In fall 2020, in the midst of the worst of the pandemic, a new bar and beer shop opened in Park Slope. Named for the historical “witches” who brewed and sold beer in medieval England, Beer Witch is stocked with craft beer taps and bottles for customers to enjoy at the bar or at home. Last month, having survived a tumultuous two years that saw hundreds of businesses close, Beer Witch celebrated its two-year anniversary.
Shop owner Christa Sobier got started in the brewing industry during the early days of the beer boom in New York City, when more and more craft brewers and bottle shops were opening in the Big Apple. She did everything she could to get her foot in the door – studying to become a Cicerone, the beer equivalent of a sommelier, and working at other stores bottle shops until she was finally ready to open her own shop.
A different kind of beer store
“For years I’ve worked both in corporate and in the beer world. I did whatever I could just to meet people and work from the ground up,” Sobier said. “I volunteered at beer events, I worked at another bottle shop, I studied for my advanced Cicerone, I became a home brewer. I did everything to learn every aspect of the beer industry, just so that you know, I’m running this business by myself, I want the respect of the beer community.”
For the first few months after opening during the New York City shutdown, the Bergen Street shop operated mostly as a bottle shop — Sobier didn’t even turn the taps on until outdoor dining opened in the summertime.
Patrons at Beer Witch can browse the shelves to find a brew that suits them — the store is structured more like a traditional wine shop than a bar.
“We present beer like a wine shop here. We have a shelf talker for each bottle and can and we describe the name of the beer the brewery, the style, a short description and the [alcohol by volume],” Sobier said. “And we do the same in our menus.”
The accessibility of her shop is important to Sobier, in part because she lives with Usher Syndrome, which has caused her to lose some of her vision and hearing. The condition particularly affects her peripheral and night vision— and some bar menus can get overwhelming for her.
“Being a visually impaired person, I’d go to a lot of the beer bars and breweries and you’re just overwhelmed by the selection like ‘Oh my God, what do I get,’ and now all of its just like wine like, ‘Oh, that label looked cool,’ but I have no idea what style it is or what the ABV is,” she said.
Sobier said that some of the customers who come into Beer Witch have never seen or tasted craft beer like what’s in stock at her shop, and it’s an experience for them to find a beer they love — especially if they weren’t big beer-drinkers to begin with.
“We have a lot of specialty and classic styles that a lot of maybe Americans haven’t tasted,” Sobier said. “You know, things like that the beer nerds really seek out so it’s a lot of new flavors and new experiences for people. That’s what we wanted to present.”
Beer Witch carries a large selection of local beers and specialty craft brews like sours, saisons, hoppy beers and Belgian and German beers, as well as lots of ciders. Sobier said she hopes to always be introducing their customers to new beers and carrying some of the rarer brands that other beer shops don’t have.
Sobier said she and her staff are always available to talk about beer with their customers — as she is a certified Cicerone— she has found a staff that is similarly knowledgeable of beer.
“I’d love to talk about beer and talk to regulars,” she said. “Finding beer enthusiasts to really geek out over beer and when they’re not working beer is their life. Those are the people who do well here because we get a lot of questions, we have to talk about hops and history and styles and that’s what makes it fun.”
Two years after opening, Beer Witch finally gets to celebrate
Beer Witch threw a two-year anniversary bash in early October to finally celebrate their opening — they never found the right opportunity for a party in the last two years, and were glad to have stayed open all this time in spite of all the obstacles they faced.
“We never had like a grand opening or an opening party or anything like that and last year with Omicron happening we kind of shut down again,” Sobier told Brooklyn Paper. “And so I was like, I think this is finally the year we can do a little something to celebrate the fact that we’re still coming out of this and celebrate the regulars and what we built and here we are.”
Breweries sent in craft beer kegs, which they don’t commonly serve outside their taproom and sweets were served, Sobier said, to celebrate how far they have come with everyone who has made it possible.
“We had a lot of regulars come by, which was really nice because let’s face it, they’re a bloodline on this business,” Sobier said. “We had some cupcakes and the staff came. So it was just nice to have a celebration of ‘Wow, we did this and we’re open and we’re still forging our path here,” but that’s a little acknowledgment of accomplishment.”
Visit Beer Witch at 460 Bergen St. between 5th and Flatbush avenues in Park Slope, or get more information or peruse their selection online.