Rise of the Bottle Shops

There is more to life than pubs. There are also micropubs.

Yet the boozer’s tiny sibling isn’t the only other reason to leave the house. Brewery taprooms proliferate throughout the Chosen Boroughs like spring daffodils, from Bermondsey to Herne Hill, from Penge to Deptford.

And as if that wasn’t enough, now the bottle shops – those dedicated craft beer emporiums – are blooming too, making shopping interesting for the first time. Some simply do takeaway, and many do bottle refills from the tap and meet the brewer events with tasty freebies.

But not only can you take lovely booze home to drink alone with Jeremy Kyle, there are shops that you can sit in and drink with other humans, as featured below. You can explore a world of hoppy creativity and return home having forgotten the bread and milk, again. Here are some of South London’s outstanding reasons to put on your shoes:

waterintobeer, Brockley

Team talk

waterintobeer has established itself as a welcoming little beer temple to complement SE4’s already strong pub scene. The Dulwich Raider and I visited to listen to commentary from Dulwich Hamlet’s FA Trophy replay recently and were joined by several pink and blues. Despite the disappointing result, it was a special night. A special night, spent in a shop.

It felt a bit like being in a library, with shelves packed with classics and uncharted pleasures. But it was a library where all the books were delicious beers. Admittedly, you can’t exchange them freely, and nor will long hours of attendance make people consider you highbrow, wise or sexy. But somehow there’s an unspoken encouragement to better yourself, increase your knowledge and try the nine percenter that’s made from rhubarb funghi.

Owners, Tim and Helen, provided popcorn to keep us going throughout the tension of the match and a 10% discount for Hamlet fans helped me have a go on the Heygate Pale, a Mariana Trench, something from Anarchy Brew Co and a 7.1% Kernel Citra. Every time you visit the fridge, you feel you should try something different, with the pioneering spirit that made this country, if not great, then happy.

Hop Burns & Black, Peckham

Hot hop hangout

Some would class Hop Burns & Black as the daddy of South London bottle shops. Lovable Kiwi couple Jen and Glenn opened their beer, hot sauce and vinyl shop two and a half years ago and it quickly became a fixture, pioneering drinking in shops, something we’ve always aspired to. They will also fill your flagon full of ale, offering a choice of fine session beer or something special and strong for those nights in with someone you love, like yourself.

My purchase, a can of Cloudwater IPL El Dorado Mosaic, was highly recommended by Jen and, being an extraordinary lagered beer crossed with IPA hoppiness, it gave me hope that lager drinkers could be saved after all. Then I remembered I didn’t really care.

Outside the shop, their handy benches sit in a suntrap. It’s one of those places you get talking to strangers at. After all, your fellow customers have already established they’re discerning characters with a handle on the more important things in life.

Park Fever (see main image), Hither Green

Fever all through the night

The newest addition to the bottle shop map sees a canny combination of craft beer and fine chocolate, though the owner, Adrian, was surprised to see people consuming them together.

On opening night there was another smattering of Dulwich fans and a jolly vibe of discovery. Locals could not believe their luck, because Hither Green has precious few outlets serving joy in a glass. Park Fever is opposite the only pub, the Station Hotel, but offers a much stronger field of finely crafted brews in cooler, cosier surroundings. It’s quickly become a focal point for those with thoughtful thirsts.

After starting with a Moor Nor’Hop, I found myself going through the selection of Verdant Brewing’s beers, before climaxing (almost literally) with Murkel, their extraordinary IPA collaboration with Left Handed Giant.

Another refreshing aspect of Park Fever was the gender balance, with lots of women there for the beer more than the chocolate. Several buggies were in evidence during the day as well, unlike the pub opposite. Jen at HB&B confirmed that young mums were prominent among their afternoon regulars too.

The daytime feel is almost like a micropub for girls, a recurring dream of mine, though it was only the lads that wanted to talk about ‘notes of papaya’ at length.

Craft Tooting

Tiny place, huge welcome

A charming venture in Tooting’s Broadway Market, Craft Tooting is a shop just big enough for one little table and dozens of gorgeous beers – just about the right ratio. When I arrived I was met with an enthusiastic welcome that only Americans can deliver with sincerity. Canh, a lovely guy from Colorado, headed off my ponderous deliberations by announcing, ‘Oh my God, I just put on this awesome session IPA. You gotta try it.’

It’s difficult to resist somebody else’s beer excitement, so after giving me a taste, he poured me a refreshing, zesty pint of Alphabet’s Charlie Don’t Surf. And being in the middle of a superb market, I was able to use it to wash down some honey pork belly and rice (£6) from Hi-Ki, the Robata Grill and Sushi Bar next door.

In common with all the bottle shops above, Canh has a relationship with his customers, waving a Siren stout at one who popped in to say hello, knowing he would be compelled to buy it, even at £7 a pop. ‘I’m terrible at remembering people’s names,’ Canh confessed. ‘But I know what they like. Anyway, it’s been so nice to meet you, Richard.’ (I’m not Richard.)

Time Out, whoever they are, rated Craft Tooting as one of London’s best new bars. No arguments here.

Art & CraftStreatham & West Norwood

Purveyors of lovely stuff

Like Hop Burns & Black and Park Fever, Art & Craft have combined craft beer with another, unrelated, product, in this case, urban and contemporary art. I can only really remember the beer though.

I visited the branch of Art & Craft set in a small, sweet old building by Streatham Hill station. Again there was one table, a fridge full of magic and someone passionate and knowledgeable behind the counter; in this case, Amy, assisted by the grumpy shop cat, Spud.

The bar/shop is run by Inkspot Brewery, whose work I’ve yet to come across in my SE ends.

Earlier in the day I’d picked up an Original Gravity magazine, a wondrous publication that told me how to start a brewery and how to make Scotch Eggs. In short, a bible for our times. There was also a little feature about about Wylam Brewery in Newcastle being granddads of the craft scene, having started brewing in 2000, before time and beards began. Consequently I had their delightful Remain in Light alpha pale, a stunning hop colossus, which I readily endorse.

I tried a recommendation from each bottle shop I went to. As Amy liked DIPAs and sours, I went for a DIPA – a Brew By Numbers 55|04 to be precise. Quite amazing, though at 8.5%, not to be taken lightly. Fruity, but bitter (the beer, not Amy) it’s made with Citra and Ekuanot, the hop formerly known as Equinox until it was forced to change its name after a trademark dispute, presumably with either the sun or the equator, or most likely, a combination of the two.

We Brought BeerTooting/Balham/Clapham

I brought thirst

The smallest of the We Brought Beer branches is tiny and in Tooting Market, yet still claims to have 200 beers. No, I didn’t count them, but there wasn’t anything to tempt me on tap, so I went for a recommendation – a Brighton Bier Freshman Vermont IPA. It’s a style of beer I was completely unaware of. Now we’re best friends. Pine. Sweat. Grass. Biscuit. You do the math.

Their Clapham Junction branch has a dedicated tasting room upstairs and a beer garden, but at Tooting customers are more likely to take their brew to the communal area of the market, where they can mix with the gin and cocktail drinkers – a happy and promising meeting of clans.

With London rents making micropubs almost impossible to sustain in the capital, bottle shops are filling the gap for us city folk who like tiny rooms with big flavours. Each one is run by someone with a love for and knowledge of this emerging art form, that has raised drink from being a mere provision to something life-affirming, moving even, if I may be a twat about it for a moment.

These shops provide ample evidence that this year is also the Year of the Can – an old bad idea, turned into a new, good one that’s making bottles look a little old fashioned. Today’s cans are also as handsome af, giving a lot of talented designers gainful employment. Plus, they’re lightweight, stackable and don’t make that telltale clinking sound when you’re forced to deal with grown-ups.

Bottle shops represent bold, brave moves now that supermarkets are getting in on craft and undercutting everyone. While I’d never argue for more expensive beer, the bottle shops offer a much greater variety and level of expertise than, say, Tesco. If you don’t believe me, try cracking one open in aisle 44 and discussing the Equinox/Ekuanot conundrum with the approaching security staff.

I don’t believe bottle shops (can shops?) are a threat to pubs. Property developers and lousy pubs are a threat to pubs. The pub will never die, but now it has a friend, occupying a space between pubs and micropubs, but without all the rules. Who needs rules when you’re trying to enjoy yourself?

To conclude: Dear Beer – you’re so hot right now.


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Main image courtesy of @park_fever