I like travelling, and occasionally I used to have conversations with a guy at work about places we had been.
For a little while I was in awe of the number of countries he had visited until I realised that his idea of a visit was a little different to mine. Whilst I only counted countries where my passport had been stamped, or at least I had cleared customs, my colleague was a radio ham, and his list consisted of countries where he had talked to someone over the airwaves. I guess in the modern age of electronic communication, radio hams are a dying breed, but there are still people who like to travel from the comfort of their own home. One method that was recommended to me was to drink your way around the country courtesy of bottled beers.
With the closure of pubs, cheaper supermarket prices and the drink drive regulations, it seems that more and more people are taking their beer home. Naturally as a keen supporter of pubs I would suggest looking into taking some draught beer home next time you visit you favourite local, but it is undeniable that bottles are increasingly popular, and they are easier than ever to purchase. Supermarket shelves groan with the weight of bottles from all around the country and for the harder to find brands, we are lucky to have Beers of Europe out at Setchey with probably the finest selection of beers in the whole of Britain. It is also worth looking behind the bar at the shelves, especially in tearooms and cafes, as many of them stock interesting brands, possibly even some that are specially brewed for the outlet. Cruise ships are another area where choice seems to have expanded. My brother decided to get married somewhere off the coast of Africa around five years ago, and that necessitated a cruise down to Casablanca and back. During the trip I was mostly sustained by bottles of Pedigree, as a superior alternative to the gassy Boddingtons on the bar, but I recently read a report of a cruise ship offering 96 different bottled ales, which would make the thought of an anniversary cruise a tad more attractive.
In some ways this explosion of bottled beers is not surprising. Pubs continue to close, as the number of breweries expands, 107 new producers last month alone, according to the Beermad website. The greatest challenge is for the brewers to find outlets, and is very common to see stalls on farmers markets selling local beer.
If you are tempted, here are a couple of tips. First, the bottled version of a beer you know may not be exactly the same as the draught version, and in some cases may be stronger. For example Fullers ESB is 5.5% on draught and 5.9% in bottles. Secondly, check to see if it is bottled conditioned. If so, this means that it is real ale in a bottle with yeast in there to keep it fermenting whilst it is on the shelf. Open it carefully as it may be a bit lively, and pour carefully as there will be some sediment in the bottom of the bottle. One of the best sources of local bottled fermented ales is the Real Ale Shop at Branthill Farm, near Wells. Personally, my experience of judging bottled beer competitions suggests that bottle fermented beers struggle to reproduce the range of flavour found in cask beers, but I am happy to extend my search. So, try ticking off a beer for each county-and
then head for the rest of the world.