Where to Drink in Raleigh, North Carolina

Destinations by | Apr 2013 | Issue #75

Illustration by Sam Brewster

When beer enthusiasts hear “North Carolina” these days, they probably think “Asheville,” the country’s reigning BeerCity USA (along with Grand Rapids, Mich., this year), according to Charlie Papazian. But only barely behind the mountain town in its number of breweries inside the city limits, the more urban capital city of Raleigh plays host to a vast array of quality beer bars, specialty bottle shops and down-home homebrew stores that also belong on any serious beer lover’s itinerary when visiting the Tar Heel State.

Raleigh stands as one of the three legs that make up the “Research Triangle,” along with its neighbors, Durham and Chapel Hill. As part of the home to major research universities North Carolina State University, Duke and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Raleigh has one of the highest concentrations of PhD’s per capita in the world.

Most of Raleigh’s prime places to grab a proper pint lie within a 5-mile radius of downtown, which has seen tremendous development in the past decade, starting with The Saucer, which broke craft beer ground in Raleigh in 2000. Recently, the beer community has grown even faster in the second largest city in North Carolina, with three bottle shops opening in the past two years, a handful of new beer-focused eateries and three new breweries set to open in the first half of 2013.

Raleigh may not have the mountain culture or drum circles of Asheville, but the Southern city that boasts biotechnology centers and backyard chicken coops, metropolitan contemporary art museums, and scenic running and biking trails, provides a setting for every type of beer lover. From award-winning upscale restaurants with cellar-reserve beer lists to small breweries with outdoor patios and live bluegrass bands, Raleigh easily holds its own as a don’t-miss East Coast beer destination.

Big Boss Brewing Co.
Don’t be fooled by Big Boss’ location a few miles outside of downtown in a nondescript industrial park. With its dark wood paneling, worn couches and airplane memorabilia, the brewery’s taproom is a fun, comfortable space to enjoy Big Boss’ German- and Belgian-leaning year-round and seasonal beers on draft, along with weekly cask specials and idling food trucks to feed the masses.

Bottle Revolution
Just over a year old, Bottle Revolution solved the desperate need for a bottle shop to service the outside-the-Beltline crowd of Raleigh. Choose from an impressive selection of North Carolina-brewed beer, or mix your own six-pack with beers from around the world. You can even enjoy a pint from the four in-store taps while perusing the rows of handmade wooden shelving.

Busy Bee Cafe
Eighteen draft lines, a cask engine and a rather long bottle list make Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Raleigh one of the best beer spots in the state. Sunday beer brunches that include its famous “crack tots”—tater tots tossed in herbs, white truffle oil and Parmesan, topped with cheesy scrambled eggs—along with monthly beer dinners that often feature the brewers themselves, make the beer geeks drool even more.

Lonerider Brewing Co.
One of the few North Carolina breweries to earn two recent GABF medals, Lonerider is located on the outskirts of the city near the quickly growing Brier Creek section of town. The brewery opened its new outdoor tasting area this past winter, and along with its popular Sweet Josie Brown Ale and Shotgun Betty Hefe on draft, Lonerider has a weekly “Tap with No Name” release of a small or one-off batch of beer.

Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing Co.
Founded in Greensboro, Natty Greene’s is one of the state’s oldest and best-known brewpubs. The Raleigh location opened in March of 2010, and both locations brought in a new brewing staff and a revamped food menu in the past year. Twelve of Natty’s brews are always on tap, including seven beers from their Pubcraft line, a series of creative beers brewed exclusively at the Raleigh location.

Raleigh Brewing Co.
The section of Hillsborough Street that runs from North Carolina State University to the all-girls Meredith College is popular with the college crowd, but has always seen a dearth of quality beer. Raleigh Brewing, which fired up its 20-barrel brewhouse this month (March 2013), has come to the rescue. Grab one of its six debut beers, including a Rye IPA, Scottish Ale and English Bitter. The brewery’s homebrew shop, Atlantic Brew Supply, is also just next door.

Tasty Beverage Co.
Prior to Tasty Beverage openings its doors in August of 2011, the closest thing to a dedicated beer store in Raleigh was an old gas station-turned-beer, wine and grocery store. Needless to say, the city welcomed this long-awaited bottle shop, located in the historic downtown Depot District. Its “Trappist Tuesdays” and Thursday tastings from the six-tap in-store lineup make this shop extremely popular among Raleigh’s downtown crowd and creative class.

Trophy Brewing Co.
The latest project from the partners of Busy Bee Cafe, Trophy Brewing is a 3-barrel nanobrewery and downtown Raleigh’s newest brewery to open. The nano more than makes up for its lack of space with exciting offerings like their Iron Man Simcoe Double IPA, Slingshot Coffee Porter made with locally cold-brewed coffee, and a rum barrel-aged Scotch Ale. Look for an outdoor patio and pizza to come soon.

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
Eighty-one tap handles and a 250-bottle beer list speak for themselves. The Raleigh location of the multi-tap chain based in Dallas was one of the first businesses to introduce craft beer to the City of Oaks, and it hasn’t lost its touch in the past decade. Weekly rare beer specials for “knurds” in its U.F.O. Club and one of the best outdoor patios in Raleigh consistently draw a diverse crowd—from novice drinkers to the geeks. Drink 200 different beers, and you’ll earn a plate on the wall.

The Raleigh Times Bar
Then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama visited the packed Raleigh Times for a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon in 2008, and the downtown restaurant and bar hasn’t lost its hipster cred since. Housed in the 100-year-old former building of The Raleigh Times newspaper, Stone’s “Most Arrogant Bar” winner of 2011 is known for its shrimp burger and guacamole, along with its extensive Belgian bottle list and of course, its $2 PBR special.

Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom
The latest and largest of Tyler’s four Triangle-area locations, the Raleigh restaurant and bar commands 80 taps and a 13,000-square-foot space. Painted murals of North Carolina brewery logos adorn the exposed-brick walls, and the food menu includes a bowl of popcorn topped with Parmesan and bacon crumbles. Don’t miss the annual Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting, one of the best beer festivals in the Southeast, hosted at this location.

World of Beer
The Florida-based chain opened its first franchise outside of the Sunshine State in Raleigh in 2011. The bar, located in the North Hills area about 5 miles from downtown, boasts 50 beers on draft and close to 500 more in bottles. Live music and a large crowd from North Raleigh comprise the atmosphere at World of Beer, and don’t be surprised if you run into a Carolina Hurricanes hockey player after a game on the weekends.