The flip side of course about “Not Going Out”, is “Staying In”. So how does someone who really likes a glass or two of decent beer equate this with not venturing down to the local pub?
Easy, just pick up a selection of decent bottles from whichever supermarket or off-licence is offering the best deals. Then, drink and enjoy! The first thing I want to get straight is that whilst I’ve been a member of CAMRA for nearly 40 years, apart from my early days with the campaign, I’ve never really gone along with this Real Ale in a Bottle (RAIB) nonsense. I’ve gone on record before to say that whilst RAIBs can sometimes be excellent, more often than not they are pretty dire (primarily due to poor bottling techniques, inadequate hygiene measures etc at many small breweries), and I don’t see any advantages in them whatsoever. CAMRA needs to alter its position on this, but somehow I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
Moving on, all the major supermarkets now offer a goods selection of bottles beers, sourced both from her in the UK as well as some of the better known examples from abroad. Obviously they wont carry as wide or diverse a selection as a specialist off-licence, but generally speaking, the larger the store, the greater the selection. Waitrose, in my opinion, are the best of the major supermarkets, and my local branch makes a point of stocking beers from some of our better known local breweries, such as Westerham, Whitstable and Hog’s Back, alongside some of the more usual suspects. They also carry a reasonable range of foreign beers, both ales and lagers, alongside “own brand” lagers, ales and wheat beers from the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium.
Our local Sainsbury isn’t too bad either, also stocking Westerham beers alongside a number from the rarely seen (in this neck of the woods) Hopdaemon Brewery. For budget stuff, “cooking bitter”, Lidl’s step up to the mark with bargain basement offers, from time to time, on beers from Marstons or Shepherd Neame. I usually avoid the latter, I really dislike Shep’s, but recently we’ve seen Oyster Stout from Marstons, alongside Jennings Cocker-Hoop for just £1.19 a bottle!
Both Sainsbury’s and Waitrose run promotions along the lines of three bottles for five pounds or, less often, three for the price of two, and I normally take advantage of these offers to stock up on beers I am partial too. Prior to Christmas, I built up quite a stock of both London Porter and 1845 from Fullers, as well as Budvar Dark and Goose Island IPA. Incidentally, the latter is currently on promotion at Waitrose at two bottles for three pounds – an absolute bargain! I’ve also been enjoying the Duchy Originals India Pale Ale, brewed at Wychwood Breweruy and bittered with English Sovereign hops. Nice beer, and nice price at three bottles for a fiver! Morrisons and Tesco also run similar promotions to their rivals, but for me both stores involve a trip to either Tunbridge Wells or Sevenoaks respectively.
If I am feeling a bit more flushed I will pop into M&S and take advantage of their six bottles for the price of five offers which allows customers to “mix and match”. They also do a half decent Czech lager, from Regent Brewery I believe, at just over £1.50 a bottle.
Other sources of good bottled beer include our local farmers’ market, where Hepworths usually have a stall, or visits to certain breweries. Harvey’s have a wonderfully stocked shop, adjacent to their brewery in Lewes, but it is also possible to pick up bottles from Westerham when they hold their brewery open days. Since my wife and I sold our own off-licence, the Cask and Glass, six years ago, and following the recent closure of the similarly-styled Bitter End in Tunbridge Wells, there aren’t any specialist beer shops locally that I can think of, although Noble Wines in Tunbridge Wells does carry a small selection from Harvey’s, Nelson and Old Dairy from time to time.
Well that’s enough about sourcing the stuff; what about drinking it? First, I don’t drink anything like as much at home as I would in a pub. I normally find a single 500ml bottle quite sufficient, although sometimes I will follow it with say a 330ml bottle of something a bit more unusual, or that little bit stronger. Occasionally, mainly at weekends, I will stretch to a couple of 500ml bottles, but this doesn’t happen that often. Contrast this to when I go to the pub where three of four pints would be quite normal, mainly because I will be drinking with a group of friends, and somehow on these occasions the beer just seems to slide down so much easier!
So what do I do with the time that I might otherwise be spending down the pub? Well, I write this blog for a start, that keeps me out of mischief. This time of year and indeed right through from early spring to late autumn, I spend a lot of time outdoors. I won’t go so far to say I am a keen gardener, but I do like to keep our back yard looking neat and tidy, and just recently I’ve started growing a few vegetables. During the winter months there are usually plenty of DIY projects to keep me busy.
All in all, staying in, enjoying the odd beer or two, spending time with the family, blogging, gardening etc does make me appreciate far more those times when I do venture out. I’m off over Tunbridge Wells tonight, meeting up with a good friend whom I haven’t seen in ages. We’re heading to the Royal Oak, who are holding a rolling beer festival in the pub. It’ll be good to have a nattier over a few pints of something out of the ordinary. I’ll let you know how it goes.