Let's face it, the walk down the beer aisle is more intimidating than it's ever been. With so many beverage options available, how do you know if what you're buying will appeal to you? Sure, you could play Russian beer roulette and just buy things at random, but who really has time for such a risk?
The easy answer is to ask somebody. Good luck with flagging down a store clerk with the knowledge you're seeking. Perhaps a change of venue is in order. Thankfully, Charlotte has some top-shelf bottle shops in town, staffed with friendly and capable folks to provide a solid first step into the world of craft beer.
Some quick homework before you head on this mini-adventure: go back to the grocery store. Browse the produce section. Smell the fresh fruits, remember their flavors. Then, go do the same with the coffee aisle. Hell, if you're feeling frisky, take home a few wine bottles. Once you have a great sense of what you like versus what you don't like, it's time for a tour of quality bottle shops. There may be a quiz on all of this later.
The first thing you may notice, if you're making your first trip from just grocery store shopping: there are even more beer options here. The second thing you'll notice: all Charlotte area bottle shops also have draft systems, allowing you to try something new before you commit to taking a six pack home.
The undisputed grandfather of Charlotte's bottle shops is Brawley's Beverage (4620 Park Road), a mainstay of the Queen City's burgeoning beer scene since 2003. Just last year, they upfitted the store with a 12-tap draft system which was soon expanded to 20 taps, allowing customers an array of beverage options to imbibe as they peruse the carefully curated bottle selection. Find something you like on draft, and odds are they'll have a bottle you can take home, or at least something quite similar. The new high-windowed cafe-esque space is a welcome addition, and the patio allows a great view of less fortunate souls stuck in rush-hour traffic.
I'm slightly biased towards Brawley's; owner Michael was formative in helping me along my own journey into craft beer. He and the rest of the staff certainly haven't gotten rusty over the years in regards to their beer knowledge; it's still a joy to watch new customers be guided through the many offerings.
Just minutes away at the southern edge of Southend, you can find Good Bottle Co. (125 Remount Road). Chris Hunt opened this shop in October of 2012, and it has quickly ingrained itself in the neighborhood. A rustically-designed bar area sports twelve taps; of note is the Father-in-Law tap to craft beer neophytes ("normally the lightest, least-hoppy beer we have available."). On the back wall is a handy map so you can see exactly where each beer comes from.
Even non-beer drinkers can get behind the monthly breakfast events at Good Bottle, averaging once a month in frequency. Jump-start your day with a coffee pourover, snag a tasty bite from Your Mom's Donuts or perhaps actual breakfast from a food truck that sets up. Even special consideration is given to beer, with breakfast-themed taps making an appearance (think beers with coffee, oranges, even doughnuts in them).
Just north in the heart of the NoDa district is Salud Beer Shop (3306 North Davidson St). Winner of last year's CL Reader's Pick for Best Bottle Shop, they're home to twelve taps and hundreds of quality bottle and can options. Owner Jason Glunt & co. have given special attention to sour & wild ales, with an entire fridge dedicated to just those options. Next door is FD at Salud, an offbeat deli specializing in such exotic treats as Wafflewiches and salads I'll actually enjoy.
Carrying the wild ale passion outside his doors, every year Glunt hosts a festival featuring these funky flavors. This year's event, Release the Funk 3: Funkonia, will be held in late November at the Chop Shop.
Enjoying craft beer isn't about slurping down an intoxicating substance, so much as the sense of community. It's about like-minded folks seeking out new and interesting flavors, rejecting the notion that all beer must be overly-fizzy, yellow swill. It's a never-ending conversation about a dizzying array of bottles and draft choices.
I got an email just last week from my grandmother. She and some other folks had just gotten home from a mountain trip, with the last stop at the new Sierra Nevada facility. She's telling me about the space, the taproom, the food... and then finished with the flights. She sampled four Sierra Nevada beers that afternoon, and punctuated the conversation with, "what can you tell me about Torpedo?"
That's right, my grandmother now drinks outside her typical comfort zone, and got one hell of an education that afternoon. What's stopping you from doing the same?