This will be an ongoing series on local bottleshops. Our aim is to see what makes them different and the history and backgrounds of the owners and managers. This series will be in collaboration with the Port City Brew Bus.
At 108 Grace Street, tucked beneath the Wilmington Hammerheads soccer headquarters, is a beer lover’s refuge. Turned from an empty office space to a bottle shop with a rustic, welcoming appeal in just over two months, Bombers Beverage Company is now a go-to for craft-loving connoisseurs and brew novices alike.
Opened in October 2014, the store is named for the 22-ounce vessels in which many breweries purvey limited releases. Owners and childhood friends Zach Boylston, Caleb Churchwell and Jacob Wright are closing in on their first successful year. “We opened Bombers Beverage Company because we have a strong passion for craft beer and we wanted to share it with Wilmington,” Wright, a former lawyer with a knowledge of craft beer, tells. “We loved the growing beer scene and saw an opportunity to service an under-serviced market downtown.”
Boylston, a graduate of UNCW’s film department, produced two documentaries about the local brewing industry, while Churchwell has managed craft beer bars and worked for renowned breweries like Boulevard Brewing Company. Churchwell and Wright relocated from Raleigh, NC, at the beginning of August 2014, and the trio began renovating the space which would become their shared business venture.
“Combined we have over 20 years of industry experience,” Churchwell explains. “We genuinely love craft beer and proudly call ourselves beer nerds. There is nothing that we enjoy more than being able to share our passion with our customers. Everyone is welcome at Bombers, from the first time craft drinker to the Untappd Master.”
For each of the owners, one of the best parts of the job is the opportunity to guide their customers to the perfect beverage for their palate. With a strong knowledge of the well over 500 products that have rotated through the Bombers inventory in the past year, the men are suited to prescribe the best beer or wine no matter their guests’ preferences. Likewise, in the shop’s first two months alone, over 85 different kegs rotated on the tasting room’s 12 taps. Shoppers can enjoy a beverage in the store while selecting their mixed six-pack to go, and assuredly something new will be on draft when they return again.
In fact, Bombers is the only bottle shop in town to own a Crowler machine. Designed by Oskar Blues Brewing Company, the apparatus seals 32-ounce cans of draft beer to go. “The Crowler machine has been a huge success,” Churchwell offers. “We have eliminated the need to remember to bring in your growler, and we also have addressed the issue of ease of transportation as well as glass at the beach, on the boat or the local pool. It’s incredibly convenient for customers and has a longer shelf life than typical growlers.”
In anticipation of Bombers’ upcoming first anniversary, we sat down with Churchwell to pick his brain about a year under the belt and what fans can look forward to in the future.
Wilmington Ale Trail (WAT): A year in, what is satisfying about owning your own business as opposed to your past career path? Likewise, how does it feel to have survived the first year?
Caleb Churchwell (CC): The satisfying part is that we make or break ourselves. All the decisions we make come from a collective. The business is a reflection of ourselves, and that we can get behind and pour everything into it. This is ours and we do with it how we see fit.
One year? Doesn’t seem real yet! Time has flown. When I truly think about it,
it feels great to survive one year. The ego in me expected it, but still feels nice to truly make it!
WAT: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned about running a bottle shop (or general business in Wilmington) in the past year?
CC: Biggest lesson is Wilmington is a growing craft beer market. What might work in other parts of the state might not work here, and vice versa. Wilmington has a great craft beer community that is growing rapidly, and it is incredible to be a part of it. Not to mention, there are some great brewers in this town!
WAT: What were some of the best events you held last year?
CC: A few that stick out in my mind are the Ugly Sweater KISSmas, which was the release of our collaboration beer with Wilmington Brewing Company; our Stand Up for Pups event, where we held a local comedy show that supported the local animal shelter; and our first tap takeover to take over all 12 of our draft lines with Ballast Point Brewing. We had live music and food during the day, and it was one big party that everyone got to enjoy!
WAT: Speaking of collaboration beers, what brews has Bombers helped concoct locally? As one of the few bottle shops in Wilmington that does this, why do you engage in collaboration brews?
CC: We have done a few different collaborations with Wilmington Brewing Company. Our very first one was Love Gun Porter with vanilla bean and coffee. We did a second collaboration with them and Four Thirds Brewing Company called Kung Fu Kangaroo—it was an IPA using Australia and New Zealand hops. Our newest collaboration is with Front Street Brewing Company. We will be doing a bourbon-soaked, candied pecan ESB. The beer is named #pecanteven! This beer will be released sometime in October.
Collaborations are two parts: One, we get to pick the brains of great local craft brewers and impart a piece of ourselves into the beer. Two, we help ourselves and the craft brewery reach new clientele, helping out both businesses and further growing the local craft beer community!
WAT: Tell us about your partnership with Port City Brew Bus, our area’s only mobile brewery tour. How has this collaboration helped both businesses?
CC: Port City Brew Bus partners with us and several other breweries and bottles shops around the Wilmington area. We are their primary starting location. We start off their tour with a style tasting and history of beer to give their patrons a general understanding of beer and what they might see along their brew bus tour around Wilmington.
One of our main focuses at Bombers is education. This gave us an opportunity to get in front of many new customers as well as educate them on styles. I think it has benefited both business by allowing us to get in front of new customers as well as provide value to the brew bus tour with a bit of education for the riders!
WAT: Describe the typical atmosphere of Bombers and your connection with your consumers.
CC: We have a very easy going, laid-back atmosphere. We like to focus on customer interactions to help educate and create relationships for lasting customer loyalty. Getting to know all of our customers is key for us. We want them to not only come in for the great beer selection but also enjoy the time they are here!
Bombers’ first anniversary party will be held on Saturday, October 10 from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Specialty kegs will be tapped including 2014 Founders Big Lushious Imperial Stout, 2014 Big Boss Night Knight BBA, Terrapin Cranberry Pumpkinfest, and Brandy Barrel Aged Oskar Blues G’Knight. Live music includes Tyler Davis from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Guests also will be able to enjoy food and prize giveaways. For further details, call (910) 833-5107 or visit www.bombersbevco.com.