Despite supermarkets stocking some good craft beer it is not quite mainstream enough for there to be a decent selection to choose from, therefore a visit to your local bottle shop is proabably the best way to get your hands on some. An added benefit is that you get to talk to someone in the know and use their knowledge to help inform your journey of discovery through the craft beer revolution. I decided to pop into one of my local stores and asked them about their buying policies and what they look out for in new beers and how they try to support the customers so they get their hands on what they want.
I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange a visit to one of my local bottle shops, Bacchanalia in Cambridge. This is a very apt name for a bottle shop as Bacchanalia describes drunken celebrations. Based on the results of my regular visits to these guys I can certainly vouch for their success in this regard.
I met Ed and Jim and picked their brains on a number of different topics. The main topics were around the store and how they source and try to provide variety for the customer. Ed and Jim informed me that the beer sections of the store are split into beers by country where they have a dedicated section for Belgian, Dutch and European beers, another for American brewers and an area for UK producers. They also have a mash up section which contains some truly unusual beers such as the Mikkeller Beer Geek Desert Beer among other weird and wonderful things. Then within these sections they also have tried to vary the pricing structure to suit all customers from your £10-20 a bottle higher end offerings to the £2-3 a bottle more accessible costing beers. They don't want to alienate anyone who fancies trying something new and this is a good thing in my opinion.
So how do they source all of these beers? "Fortunately the craft beer scene is not pretentious and it makes it really easy to just pick up the phone and call someone to ask them about their products be it a big brewery based in Europe or the US or a small local one down the road." This friendly community of craft brewers makes it easier to support local producers who are producing really solid beers like the Old Chimney's brewery in Diss, currently brews the only UK beer - Good King Henry's Special Reserve - in the top 50 on ratebeer.com, as well as getting access to some of the American producers such as Rogue and Stone. They also like to stock some of the brewers that are pushing some serious boundaries like the Wild Beer Company to give as much of a range as possible so that everyone can find their perfect brew. However this can all be quite time consuming and so they also rely on their beer geek friends for advice and tips as well.
For supporting their customers Ed and Jim's' sentiments were "We like to try and support the customer and try to steer them to beers they might like instead of what we like, telling them what to drink instead of asking what they like would be the easy way but it won't get you repeat business for long." So if you like Beavertowns Gamma Ray American pale ale and want to try something different they will definitely be able to point you in the right direction. They also have found that building up a relationship with the customers over time has been really useful in guiding what they stock in the store as well as helping to introduce people to new brews they would never normally consider.
I would urge you to get to know your local bottle shops and the staff in there as they will be able to help steer you towards beers you like as opposed to fumbling around in the dark without a clue. I first went to them not knowing much about craft beer and they have been invaluable on my journey and your local shop could be the same to you so why not visit them this evening on the way home to pick up a couple of well deserved Friday beers.