Thursday, 21 July 2016

Supplies Running Low

The other night I noticed to my dismay that my beer stocks are running dangerously low. Not the end of the world I hear you say, as surely I could just pop down to my nearest specialist beer shop or supermarket and stock back up. 

Well you are correct of course, and I will be doing just that, but what I wanted to illustrate is that over the course of a normal year I manage to build up quite a stock of different bottles. I acquire many of these on my travels, and last year, for example brought back quite a few bottles from Austria, the Czech Republic and Belgium. The latter visit proved a particularly lucrative source, as I was in the country for the European Beer Bloggers Conference and as well as bottles readily available in the shops (often at bargain prices), there were a lot of samples handed out by brewers eager to promote their wares.

The run up to Christmas is another time when I always accumulate a lot of bottles; not only stock I build up in the run up to the festive season, but bottles which family, friends and sometimes work colleagues buy for me as presents. Most of the major supermarket chains run promotions during December, and I obviously take advantage of these. Fuller’s beers are often discounted during this period, enabling me to build up stocks of beers such as 1845 and London Porter, but sometimes I get it wrong and go a bit overboard. For example, I still have a couple of 500ml bottles of Fuller’s Golden Pride, which I acquired the Christmas before last. I still haven’t found a suitable occasion to drink them, but I will be taking one, at least, with me to Amsterdam next month, for the bottle sharing session at this year's European Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference which takes place in the city. 

Being left with an abundance of porters, strong ales, barley wines, Imperial Stouts and a few Trappist and Abbey beers, is part of the problem at the moment, as basically this is what my stock consists of. However, in over 30˚ of heat these beers have a very limited appeal, but at least they will keep until the weather turns colder again.

I will normally have a stock of paler, and slightly weaker beers to balance to balance the strong stuff, but the recent high temperatures have seen my stash of Pilsner Urquell almost vanish, and with just a couple of bottles of St Austell Proper Job remaining, I really do need to replenish my stocks as a matter of urgency.

There are, of course, other sources of bottled beers, including a couple of the growing number of companies which specialise in supplying bottles by mail order. In the past I have received, and reviewed bottles from both Beer52 and Beer Hawk, (disclosure time, just in case anyone’s bothered about such things). Both companies’ offering s were interesting and varied, with bottles from countries as far away as Iceland and Norway, as well as samples from closer to home. Beer52 even supply a well written and informative magazine, called Ferment, with each shipment.

Goodies from an overseas trip
Probably the granddaddy of all the mail order suppliers is Beers of Europe, who operate out of a large unit on the edge of Kings Lynn in Norfolk. The company also supplies the licensed trade and customers can also turn up in person to browse the shelves and make their own selections.

Finally I want to cover the question of long to medium term storage, and where best to keep your beers. The best place to store beer is in a cool area, away from direct sunlight, sources of heat, and in conditions of constant temperature, and relatively low humidity. To store a beer perfectly can be tricky, but a good rule to follow is higher alcohol beers need warmer temperatures, while lower alcohol beers require cooler conditions. This is why a cellar or basement is the ideal place to store beer, as the temperature generally remains fairly constant.

Unfortunately few modern houses in the UK have cellars, although many older ones do. My first house, a two-up, two-down Victorian terrace cottage in Maidstone had a large and roomy cellar which extended under both front and rear parts of the house, but my current home, a 1930’s semi does not. In fact, very few properties in Tonbridge possess cellars, because until quite recently, the town suffered from regular flooding.

Someone else's beer cellar
I keep my bottles in the shadiest and coolest room in the house, which just happens to be the ground floor of our extension. They are stored in stackable cardboard boxes, with integral dividers, which I acquired from the aforementioned mail order companies, Beer52 and Beer Hawk. The boxes provide protection from light; which along with heat is the main source of spoilage and premature ageing of a beer.

It’s obviously rewarding building up a stock of different bottles to drink and enjoy at a later date, and if the range includes a variety of different types and styles, then there will surely be a beer available to suit every occasion. Even my own current situation of virtually only strong dark stuff left, is not the end of the world, as these beers will come into their own later in the year.

If you’re a craft aficionado then the sky’s probably your limit, given the huge variety of different bottles (and cans) available these days, but if like me, you prefer something a little more traditional, then even better as you’ve got the whole world to choose from.

Happy Beer Hunting!

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