In an era of raging culture wars and bitter political divides, I had all but abandoned the thought of Americans coming together to bridge the gaps and engage in meaningful dialogue. But I recently discovered a place here in our capital where parties once divided by ideology have found common ground.
Its called Bottle Mixx, and its where beer drinkers and wine lovers go in North Raleigh to mingle on equal footing.
This convergence of wine and beer drinkers has become a groundswell here and around the nation. Once synonymous with affluence and elevated taste, wine drinker is no longer shorthand for snob any more than beer drinker is shorthand for slob. The rise of the craft brew scene, especially strong in North Carolina, has given birth to a particular kind of beer lover who bears a great resemblance to her wine-loving friend. Beer lovers know their IPAs from their rye ales just like oenophiles distinguish between pinot noir and merlot. Both anoint the creators of their beverages with rock star status, with beer lovers becoming obsessed with breweries just as wine lovers dedicate themselves to a particular estate or grape-growing region. The descriptive vocabulary, the stemware, even the price-per-glass are comparable.
Of course, the idea of a store that sells both beer and wine is no novelty. Recent years have seen a mini boom of both wine shops and beer stores in the Triangle. Generally these fall into one of three categories: beer stores that dabble in wine, wine stores that dabble in beer or never the twain shall meet.
Ellen McKim, who opened Bottle Mixx with her husband Bruce McKim last October, says their goal was to shoot straight down the middle and bring the two markets together. The layout of the shop reflects this, with half of shelving space dedicated to wine and the other half bearing beer. A bar in the back of the store serves 10 beers on draft and 16 wines by the glass.
And while Bottle Mixx is cool, its not hip. Dont expect the tattoos, beards, dogs or toddlers-on-the-loose that you find at downtown hot spots. McKim says most of her regulars are in their mid-30s to upper 50s and live within a 3-mile radius of the shop, which sits at the intersection of Creedmor and Strickland roads in the well-tended Brennan Station shopping center. If their customers have kids at home, theyre generally old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient.
They know what they want, she said. Theyre willing to come and appreciate that we might offer unique beers or unique wines. Theyre not looking for bargain necessarily, though we do have them. And theyre very in tune with buying local.
Thats not to say Bottle Mixx is too mature to have fun. On a recent Thursday evening, I managed to develop my wine savvy a bit by sampling varietals from the Pacific Northwest. I chatted with the distributor who was pouring, I sized up the offerings and I nibbled on cheese. Then I headed over to the cooler, where the shelves hold a vast range of beers, from Dogfish Heads latest concoctions to bottles of Iron City, Pittsburghs infamous old-school brew. All are available to mix and match as six-packs. Peering through the glass, I felt a bit like a kid in an old-fashioned candy store, bedazzled by the visuals, almost paralyzed by the choices.
Bruce McKim and Bottle Mixx general manager Dave Paulson stock the cooler guided by their beer knowledge and an appreciation for the offbeat. Like intense wine drinkers, beer nerds can take themselves too seriously if you dont toss them a whimsical surprise now and then.
People who follow us want to see what we get in, she said. Dave and Bruce try to keep it interesting.
McKim said the store recently hired a full-time wine associate to focus on cultivating that side of the inventory.
The beer store and bar elements of Bottle Mixxs personality created the feel of a destination, she said. Beer store still sounds less intimidating to many than wine shop.
Those beer people, they cross over into wine, McKim said.
I know the ideologies that divide us as a body politic are far more critical than our preferences for wine or beer. But in this season of political strife, I am taking heart in the fact that wine lovers and beer drinkers have learned to coexist.
Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com