Happy Hour with Herb Chereck of Decatur Package Store

The store's affable owner talks spirits, community, and more

Herb Chereck never thought that law school in Cleveland would lead him to running the Decatur Package Store, but that's exactly what happened. In 1992, after just a month of school, Chereck heard from a relative in Alpharetta who was looking for a partner to run a liquor store. He decided to take the plunge.

Ten years later Chereck got the opportunity to branch out on his own, taking over the Decatur Package Store, one of the oldest shops in the area. Ever since, he's been building a happy clientele and leaving his mark on a close-knit Decatur community that's become known for its embrace of booze in many, many forms.

First off, favorite places for a drink in Decatur?

Leon's, Paper Plane, Kimball House, No. 246, Iberian Pig, Mac McGee. Truth be told, it's hard to find a bad drink in Decatur.

What makes Decatur and its drinking culture special?

The Decatur community is incredibly supportive. And the city really embraces its festivals, like the Decatur Wine Festival. Plus, the community is always willing to experiment and try something new. All of this creates a social atmosphere and environment where craft cocktail bars and specialty package stores can thrive and be successful. It's an awesome synergy.

When you hear the following words what do you think of?

Boone's Farm: You have to learn to crawl before you can run. No one's first drink is a Manhattan.

Local beer: A sense of place. In Europe, each town has its own local drink. It's nice to see this happening all over metro Atlanta.

Pappy Van Winkle: Charity. I'm partnering with the Pinewood in Decatur to have a Van Winkle dinner/tasting to benefit Poverty is Real on Jan. 12 and 13.

Sunday sales: In today's 24/7 world, it was inevitable.

As far as liquor sales go, what are the most important trends you've seen over the past several years?

First is the resurgence of classic cocktails featuring bourbon, rye, and gin, plus modern twists on these classics. Five years ago, I just carried one bitters, Angostura. Now I have four shelves of them. And there's the relaunching old European brands of liqueurs, vermouths, and amaros. It's amazing that these esoteric products from importers like Haus Alpenz and Tempus Fugit are selling so well.

Second is the explosion of seasonal items, one-offs, and barrel aging in the craft beer world. And third, I'd say, is the availability of wines from every corner of the world. I used a Tannat from Uruguay in my wine club last month, which never would have happened a decade ago.

What was the last great drink you had?

I was at my niece's wedding a few weeks ago and had a Moscow Mule at the hotel bar. I don't really drink vodka, but it was the best drink because they used a homemade ginger beer and it was fantastic. I'm going to ask them for the recipe.

Wine or beer?

If you put a gun to my head, I'd have to say wine. The diversity of styles and flavors is amazing. It's a beverage that changes from first sip to last and from vintage to vintage.

California or Burgundy?

Spain actually. I have quite a large Spanish section at the store. I love the wines from Rioja. The required barrel and bottle aging there can give them great complexity, plus they're very affordable relative to Napa and Burgundy.

Bourbon or Scotch?

Bourbon. It's the most dynamic liquor at the moment. We're currently offering whiskey from seven different hand-selected barrels at the store, from brands as disparate as Four Roses and Georgia's 13th Colony, which is a great way for whiskey enthusiasts to discover the difference a barrel can make.

What's in store for the Decatur Package Store?

When it comes to wine, I love finding new regions and varietals to expose to my customers. On the spirits front, we sold one-liter oak barrels this fall for aging your own cocktails, and I want to continue with that. You'd be amazed how a few months in a barrel will mellow and integrate a cocktail. We're also expanding our single-barrel program next year with a tequila from Maestro Dobel. It should arrive in the early spring just in time for the warm weather. And I'm always on the lookout for new bitters or the next obscure spirit that's being launched. I try to offer a nice home for my fellow cocktail and spirit geeks.

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