WINSTON-SALEM — Just after 8 a.m. Saturday, a crowd of hundreds filled Foothills Brewery to the brim.
The diehard craft beer fans who waited in the cold outside the Winston-Salem brewpub for hours quickly began unpacking personal coolers with some of the rarest craft beers in America.
A child-like anticipation built as everyone scouted the ante of colorful labels at an event that stands unrivaled in the North Carolina beer scene.
The crowds ostensibly came for the once-a-year bottle release party for Foothills Sexual Chocolate, an imperial stout that ranks among the states best beers.
But as part of the experience, Foothills sanctions a bottle-share both at the Friday night pre-party and Saturday morning ahead of the bottle release.
The event is a gathering of craft beer enthusiasts who bring coveted beers from across the country most of them not available in North Carolina to share with complete strangers, who in turn offer a taste from their own collections.
Its kind of a community soup around beer, explained Gary Forbis, a 45-year-old from Greensboro who offered me a rare beer from Pennsylvania he brought to Foothills. Its just sharing your love of beer, thats the big thing.
The etiquette is simple, Forbis said. The first rule: bring enough to share. Then, try to be friendly and share what youve got.
The bottles often are hoarded and aged for years in closets and wine fridges. Others are collected through trades with craft beer fans across the country.
Foothills bottle-share party is the ultimate event, marked with a beer festival atmosphere. Once the bottles are opened, little tastes typically 1 to 3 ounces are poured and the rest gets passed on.
Its kind of like everybody looks at the bottles people are carrying when they walk by and a lot of times a conversation blossoms and we end up trading tastes of the beers we have, said Billy Steele, who approached me with a 2011 Deschutes Brewery Abyss.
The sharing goes fast and furious, a dizzying swirl of dark, chocolatey stouts followed by fruity sours and bitter double India pale ales. A Frothy Beard Mothers Milk Stout from South Carolina. A Cascade Vlad the Imp Aler from Oregon. A Russian River Pliny the Elder from California.
Foothills can get overwhelming, said Laura Tastad, a 34-year-old from Greensboro, who sat across from me. You dont know what you are tasting anymore. Its such a mad rush to taste that you forget what you had and when you had it.
Everywhere I turned I saw a beer on my bucket list or another I didnt even know existed. But the madness is addictive. Expect to see Tastad back next year. And me, too.
To hold my own, I reached deep into my collection, grabbing a 2012 New Glarus Raspberry Tart from Wisconsin, a Jester King from Texas (aged on cedar and fermented with brett yeast) and a Firestone Walker Double Jack double India pale ale from California.
I collected all from friends and on travels in recent years. Look for them and the other great beers mentioned above, and then find friends to share.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.