Where I live in West Sussex it is difficult to find unusual bottled beers. There was a specialist beer shop in Chichester a few years ago and it really was awful. This was extremely disappointing because I love browsing in shops dedicated to beer. I do not like to buy beer online. I'd much rather go to a specialist shop and spend time reading the labels and picking out new beers to try. It's like my 7 yr old boy and his love of Lego. He gets little pleasure from receiving a parcel from Amazon but every month his eyes light up when we take him to the Lego Shop in Brighton.
To find a good beer shop I have to travel quite a distance. The Southwick Brewhouse near Fareham has a decent selection of UK bottled beers as well as draught beers. The shop is sited in a former brewhouse (brewing ceased in 1956) and it is worth visiting as it also serves as a museum as the brewhouse remains intact. Even further afield, there is the Good Beer Guide listed Bitter Virtue in Southampton. This shop has a good selection of draught ales as well as a varied selection of beers from all around the world.
Travelling north, close to where I normally work, is the beer shop attached to the Hogs Back Brewery in Surrey. As well as their own beers on draught, in bottles and within gift packs, they have a good selection of bottled beers from all over the UK as well as others from around the world. This is my usual port of call when I'm looking to stock up for Christmas and at other times.
Moving back into Sussex there is Beer Essentials in Horsham. In 2000 I was working and living in Horsham and to me, Hall and Woodhouse took on the role of the devil when they took over and closed down this much loved brewery. Former King and Barnes retail sales manager Gareth Jones found himself out of work and the following year he started up this excellent business filling the beer glasses of many of his former customers. They usually sell four draught ales from local brewers as well as a fine selection of bottled beers from around the UK.
When travelling around England I have always found there to be many more beer shops to choose from than there are in the south. Last week I ventured into the suburbs of Birmingham to visit Cotteridge Wines. The owner has been running what was essentially a local off-license for 18 years before deciding to specialise in bottled beers from all around the world. He has a genuine passion for what he is trying to do and it was like walking into beer heaven. A long aisle was dedicated to beer and many of them were from breweries I had never even heard of. I had no idea where to start so he helped me out before letting me browse on my own. He has a massive selection of craft beers from America as well as many from Scandinavia, Belgium and Germany. He is constantly looking for new products and he is already stocking over 700 different bottles. In terms of choice this is by far the best shop I have visited and the friendliness and enthusiasm of the owner made it even more pleasurable.
So what did I choose to put in my basket? I began in Burlington, Vermont with some Magic Hat No.9 (5.1% ABV). I visited this brewery in the late 1990s and this beer will bring back happy memories. More memories come flooding back with my second choice, a Celis White (5.0% ABV) from Austin, Texas. In 1989 I was lucky enough to work in Austin and I made myself very popular with my American colleagues by organising a trip around this brewery (so popular they forced me to organise a second trip before I left). I could write a whole article on Pierre Celis, one of the great names in Belgian brewing, who sadly passed away last year and perhaps I will one day. However, for now I will move on to my next choice, a Sierra Nevada Stout (5.8% ABV), another great name in American craft brewing. My last American choice was Black Jack Porter, a 6.8% ABV beer from Colorado, another great American state for craft brewing.
For my next choice I moved to Norway. When I worked in Copenhagen a few years ago I was delighted to find some wonderful stouts and porters and one of these was Nogne O. There was no hesitation in adding this to my basket of goodies.
For the remaining choices I stuck to the UK. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout (5.0% ABV) has long been a favourite and frustratingly hard to find in my part of the world. Brodies Smoked Rye Porter (7.3% ABV) from London is totally new to me as is Celebration Ale 60 (4.5% ABV) from the Red Rock Brewery, Devon, Winter Dunkel (4.6% ABV) from the Allendale Brewery, Northumberland and Bearskinful (4.2% ABV) from Beartown Brewery, Cheshire.
My last two bottles I picked out came from the Durham Brewery. I was able to purchase their beers some years back at the Hogs Back Brewery and they instantly became a favourite. Redemption (10.0% ABV) and Bede's Chalice (9.0% ABV) are both fantastic and were both enjoyed over Christmas a few years ago. I have not found their beers available anywhere since so I was delighted to find them here. I chose Redemption, my earlier favourite, and a new one to me, Bombay 106, a 7.6% IPA.
So a tasty dozen to enjoy over the next few weeks when I am home at weekends. I thought the prices were excellent and Cotteridge Wines will be my port of call when stocking up for Christmas.
Finally, may I urge all you beer lovers out there to visit your local beer shop. If they are like the shops I have mentioned here then the owners all love their product and will provide you with great service and knowledge about what you are buying. It really is the adult equivalent of the Lego Shop. You will always find something new.