Within 15 minutes of the store's opening on a recent Wednesday, three customers either called or walked into The Beer Dispensary in Apex seeking bottles of Bell's Hopslam. This most coveted beer is released only once a year, and craft beer geeks are desperate to get their hands on it.
Owner Tim Overcash has bad news for them; he got three cases the day before and says "you can measure in minutes" how quickly it sold out.
Not so long ago, a craft beer lover's best option to get a bottle of such a rare beer in the Triangle was to trek to Sam's Quick Shop in Durham.
But in little over a year, four craft beer stores have opened in Wake County: the Beer Dispensary in Apex and Bottle Revolution, Tasty Beverage and the Bottle Shop at Tyler's Taproom, all in Raleigh.
Many see it as the inevitable evolution of the North Carolina craft beer scene, which now boasts 58 breweries.
"Along with more breweries, you need more places to buy their beer," says Win Bassett, executive director of the N.C. Brewers Guild.
But many of these stores aren't just a place to browse the shelves for a good bottle of craft beer. Many have beers on tap so you can enjoy a beer while you shop or make that the first stop on a night out on the town.
North Carolina's craft beer evolution began in 2005 when a law was passed eliminating a cap on alcohol content in beer at 6 percent by volume. Not only did craft beer brewed elsewhere flood into stores here, but breweries began popping up from Fuquay-Varina to Asheville. Here in Raleigh, a few of these craft beer connoisseurs saw an opportunity to feed that thirst and became entrepreneurs:
Overcash had worked in research and development for DuPont in Research Triangle Park for 15 years before opening his store in December 2010. His store, just off the main drag in picturesque downtown Apex, is reminiscent of a wood-paneled pub with its dark wood shelving and beer displays. Overcash hopes to position his store to cater to the craft beer lovers in the growing areas of Apex, Cary, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Morrisville.
Johnny Belflower and Sean Pratt worked as a web developer and a legal courier respectively before opening their store, Tasty Beverage, in August. With six taps and about eight barstools, their downtown Raleigh store in the warehouse district has become an after-work destination for office workers and an early evening destination for a younger, hipper crowd.
Ted Gross opened Bottle Revolution off Lake Boone Trail in September. This former fitness equipment salesman decided to open his store in that location because it is the closest retail spot to both RBC arena and Carter-Finley stadium. Sports fans can pre-order beer and he'll stock a reusable cooler for them to pick up on the way to the game.
Then Tyler Huntington, one of the Triangle's first craft beer entrepreneurs with four Tyler's Taproom bars and restaurants from Apex to Carrboro, decided to open a craft beer store adjacent to his Raleigh restaurant. (Huntington already owns Carrboro Beverage Co., a craft beer store a few doors down from his Carrboro restaurant.) The Raleigh store opened last month but is celebrating its grand opening tonight.
So far, business is good. Or, as Gross explains, you don't have problems as a retailer if your only problem is customers pestering you about whether the rare beer they want is in stock.