Surviving in a beer desert

These days, it’s eas­i­er than ever to get a wide range of decent beer in bot­tles. There are super­mar­kets every­where, almost all of whom have a range of drink­able beer. But what do you do if there isn’t a spe­cial­ist beer shop in your area, and you’ve tried every­thing in every super­mar­ket?

1. Make sure you try *all* the shops in your area. I only realised by chance that what I had thought for five years was an organ­ic veg shop near my house was actu­al­ly a pret­ty big organ­ic super­mar­ket, with the full range of Pitfield’s organ­ic bot­tled beers.

2. Co-op have some inter­est­ing beer, includ­ing a cou­ple from Freem­iner. CO-OP’s “Strong Ale” (brewed for them by Thwait­es) isn’t that strong, and is full of caramel, but I like it any­way.

3. My local Londis (see their vir­tu­al store, pic­tured above) stocks a real­ly good range of St Austell’s beers, includ­ing the bot­tle-con­di­tioned ones. They are inde­pen­dent retail­ers who can choose what to sell, so they some­times have weird and inter­est­ing beers, depend­ing on how inter­est­ed the man­agers are.

4. Some nice beers don’t have nice bot­tles – they look like tramps’ brew. Those are the ones you’ll find in your local cor­ner shop. Guin­ness For­eign Extra, a world clas­sic impe­r­i­al stout, is avail­able in almost every grub­by cor­ner shop in Lon­don. There’s quite a trend, too, for import­ing czech lager from small­er brew­eries. Cor­ner shops often have “Lobkowitz”, “Ostravar” and oth­er beers which are less well known than Bud­var. Most of them are noth­ing to write home about, but they’re often bet­ter than tins of Stel­la. Roger Protz rates Svy­tu­rys Ekstra from Lithua­nia. My local Turk­ish super­mar­ket stocks the unpas­teurised ver­sion, which is even bet­ter. But the label is in Lithuan­ian, and it’s in a fridge next to Pol­ish tramp brews (War­ka Strong and Okocim Moc­ne).

5. Take away from pubs. Lots of Young’s pubs in Lon­don offer take away bot­tles, in nifty car­ri­ers, at about £1.50 a bot­tle. Lots of oth­er pubs are also “off-licensed”. Try ask­ing.

6. Order from the inter­net. Onlyfinebeer hard­ly ever have the stuff I order in stock, but the fact that you can pay for beer online and have it turn up behind your wheel­ie bin a few days lat­er is great. Or try CAMRA’s beer club.

7. Read about beer. This is also bet­ter for your health than drink­ing it. Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers and Roger Protz’s 300 Beer’s You Must Drink Before You Die! have lots of pho­tos of exot­ic for­eign beers in provoca­tive pos­es.

8. Brew your own. Get a decent book (I like this one) and order some kit (from these nice peo­ple, for exam­ple) and give it a go. I can’t describe the joy when, after a year of tin­ker­ing and read­ing, we man­aged to brew some­thing which tast­ed as good as a real beer from an actu­al shop. Not just pass­able, but real­ly good. We’ll nev­er be thirsty again.

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