The Best Places to Drink Micropubs and Bottleshops
Recent developments in On and Off Licence sales mean that we've never had it so good with drinking options. For starters there are more free houses and pubs linked to breweries with enlightened attitudes offering great beer selections, in Hastings we have the excellent Brewing Brothers at the imperial, and the Tower and Jemmy Lind free houses to name but three.
In addition to this there are two more interesting types of newcomers to the beer scene in the UK, at opposite ends of the spectrum but linked by several shared concepts that I want to discuss today, these being the Micropub and the Bottle Shop.
The Micropub movement has its own association (yes, it’s called The Micropub Association) which defines the concept as the following "A Micropub is a small free house which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks."
It’s good that they have an association and a definition, but I feel that this definition misses the point as it doesn't concentrate sufficiently on the key aspect of Micropubs, this is that they are all about the beer. They mainly serve cask beer as the definition says (although some only do keg), but the key is that they serve quality beers in perfect condition with a constantly rotating menu of beers. They don’t have a stock range and hardly serve the same beer twice. You go there to try different beers. If you are a beer expert you will find interesting beers that you already know or wanted to try, if you are not you can trust their judgement that they have selected excellent beers for you.
The Micropub harks back to more old-fashioned days in encouraging customers to talk to each other without the distractions of music or television. I love music but I also like this traditional aspect that the atmosphere comes from customers socializing (often with people they don't know) creating a loud buzz of conversation to fill the gap.
Whereas Micropubs are aimed at a slightly older audience, the second of the new style of venues Bottle Shops, aims at the slightly younger craft beer market. There is now a growing network of independent Bottle Shops that are multiplying in London and spreading into other cities. Typically, the best of the new breed sells 300 or more different beers. In some you can drink on the premises either inside the shop or in beer gardens at the front or back as licencing regulations allow. The shops can vary in their approach to the beers they stock and a focus on either On or off sales, but typically they concentrate on UK craft breweries with IPA's often dominating.
However, there are also some that sell the classic beers of the genres such as German Bocks, and Belgian Lambics as well as the traditional UK styles Bitters, Old Ales and Barley Wines. Beer fashions come and go and hopefully some of these styles may be about to be rediscovered and reinvented leading to their renaissance.
A cross over between the two types of new drinking establishments is that often both offer draft take outs that can be enjoyed at home. Micropubs traditionally serve real ale to take away in cartons which normally need to be drunk immediately as the beer will not stay fresh for long. Bottle Shops on the other hand have championed the use of growlers.
So what’s the catch to these great new places to drink? As small independent businesses, they cannot match the purchasing power of large pub companies such as Wetherspoons (micro pubs) or supermarkets (bottle shops). This can mean that they can be more expensive although not unreasonably so.
The solution is that we must appreciate that we are lucky to have both of these new entrants in the market- we must be prepared to pay a little more to support these independent sources of great beer. In this way both scenes will continue to thrive and we will continue to enjoy a great choice of beers and venues to drink them in.