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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