Ithaca Beer Co. mingles in retro coolers with Bacon Brown Ale from Uncommon Brewers. The selection, more than 250 varieties in all, is dizzying, with Dogfish Head rarities such as the chai-infused Finnish-style ale Sah’tea, and Ta Henket, an Egyptian-inspired ale made with chamomile and zatar spices, sharing shelf space with Allagash Curieux, which picks up a bourbon flavor from having spent eight months in old oak barrels that previously held Jim Beam. There are even multiple gluten-free brews so celiac disease sufferers can safely imbibe.
Starr Nader and Cohen show off a large-format favorite.
The choices could be daunting for a beer newcomer. Thankfully, the environment is just the opposite. Cohen and his assistant, Starr Nader, welcome the opportunity to sing the praises of the micro-batch revolution, introduce beer lovers to new options, and help customers who might be overwhelmed by the choices, most of which they may never have heard of.
“Clearly, there’s no Coors Light here, but we can steer them (customers) in a direction that they are trying to go, or to try something new,” Nader says, gesturing toward a 12-pack of Full Sail Brewing Company’s Session Lager, Oregon’s rebuttal to anything produced by Anheuser-Busch. Nader has a particular fondness for Belgian ales, noting “American breweries can’t do that bitterness justice.”
Cohen’s dream of creating a beer emporium began long before Trader Moe’s was even a gleam in his eye. As a boarding student at Northfield Mount Hermon School, one of his best friends was Sam Calagione, who went on to found Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery. Cohen finds inspiration in Dogfish Head’s innovative brews, such as Namaste, a Belgian white infused with orange slices, coriander, and lemongrass; Aprihop, a springtime IPA containing apricot to complement the hops; and Bitches’ Brew, a dark blend of stouts, honey, and gesho root, a Buckthorn variety commonly used in Ethiopian beer, that was created as a tribute to Miles Davis. Beer geekdom reaches its apotheosis in Dogfish’s Urkontinent, a Belgian Dubbel-style beer incorporating ingredients from five continents, including Australian wattleseed, South American amaranth, African rooibos tea, European myrica gale, and U.S. honey.
“They (Dogfish Head) are really spearheading the experimental beer movement,” Cohen said. While his friend’s company, if not all of its specialty brews, may be familiar to to beer lovers who have graduated from Sam Adams and Anchor Steam Ale, Cohen is also partial to Longmont, Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery, which launched the “Canned Beer Apocalypse” in 2002. The brewery’s return to cans, which have long carried the stigma of “cheap beer,” has not only raised public awareness about the eco-conscious and freshness-retaining quality of canned beer (not to mention the picnic-and-camping-friendly lighter weight), but has also encouraged a quiet revolution among other micro-breweries. According to CraftCans.com, there are now more than 200 craft breweries in 45 states selling high-quality beer in cans.
In addition to carrying Oskar Blues ales, Trader Moe’s also stocks the brewery’s beer-infused hot sauces (hard as it may be to imagine that one could taste the beer on top of the hot peppers, especially in the case of Ten Fidy, which contains the fearsome ghost chili). But like these specialty condiments, many of the brews at Trader Moe’s are not year-round commodities. Much of Cohen’s stock is not just seasonal, but released as limited editions, such as BRUX Domesticated Wild Ale, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Sonoma’s Russian River Brewing Co., the vaunted, rarely-seen-on-the-East-Coast brewery. Don’t take it for granted that a beer you tried and loved will be there when you return to buy another bottle. According to Cohen, “Most beers here are quite unique and almost none are available all the time,” he said. “Accessibility tends to come and go.”
To say Cohen lives and breathes beer is hardly an exaggeration. He owns the building that houses Moe’s Tavern and Trader Moe’s, and resides in an apartment above the businesses. Despite his encyclopedic knowledge, Cohen is not one to fly off for tasting trips to Ethiopia or Belgium; he’s too busy tending bar and selecting fine ales and beer for the shelves of Trader Moe’s. His clientele is more than willing to throw out suggestions and other tidbits. Not to mention, Cohen already has an impressive list of unique brews on the tip of his tongue.
“I get out to maybe two festivals a year,” he said confidently. “People rarely convince me of something I wasn’t already excited about to begin with. I do my research. This is my spa. It’s an oasis,” Cohen said. “It’s a showroom. Yeah, it’s the factory showroom.” —Nichole Dupont
77 Main Street, Lee
Monday - Saturday, 1 p.m. until at least 7 p.m; Sundays 12-5 p.m.