When the largest problem you have during a soft opening is a line stretching around the block for hours, you know you must have done something right. Johnny Belflower and Sean Pratt, owners of Tasty Beverage Co., had this issue on Monday night at the bottle shop’s “sneak peek.” Forming a line from the store’s entrance in the renovated depot building to West Davie Street in downtown Raleigh, excited craft beer lovers came out in droves as early as 5:00 p.m. when the doors did not open until 6:00 p.m. The line began to die down only several hours later as brewery representatives ran out of free samples and the Southern Tier Crème Brûlée bottles disappeared from the shelves.
“Sneak peek” attendees, however, did not seem to mind the wait. This was likely due to both the energy of the craft beer community and Tasty Beverage’s accommodations for its future customers and evangelists. Not only are seasoned beer fans accustomed to long lines and wait times for special beer releases such as Foothills‘ Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Sexual Chocolate and Olde Rabbit’s Foot, a collaboration between Foothills, Duck-Rabbit, and Olde Hickory, but they often pass the time by talking beer and trading and tasting rare brews. Fervent fans live for opportunities like these to “geek out” over their passion of craft beer.
Though no in-line trading or tasting occurred at Tasty Beverage’s soft opening, conversation and energy thrived as beer lovers discussed their latest finds, tastings, homebrew recipes, and travels among the likes of local beer supporters such as Dave Rogers of Big Boss and Ben Woodward of Haw River Ales. Further, Tasty Beverage employees and family members kept the crowd that was anxiously awaiting entry into the new store comfortable by handing out bottled water while brewery representatives worked the line with free samples and complimentary bottle openers.
Once customers made it to the store’s glass door emblazoned with the retro Tasty Beverage logo, employees checked IDs before handing out orange wristbands. Not only did a noticeably cooler climate greet beer fans as they entered the bottle shop, but Duck-Rabbit and Terrapin representatives offered attendees an assortment of their brews, including Duck-Rabbit’s Amber Ale and Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner. Eyes grew wide as customers noticed the sheer volume of Belflower and Pratt’s stock on the stainless steel shelves. While all domestically-crafted beers were available for purchase, the international brews, which Belflower is especially proud of, were not for sale because the two owners had not had enough time to enter them into their inventory system. He assured, however, that they would be available by the store’s opening late this week or early next week.
Mike Dydula, a civil engineer from Raleigh, was particularly excited that Tasty Beverage carried some of J.W. Lees’ Harvest Ales, a series of barlywines from the United Kingdom. The new bottle shop “expands the beer palate for the area,” Dydula noted. ”It enables a different demographic to get into craft beers.” Dydula enjoyed a sample of Uinta’s Dubhe Imperial Black IPA and was glad that he got to talk with Scott Stone of Stone Brewing. Stone acknowledged that the Tasty Beverage “sneak peek” crowd “shows that Raleigh is one of the most competitive areas in the country,” and he was impressed by Tasty Beverage’s space. ”It’s a great thing–beautiful, clean.”
As Belflower made the rounds, making sure that the customers, brewery representatives, and store employees were fully content, he discovered that the printer was cutting off some of the receipts at the bottom. Despite this minor issue, however, Belflower was focused on the bittersweet problem of the long line of adoring fan. Nonetheless, he admitted that “it’s a good problem to have.”
Steve Kuftinec, vice president of sales at Uinta Brewing Co., also thought it was a good problem to have. Flying from Salt Lake City to attend the Tasty Beverage soft opening and a few distributor trade shows in the state, Kuftinec noted that “Raleigh is obviously thirsty.” It was obvious from the continuous crowd at the store’s oak-made bar that its customers were parched as well. Tasty Beverage offered pints from its six in-store taps, with complimentary pint glasses, of Terrapin Tomfoolery, New Holland Dragon’s Milk, Heavy Seas Davy Jones Lager, Mother Earth Endless River, Bell’s Oberon, and Victory Hopdevil for five dollars each.
Amanda Smith, a microbiologist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, bought a pint of Bell’s Oberon after she drove nearly an hour from Lillington to attend the “sneak peek.” Smith, an avid homebrewer who loves steam beers and has a Belgian tripel currently in fermentation, learned about the event on Facebook. She became passionate about beer and homebrewing after living in Germany for two years, and the possibility of a dedicated brew store that was only an hour away thrilled her.
Smith’s favorite sampling of the night was Left Hand’s Milk Stout, which was offered along with its Stranger Pale Ale. Other samples available at the “sneak peek” included Allagash’s White and Black, New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA, Terrapin’s Rye Pale Ale, Uinta’s Titled Smile Imperial Pilsner, Schmaltz’s Coney Island Lager and He’Brew Messiah Bold, Ska’s Modus Hoperandi and ESB, and Stone’s IPA and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.
Showing off his tattoo of Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous label and sporting a North Carolina Brewer’s Guild t-shirt, Adam Springs, a Cary resident who is looking for a job in the craft beer field, stated that “Raleigh has needed something like this for a long time.” After discussing his recent rare finds, Springs attested that Belflower and Pratt “obviously know their beer.” The new store “is a step in the right direction for Raleigh, [and] the awareness for good beer can only go up from where it is right now.”
In addition to draft pints, bottles, and growlers, one of the most popular items for purchase on Monday night was the Tasty Beverage t-shirts. It was not uncommon to see a customer leaving the store with a bottle of Stone’s 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA in one hand and a store shirt in the other. While most of the shirts simply displayed the Tasty Beverage logo, some patrons bought a shirt emblazoned with the word “chombers,” which, according to Pratt, is a word that he made up years ago that can mean anything that the wearer wants it to mean, as long as it stays positive.
By 9:00 p.m., the line outside the store had disappeared, though the store was still full with what remained of the hundreds of North Carolina beer advocates that passed through the Triangle’s newest dedicated beer store. Neither Belflower nor Pratt wore “chombers” shirts to their latest endeavor’s soft opening on Monday. If they had been wearing them, however, by the end of night, “chombers” would have simply meant “successful.”