Beer is one item I have never been inclined to buy online. I would much rather make a trip to a specialist beer shop and have a good browse. When it comes to bottled beers I have some favourite breweries but I am also keen to always try something new. A quality beer shop enables me to do this whenever I get the opportunity. However, there are simply not enough specialist beer shops and where I live there is a total lack. My invitation to appear on the Beer O'Clock Show brought things to a head. I needed to find a bottle of Rogue Mocha Porter and the chance of finding one locally was zero so I had to source one from the internet.
After a brief scan of adverts in What's Brewing and a quick google I came up with five online beer specialists to check out. My first criteria for deciding which company to use was obviously one which had the Rogue beer in stock. That was the only beer I had to buy. I then compiled a list of twelve breweries whose beers I would like to include on my order and took it from there. These twelve breweries were my favourite ones of those I regularly found to be available at the excellent Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham. I discovered this shop when I was working near Birmingham last year and I used it for all my bottled beer purchases for over a year. The company that could deliver me the majority of my wishlist would get my order.
1) Real Ale Warehouse (www.realalewarehouse.co.uk)
The website had a great look to it and navigating around was simple. The search facility was easy to use and so I quickly discovered there was no Rogue beers available. This company was immediately ruled out but I went through the my list of twelve breweries and only beers from Otley were available. Delivery was £6.99 and there was a minimum order of 12 bottles so that was that.
2) The Real Ale Store (www.therealalestore.com)
This website had less appeal and the delivery charge was higher at £7.95. The minimum order here was 8 bottles. The Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £3.25 so that was a good start. The search facility was a little frustrating. Typing in Rogue it came up with a number which I assumed was the number of items found but when clicking on it the number returned bore no relation to it. However, the one I wanted was there so I moved on to my wishlist. My first try was Buxton. This gave me a return of 16 for Buxton Brewery and 4 for Buxton Ales. Selecting Buxton Brewery I got the following
Whoops, our bad...
- The page you requested was not found, and we have a fine guess why.
- If you typed the URL directly, please make sure the spelling is correct.
- If you clicked on a link to get here, the link is outdated.
3) Beer Hawk (www.beerhawk.co.uk)
The home page of Beer Hawk was excellent. The delivery charge was £6.99 and they clearly stated that orders over £50 came with free delivery. This was attractive as my wishlist would have put my order close to this figure and I was sure I could supplement it with a few cheeky additions. The search facility was good and there was no search request returning unrelated items. Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £2.99 so that was a good start. Going down my wishlist I had some successes with beers from Kernel, Ilkley, Marble and Durham all available. Four out of twelve may seem poor but after my first two attempts I was encouraged by it. These four breweries were probably the ones at the top of my wishlist so Beer Hawk is a possible contender.
4) Ales By Mail (www.alesbymail.com)
Ales By Mail had an OK website and the search facility was OK too. I preferred Beer Hawk's look and feel but I was not put off by this one. One thing I did find frustrating was no obvious mention of delivery charges. The search facility was again OK as it did the job without bringing up unrelated items to what I asked for. Rogue Mocha Porter was available at £2.99 so this was the same as Beer Hawk. With my wishlist they did well with six breweries out of the twelve I wanted. They could supply me Partizan, Bristol Beer Factory and Weird Beard and the only one they did not have that Beer Hawk could supply was Durham. This was a tough decision. Durham Brewery is my favourite brewery when it comes to bottled beer and was top of my wishlist.
5) Beers of Europe (www.beersofeurope.com)
Beers of Europe are not strictly an online beer specialist as they have a retail outlet too but I thought I would give them a go as they reputedly have a massive selection. However, they failed at the first hurdle in my search for the Rogue Mocha Porter which returned lots of items for Rouge. I do not like search facilities that try to second guess me by asking if I meant to type in something different.
Your search 'Rogue' did not match any products. Did you mean: Rouge.
Here the delivery charge was £7.49 and of my wishlist they could supply me with Sadlers, Bristol Beer Factory and Ilkley. Not an online option for me then but I really wish I lived nearby to them.
That concluded my research. Of the five companies listed I will probably only choose to use two of them in future. For my first order though I chose Ales By Mail as they did come top in the number of breweries I was seeking. It did not take me long to register and checkout my order. It was only here though that I discovered the delivery charge was £6.99 although I later found it hidden away in the FAQ section. There is no mention of free delivery for a certain amount so I assume the cost is a flat £6.99 or possibly more for larger orders. In addition to my wishlist beers I selected 4 others and then all I had to do was wait for the box to arrive. A few days later there was a knock on the door and standing there was a man with a box of beer for me all beautifully packaged and in perfect condition. These will all be reviewed over time of course.
So will I be buying more beer online? Yes I definitely will but it is apparent to me that for certain UK beers it is probably better to use the brewery website and buy direct. I will shortly be putting in an order for Christmas and I may choose Beer Hawk for that one as I must have some Durham Brewery beer with my turkey. However, I will also try the Durham Brewery website too to see how costs compare and I will write about that experience too. Beer Hawk and Ales By Mail do have a decent selection that I would be delighted to find in a specialist shop though and their beer descriptions do make it easy to browse for new beers to try. I may not be a regular customer of any of them but I am sure I will be using them both in the future or at least until a local shop magically appears.