But it is the biweekly tasting events that Chung started hosting one year ago -- tastings that feature even quirkier and harder-to-find selections -- that got people driving in from the suburbs. In just one day last summer, in an event for respected California brewer Stone Brewing, Chung tapped a Japanese Green Tea Imperial IPA; the brewery's Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA -- the only place in Washington State to ever serve them, he says -- as well as a limited-availability chipotle pepper smoked porter. Nearly 200 beer aficionados showed up.
That was nothing: On a Tuesday night in September, 300 thirsty people swarmed the store for a tasting of 10 beers by Northwest stalwart Deschutes Brewery. The line for beer wound past the pork rinds, snaked past the bear claws sweating in their cellophane, doubled past the packs of Rough Rider studded condoms ("The Original") until the humanity -- Goths and bikers, hipsters and plumbers -- reached all the way to the beer cooler at the rear of the store. "My employees were freaking out," recalls Chung.
In the last two years Chung has served beers that are near the top of the list for any beer snob, from Dogfish Head's 120-Minute IPA, to Port Brewing's Older Viscosity, a dark strong ale aged in bourbon barrels. He's tapped beers brewed with figs. Beer with blueberries. "We even had bacon beer," he says. "I think customers tasted more of that beer than any other beer."
His biggest coup yet was last March, when acclaimed California brewer Russian River released Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA that Beer Advocate has rated the best beer in the world. All of Seattle received about 20 kegs, by one estimate (Russian River declined to provide numbers, not wanting to spur discord among bars); people nearly rioted at bars like the Dray to get a small pour. Super Deli Mart got one of the kegs.
How does a convenience store get Pliny the Younger? It's simple, says Chung: "I move huge quantities of beers for them" -- in bottles, but also in the drafts he pours and the jugs he fills. Most bars have to earn back three to four times the cost of a keg. Not Chung. "I didn't do the draft beer to make money; I did it as marketing," he says. "If I make 25 percent on my drafts, I'm super-stoked." He charges just $3 anytime for a pint of, say, Bridgeport's Hop Czar IPA -- a better deal than any Happy Hour in the city -- and $5 to $10 to fill a half-gallon growler. (Given the volume, he still makes money on the kegs, he says.) Great prices for great beer are a big reason people keep showing up. You just have to be cool with sipping your pint not far from the Tampax.
"It could be $400, $500, I'll still buy it," Chung says of a keg, "because the customers appreciate it, and I'll probably kill that keg in a matter of hours."
And then, of course, there's the beer cooler that he hopes patrons will visit. It holds many of the mart's 500 -- soon to be 600 -- different beers and barley wines, from tallboys of Colt .45 malt liquor, to hard-to-find bottles like Firestone Walker's Double Jack Imperial IPA. There are porters from Hawaii made using toasted coconut, and beers that taste like crème brulee. Nearby is the 2009 Old Stock Ale from California's North Coast Brewing Company, a small, sand-colored bottle with a cork stopper atop a graceful neck -- so handsome a bottle it looks as though a genie might emerge from it. The bottle contains just over one pint of liquid, and costs $25.99.