Where It All Began.
Anyone who has been around West Chester for more than a few days has usually heard of or seen Spaz Beverage. It’s kinda hard to miss it sitting at the intersection of Rt. 202 and S. Matlack St. with the name in 2 story letters on the side! Long-time West Chester residents, though, will remember that it used to be on the west side of town near the Beer Mill. As owner Bobby Spaziani likes to say, the current warehouse is the “house that Genessee built.” Because of the popularity of the Genessee brand of beers in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, which Spaz wholesaled, they needed to find a new and bigger home, eventually settling south of town in the current location.
Let me tell you, Spaz Beverage is a…let’s say, unique, place, starting with the name, derived from the Spaziani family name. Beyond the company name, there has been an incredible cast of goofballs, charlatans and misfits on the payroll over the years. Only a place like Spaz could amass a cast of characters with names like Cuz (aka Porky), Fuzz, Coach, Sea Biscuit, Disheveled Brian, Boom Boom, Sparkles, Elvis, Bip, Bull, Dude Scott, Dave 1, Dave 2, Dave 3 (aka GPS…he got lost a lot), Pockets, G-Unit All-Star and Squirrel (aka Fall-Out Boy, J Rizzle, PJ, Broseph). Believe you me, there were plenty of mishaps and shenanigans making grey hairs pop out on the heads of management! We often thought that we would make a great reality show but, alas, we missed that boat. Side note: my brothers seemed to think that it was rather prophetic that I ended up working at a place called Spaz, since that was their usual epithet for me throughout my entire childhood.
Why Is It Ending?
Although Spaz’s building is big, they are actually one of the smaller distributor’s in the 5-county region, covering only Chester County. Most distributors cover 2 or more counties and some, like Origlio Beverage, the company that bought the Spaz wholesale license, covers all 5! The smaller size of the company allowed them to give quicker and more personal service but was eventually a disadvantage when it came to absorbing the cost of gas, healthcare, vehicle insurance etc. This has led to selling the wholesale license and downsizing to just a retail store. Bobby Spaz is looking for a new location for the retail store, which will remain at the current location for the next year or so while a real estate deal for the property is worked out.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Not much will change for the average consumer as far as buying beer goes. You will still have 3 retailers serving West Chester: Goshen Beverage, the Beer Mill and Spaz Beverage. The change will come more with how bars, restaurants and delis are serviced as they will have fewer wholesaler options. Whether this is a good or bad thing has yet to be decided as consolidation seems to be the way this business is heading for the moment. I know some people are not happy about this fact, while others find it more convenient. Only time will tell.
Now For the Good Stuff…Top 5 Spaz Beers of All Time (or at least during my tenure with Spaz):
5. Natural Light (aka WCU Light): This beer is a staple of the West Chester area, owing to its cheap price tag and therefore, popularity with the average college student. The funny thing is, I do see some definite NON-college students picking this up; apparently it is enjoyed by people of all ages, though not the writer of this article. One of my favorite regular experiences at Spaz was trying to get people to buy any cheaper alternative to Natty. We were usually given a look as if we are trying to get them to substitute water for champagne on New Year’s Eve! Gotta love the loyalty of its drinkers!
4. Miller Lite (aka West Chester Lite): This beer is the other staple of the West Chester area and bar scene. I am convinced that it is almost impossible to survive as a bar in this town unless you have this beer available and on special at all times. I cannot tell you how many times I have delivered mass quantities of this beer to bars in town. It is amazing how Miller has gotten a certain age group to drink nothing but their beer. Other beer companies could do well to examine their marketing strategies but, then again, it would have to be a relatively cheap light beer to replicate the success.
3. Samuel Adams/Heineken: These 2 beer companies and their varieties and brands (Twisted Tea and Amstel, respectively) have been the mainstays of the wholesale end of Spaz Beverage for the past few years. Both are extremely successful brands that continue to grow and reinvent themselves. Although I usually prefer micro beers to Sam Adams, they do make an impressive line of what they call the Brewmaster’s Collection. Jim Koch has done a great job of blending the feel and experimentation of a micro with the efficiency and distribution of a macro. If no micros are available, I will gladly grab a Sam as a substitute.
2. Haffenreffer Private Stock Malt Liquor: A Bobby Spaz favorite! Ask him about it the next time you are there. Spaz has distributed this beer for years and, although I don’t think it has ever passed my lips, I’m sure it is quite an experience. Available in 12oz & 16oz cans or 22oz and 40oz bottles, there is a Private Stock for everyone!
Drum roll please…
1. Genessee Cream Ale: I picked this as the top Spaz beer, not just because Genessee was a major contributor to Spaz’s success over the past 60 years, but also because this is quite possibly the best cheap beer out there. Genessee almost got rid of this variety, but then took it to a beer festival where it won a medal in a blind taste test! So, the Cream Ales lives on. We are in a recession (or are we?), so if you are looking to get some good beer but can’t afford the top shelf stuff you normally drink, give the Cream Ale a try. Thankfully, Genny has it available in 12oz glass bottles so you don’t have to sip out of a can.
There you have it, Spaz Beverage wholesale is done, but the Spaztastic feeling lives on! I will cherish the memories and miss all of the great people I have worked with during the past 5 ½ years. For the rest of you, I am sure that you will not miss our beautiful and finely tuned (HA!) pickup trucks that are usually parked in your way as you try to navigate the wonderful one-way streets of West Chester. ‘Til next time!