Time Flies: Murphy’s Liquor Exchange Moves into Ninth Year
by Jack Partain
When Sean Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Liquor Exchange on the corner of 29th and Topeka, purchased his store it was hardly the destination spot for craft beer enthusiasts it is today.
“Originally there was only three doors for imports and micros and the rest was completely the big three,” he says with a laugh.
“When you walked in the first thing you saw was a big stack of Natural Light,” he continues. “So it was strictly a domestic kind of store.”
That was nine years ago this November. Since that time Murphy has transformed the store into a tiny little oasis for import and craft beer lovers in southwest Topeka, which is a larger community than you might think. Today Murphy’s stocks everything from the classic’s of craft like New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Redhook’s Longhammer IPA to the latest crazy beers newly released to thirsty Kansans like Ska Brewing Company’s Decadent Imperial IPA, which is a 92 IBU, 10% alcohol monster out of Durango, Colorado, a brew which Murphy particularly enjoys.
“I can’t take a whole lot of hop presence,” he says of the beer. “But I couldn’t detect any hops... It sneaks up on you.”
Murphy grew up in western Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, in Rolling Rock and Yuengling country but didn’t really discover the world of good beer until his time in the Coast Guard.
“Travelling with the Coast Guard kind of opened me up to the different beers out there. Austrailia was probably the first place I had good beer,” he says. “We sailed down there for the Bicentennial back in ‘88 or ‘89.”
“You had all these Austrailian brands down there like Cascade and Tooey’s. That was the first time I had a stout that wasn’t Guinness and it was not bitter.”
Later his travels took him to another hot spot in the evolution of craft beer - California in the early 1990s, at the time of the original craft explosion, when brands like Sierra Nevada and others were really starting to grow into their own.
“When I was in California in the early ‘90s, was when everything was hitting out there,” Murphy says. “I was in Alameda and going down to San Deigo a lot for training and you had all these little small beer pubs and beer pizzaria’s popping up. So everybody was making beer back then, local beers, so it was kind of cool to try all the stuff that people were making.”
After relocating to Topeka, Murphy set to work promoting craft beer in his store. Since taking over he has doubled the space alotted to craft and imports in his coolers, from three doors to six and a full cooler of bombers, as well as individually priced singles of seasonal and year round brews, each arranged by style rather than brewery, and accompanied by notecards filled with essential information about each beer such as SRM statistics on the color of the beer, and IBU count. Like everyone else, his best selling imports are Corona and other Mexican style pale lagers, but the American craft’s hedging nicely into the market.
“The hopheads are buying up the IPA’s,” he says. “[Redhook’s] Longhammer is probably the best seller, and, if we can keep it in stock, the Sierra Nevada Torpedo is selling very good right now as well as the Schlafly APA and Breckenridge’s 471.”
And autumn is a particularly interesting time for beer everywhere with the seasonal releases of Oktoberfest brews.
“All the Oktoberfest beers are doing great,” Murphy says. “The summer beers do okay, and the winter beers do okay, but the Oktoberfest beers are crazy. The Sam Adams is just flying off the shelf. All of them are, the Paulener, the Spaten.”
Initially, Murphy’s transistion from the “strictly domestic” approach of the previous owner to the celebration of all things beer his store is today, wasn’t easy. Being located in a predominantly working class neighborhood, it seemed to make sense to maintain the status quo and stress the Big 3. But Murphy had a different plan and now when you walk into the beer section of his store you see a displays for seasonal craft brews and nicely aging bottles of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series rather than the stacks of Natural Light customers were previously greeted by. And, you have to walk past all of the ‘good’ beer to get to the various Lite’s, Light’s, and Best’s, decisions which have frustrated many salesmen wondering why he takes the chance.
“Why? Because I like it,” Murphy says, laughing while stocking twelve packs of Modelo in his cooler.
“I just like the variety of the styles. I don’t think a lot of people realize how many styles there are and how they developed over time because of where they came from
and how nature played arole in how a style was developed.”
And which of those does he like the best?
“My favorite brewery?” he says. “I’m gonna hem and haw on that. I don’t hang on one brewery.”
After a few minutes of careful consideration he decides on Schlafly, the world renowned St Louis brewery which, when it was finally released to Kansas last year was practically a historic event for craft lovers.
“Every beer in their line seems to be pretty true to the style,” he says.
But does he remember his first beer?
“Yes,” he says with a smile., as if reluctant to elaborate.
“I’ll probably get myself into trouble..,” he says before telling me the story. (Which, incidentally is pretty funny and probably wouldn’t actually get him into trouble. But we here at The Point don’t want to get anyone in trouble, especially not someone as cool as Sean, so we’ll just mention here that Murphy’s Liquor Exchange is located at 400 SW 29th St, in Topeka’s Country Club shopping center, and sports the best selection in south west Topeka of craft beer and a great selection of all things liquory and good. Their motto, “The good things in life are either immoral, fattening, illegal, or at Murphy’s Liquor Exchange sums up Sean’s store pretty well.)
“...but nobody noticed,” Murphy laughs.
“Yeah, my first beer was a Coors Light,” he concludes.