Sunday 27 April 2014

The Craft Beer Off License featuring BottleDog

BottleDog is a new venture from those controversial BrewDog boys. Satisfied with conquering the "craft beer" bar market with trendy hipster magnet drinking holes up and down the country, they're now taking on the humble off license. Well actually they're not really taking on the off license as judging by this first outlet they are offering a specific product, which is beers that come in tiny bottles with wacky labels and ABVs at the higher end of the scale. You're not going to find multipack offers on Fosters or Carling here.

I remember when this building was a cabby's accountancy firm
As the place is across the road from where I work I thought it would be rude not to visit on opening day.The place was doing a roaring trade when I walked past at lunchtime and when I popped in after 6pm it was quieter but still doing a brisk trade. The BrewDog branding is scaled back and there's nothing on the front of the shop showing that it's a BrewDog venture. It doesn't even advertise itself as a off license which confused a big group of punters who walked in expecting the place to be a bar. After confirming amongst themselves that there wasn't a seating area in the back where they could drink their purchases they quickly turned tail and left. Despite the low key branding there are a few BrewDog hallmarks in the shop  - stripped back decor, cool tunes being played, and plenty of trendy beers on offer.

So many beers, so little time. Well actually you've got from 12pm - 9pm
 every weekday (plus Saturdays!)
I was pleased to see the prices were competitive and the German and Belgian beers in particular were very reasonably priced. All the major London craft breweries including Pressure Drop, Siren and Beavertown were represented, plus of course BrewDogs own offerings - although I didn't spot any of BrewDog's rarer beers. There also two taps dispensing booze to take home in "growlers" - sadly not a dog full of beer but a fancy term for a glass bottle. I spoke to the enthusiastic manager who mentioned there are plans to do Meet the Brewer events and there will be additional taps installed for more take home offerings. I look forward to revisiting in the future.

BottleDog isn't the only game in town for craft beer off licenses. Another shop worth visting is the Oddbins in London Bridge. I found out about this place from the excellent "Craft Beer London" app on Android and iPhone. I never would of guessed that an Oddbins, more known for their wine offerings, would be a hotbed of hot new brewery activity. They stock all the cool London brands at prices slightly cheaper than BottleDog. Unfortunately the staff aren't as clued up as the BrewDog boys but there are some tasting notes nestled amongst the bottles. Well worth a visit if you're stuck in the building site dystopia which is London Bridge, with the ominous and downright creepy "The Shard" looming down on you.

For a more traditional off license The Bitter End in leafy Bromley is well worth a visit if you're in the area. They are always well stocked with beers from respected brewers such as Harveys, Dark Star and Oakham. The occasional newer brewery is also represented - I picked up an excellent American Pale Ale from Croydon brewery Clarence and Fredericks. They also have around six beers sitting in barrels behind a makeshift bar, ready to be poured out for lucky punters to take home. These are usually session bitters such as Wadsworth 6X but last time I was there Dark Star Seville was on, in great form, and at a very reasonable price to take home.

Say what you will about the craft beer movement, one big benefit is that there's a huge selection of beers available in high street shops, at least in and around London. But even out of town it's easier to get beers that are a big step above the usual Fosters and Carling tat. Before you could only get these beers at specialised pubs and bars - and at high prices. Let's hope this wide range continues to be stocked even when the "craft beer" frenzy, inevitably, calms down.

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