Honestly, I didn’t expect much from the bottle shop and tap room in a small shopping strip off Winston-Salem’s Robinhood Road.
Retail beer shops exploded just over a year ago here like the sudden burst of torrential rain that struck the Triad last weekend, suddenly flooding once empty streets with a litany of places to snag craft beer to go. Each is unique, of course, with variations in exact approach, but nearly all offer a selection of beers on tap and others by the bottle or six pack. They’re the sort of spots that often close on the early side, making them ideal for the after-work crowd seeking a pint or a grab-and-go.
I’ve drank in a half dozen or more around here at this point, and while I don’t exactly dislike any, the appeal is generally proximity and convenience, given that most offer sizable selections. So when I rolled up at the Beer Growler for the first time last week, I wasn’t exactly bubbling with anticipation. I’d say I felt something closer to the sensation of aimlessly flipping channels and halfheartedly landing on an old movie I’ve seen 10 times.
Plus, the Beer Growler is a franchise, part of a small Georgia-based chain, which is an uncommon arrangement for bottle shops like it around here. All of that is to say, the odds were already arranged against it in my head.
But the Beer Growler is something special.
It might sound inconsequential, but I deeply appreciate that the bazillion beers on draft at the Beer Growler in Winston-Salem are written in big print on the wall behind the bar, color-coded by type of beer and include prices. I’m okay paying a little more for a beer, on occasion, but only on purpose. Some other bottle shops do display their draft selection boldly on the wall — I’m thinking of Gate City Growlers especially — and though some will write out the brewery, beer name and style, I’ve yet to see clearly marked color coding elsewhere.
The Beer Growler offers a key explaining the colors, as well as indicators for rare and premium beer; that way, instead of playing 20 Questions with the bartender, I can compile a flight with ease and sample the pricier beers for free.
Flights at the Beer Growler come with five pours instead of four as well as a small snack of your choice such as oyster crackers to accompany it. With somewhere near 50 beers on tap — and some pretty excellent soda, I should mention — the flight depth is appreciated. A not uncommon focus on North Carolina brews here led me to trying two products from Ass Clown in Cornelius including a raspberry jalapeño stout, a Belgian golden from Wicked Weed in Asheville, a blackberry sour from Legion in Charlotte as well as a bourbon-barrel aged cider from California and a pale named after Liz Lemon from Oregon.
Consider me satisfied.
The Beer Growler feels more like an afternoon bar than most other businesses like it, which trend more towards retail first; think Stella Brew or Beer Co. But it’s more of a place to come and learn about beer — there are binders with descriptions of beer inside on tables, almost like a collection of sports cards — something that can certainly happen in bars but which is more encouraged and accessible at shops like this, Stella or Juggheads.
The variations may seem subtle, or a little insider baseball if you don’t care too much about beer. But the effort put towards accessibility at the Beer Growler shouldn’t go unnoticed, making it easier for newbs and nerds alike to find what they’re looking for.
Visit the Beer Growler at 3424 Robinhood Road (W-S) or find it on Facebook.