ST. CLAIR SHORES — Tony Batou knew alcohol was his passion back when he started his first retail location in 1995.

Batou, Owner of The Wine Garden, started developing his zeal for spirits right out of the gate at 21 years old.

“I went to a lot of beer tastings, wine tastings, liquor tastings,” he said. “Sometimes almost 40 or 50 a year, probably more.”

The original location of The Wine Garden was just four blocks south of the current address, located at 22425 Harper Ave. It was just a matter of time before Batou realized the need for a bigger location and more space.

“I knew this location would be great. March of 2015 will be five years,” he said. “I had the opportunity to buy it in 2008, renovate it and remodel it the way I wanted to.”

The former banquet hall now holds all of the beer, liquor and wine an enthusiast can dream of. Narrow aisles allow customers to weave in and out of huge stacks upon stacks of alcohol.

Gin, whiskey, bourbon, vodkas and other liquors can be found up front by the registers. Wines are in the middle section while the back coolers and shelves contain a beer lover’s dream, full of six packs, 22 ounce and 750 milliliter bottles galore. Michigan beers dominate the selection.

“My philosophy is to get great stuff,” Batou said. “It starts with the products.”

The Wine Garden also features a large selection of premium cigars, which typically go hand-in-hand with the beverages Batou offers. Batou not only painted the walls of the store himself, but he and a friend also constructed the humidor. It goes to show how much Batou’s passion shines through.

“I’m proud of what I do and I never believe in cutting corners,” he said.

Batou recently released a collaboration beer with Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, a small-batch imperial stout aged in Batou’s hand-selected Buffalo Trace barrels. The idea and release speak to Batou’s success in the business.

“I never want to quit,” he said. “I’m all about innovation.”

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The Wine Garden celebrated the much anticipated release of its Big Tony’s Imperial Stout this past Saturday.

Eager patrons snaked the inside the store for a sample of the limited stout and the opportunity to purchase bottles of the small-batch brew. Over 50 cases were sold within 45 minutes of being released.

“I expected a lot of people to be here,” said owner Tony Batou. “I’ve been talking about it the last few years.”

The American Imperial Stout is an original recipe brewed by Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. exclusively for The Wine Garden. The stout was then aged in Buffalo Trace barrels, hand-selected by Batou, for 18 months. The final ABV clocks in at 12.9%.

The idea for the exclusive brew happened by chance one night when Kuhnhenn owner Bret Kuhnhenn visited Batou’s shop a couple of years back based on a friend’s recommendation.

“I finally made it over and Tony happened to be here. We tried some stuff and I noticed he had this whole pile of Buffalo Trace bottles,” Kuhnhenn recalled. “I told him I was a huge fan and he told me he had the barrels.”

Kuhnhenn was excited to find out about Batou’s barrel selection.

“We use bourbon barrels all the time but we don’t get Buffalo Trace barrels,” Kuhnhenn said. “So we tried [the bourbon] and we talked about what kind of beer we would like. Do we want to do a barley wine? Do we want an imperial stout?”

Ultimately, the two decided on an American Imperial Stout.

“We thought the marriage would be perfect with it, so that’s what we did,” Kuhnhenn said. “We thought it would add a little vanilla character from the bourbon barrel and it came out phenomenal.”

The nose on the brew is strong bourbon, identical to the Buffalo Trace bourbon. The stout is full of cocoa, espresso and vanilla notes throughout and finishes smooth while leaving a little spice from the bourbon.

Batou recalled wanting to make a collaboration happen with a local brewery for many years.

“I wanted to make a bad ass beer and I’ve been in his brewery many times,” he said. “Every time I went to Kuhnhenn’s and I tried any stout or anything dark like Michigan Mud, Crème Brule, anything like that, I said, ‘This is amazing.’ And all I could think about was that beer going into those barrels.”

Batou also gushed proudly about how the beer ideation and creation all happened in Macomb County, including the bottle labels designed by local artist Katie Alfonsi.

“This beer is beyond just making beer,” Batou said. “It’s the passion of a brewer, the passion of a shop owner and the passion of an artist.”

Batou hopes to continue collaborating with Kuhnhenn in the future on similar projects.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything else that makes me this happy other than having my kids,” he said. “Twenty years in business and I’ve never done anything more exciting than this. And I couldn’t have done it without Bret and Kuhnhenn.”