WINSTON-SALEM — Evan Ruff traveled three hours from South Carolina to sleep on the sidewalk outside Foothills Brewing on one of the coldest nights of the year.
Behind him, Chris Ransom of Boone huddled close to a camping stove, stirring hash browns and sausage for shivering friends from Tennessee and Alabama.
And toward the back, where the line stretched about 200 people long, Jason Wirgas and Ashley Duman stood bundled in 20-degree temperatures after driving 11 hours straight through the night from Tampa, Fla.
All for one thing: Sexual Chocolate.
The provocatively named, award-winning Imperial Stout from Foothills is one of the most coveted beers made in North Carolina.
Hundreds of craft beer pilgrims trekked from across the Southeast for the beers once-a-year bottle release Saturday at the brewpub in downtown Winston-Salem. The 22-ounce bottles cost $15 and typically sell out in hours. The Internet resale value tops $60.
The line even if smaller this year because of the frigid temperatures serves as an amazing testament to North Carolinas place on the national craft beer map.
The cult status for the bottle with the ebony woman on the label is legendary and still surprises the brewers. Its really unbelievable, pub brewer David Gonzalez said Saturday as he surveyed the crowd. It blows my mind.
Foothills started brewing the beer in 2007, but brewmaster Jamie Bartholomaus started tinkering with the recipe a decade earlier as a homebrewer in college.
If there was a reason to make a beer, we used it, he said. Valentines Day was coming up, so we decided to put chocolate in a stout and called it Sexual Chocolate.
The demand is driven by the craft beer worlds penchant for undiscovered, local small breweries. Other breweries across the country hold special release events that attract hundreds, if not thousands, seeking hard-to-find beers. In North Carolina, Foothills Sexual Chocolate is the biggest show.
The brewery tapped the first keg Friday at the downtown pub, and diehards began camping on the sidewalk in the wee morning hours Saturday to buy the bottles that went on sale at 10 a.m.
This is the second year Ruff, a 28-year-old from Greenville, sat at the front of the line. He left the warmth of the Foothills pub at 1:30 a.m. to start the line.
Bracing for the cold, he brought blankets and a small space heater. Still, at one point he ran around the block to stay warm.
To him, its about far more than the beer. We see all the same people all over again every year, Ruff said. . The beer is great, but to see the same people from all over the country, its just amazing. The camaraderie in the craft beer industry is second to none.
The sentiment is evident inside the Foothills pub shortly after 7:30 a.m., when the doors opened to allow the faithful to thaw. As wait staff served warm sausage biscuits and hot coffee, beer lovers unloaded bottles from other craft breweries, offering tastes to strangers.
The opportunity to try beers from across the country that arent distributed in North Carolina is as much part of the allure as the Sexual Chocolate release. At a table with beer lovers from as close as the Triangle and as far away as Atlanta, I asked how they explain their desire to wait in line for hours for a bottle of beer.
Jon Odgers, a 38-year-old from Raleigh, said its a good question. I think some people will look at you funny, he said. But other people who are into craft beer, they know this beer they know its popularity.
Gonzalez, the Foothills brewer, summed it up best: Its the beer geekdom, or whatever you want to call it, and we embrace it.
What Im drinking
Its big IPA season, one of my favorite times of the year.
The hoppy, bitter goodness on the bottle shop shelves now includes Lagunitas Sucks, Green Flashs Palate Wrecker and Bells Brewerys Hopslam. (The latter hit local beer stores this week, but it is also the hardest to find, usually selling out in minutes.)
But this year I found a new beer on tap at the Beer Study in Chapel Hill: NoDa Brewings Hop, Drop n Roll.
The Charlotte brewery led by head brewer Chad Henderson, a Chapel Hill native blended English and American malts with loads of citrus-tinted hops to give the beer an addictively beautifully floral nose and crisp, clean bitterness. It will satisfy the strongest hop heads.
Stats: 7.2 percent ABV, 80 IBU.
Contact John at email@example.com or 919-829-4698. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnFrank.