The veteran bartender offered some pouring tips, Then a rookie flipped the tap and poured a glass. It was about 50 percent foam. All I could do was shake my head. Unfortunately, the rookie in question—me—just isn't qualified to be a bartender.
I was experiencing "The Downpour" at Clouds Brewing in Raleigh. You purchase a RFID (aka radio frequency identification) bracelet from your server. Then you have access to 10 taps that you unlock by swiping the bracelet over the hotspot above the tap. You then pour yourself a glass, a sip or some amount in between. You're charged by the ounce, and the bracelet keeps a running tally. Most of the brews I checked out were about 30 to 50 cents an ounce.
The pricing structure and the varied selection is designed to encourage sampling. As one server explained, you can try an ounce of several and still have enough left on your bracelet for a full glass of your favorite. (There is a cap to how much you can load onto the bracelet.) I got 6.9 ounces of Gizmo Brew Works' Golden Ale-ement for $2.16, 11.4 ounces of Westbrook Brewing's One Claw for $4.33, 7.4 ounces of Bombshell's Lemongrass Pale Ale for $3.24 and 3 ounces of Haw River's Three Laws Black Saison for $1.50.
It's a fun system, especially if you master the pouring technique. I'm happy to say my skills became considerably more polished after a few pours.
Eventually there may be beers bearing the Clouds Brewing logo, but wading through the permitting process and other prepwork takes time. The current goal is to have the brewing operation (housed in a separate building in North Raleigh) operating by May of this year and delivering its German-style beers to Clouds bar/restaurant location by mid-June.
If you're into serving yourself, there is a two-page list of an additional 30 beers on draft plus another two or three pages of beers available in bottles or cans. Or you can eschew beer and have a martini.
You can nibble while you drink by ordering from a lineup of "bar bites" that includes soft pretzels, bacon bread, cranberry brie and stuffed jalapeños. Most of those are $5 but you can get them for $3 from 4–6 p.m. on weekdays. More substantial meals can be had too, including an assortment of salads, burgers and wraps (the chicken waldorf salad wrap is a nice choice on a sunny spring day).
Speaking of sun, Clouds has an abundance of it thanks to large windows that open up the space. Located at the corner of West and Jones streets, Clouds also a patio-seating area ideal for whiling away an afternoon.
I saw the serving staff explaining the "downpour" wall several times. They were consistently chipper and helpful in showing how the process worked, avoiding any hint of "this is the 17th time today I've said this" drone. Of course, I can't vouch for how well you will do pouring your own. But, fortunately, repetition leads to progress and Clouds "downpour" wall will have you looking forward to frequent practice sessions.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Lost in the clouds."