Shop is around for beer aficianados

Owner John Gudgin in the Beer Shop

Owner John Gudgin in the Beer Shop - Credit: Archant

St Albans is awash with good pubs and now they are complemented by a shop offering a range of bottled and draught beers from around the world for home consumption. The Beer Shop, 71 London Road (opposite the Farmer’s Boy pub), opened last Saturday and is the brainchild of Ben Hudson and John Gudgin.

The shop is part of the London Road Project that is rejuvenating a rundown area with new housing, restaurants and the refurbished cinema.

Ben and John work for Tring Brewery but have long nurtured the idea of running a specialist beer shop in the city to extend the brewery’s scope.

“We discussed it for some two years at the brewery,” John says. “We saw the big switch to people drinking more and more craft beer and thought a shop could offer people better choice.”

“We started by selling beer at the farmers markets in Harpenden and St Albans,” Ben adds. “We got a good feedback, especially in St Albans. We looked at other brewery shops, learned from their experiences and decided to sell draught beer as well bottles.”

There are five beer taps on a tiled wall towards the back of the shop that dispense draught beers from a cellar for people who either bring containers or can be supplied with “growlers” – takeaway kegs. The beers will come from such local breweries as Tring – whose brews will always be available – Red Squirrel, Three Brewers, Chiltern and BoB.

As you enter the shop, there’s a table where customers can try small samples of the draught beers so they can choose those that best suit their tastes. Ben and John plan to develop the tasting aspect of the business by staging regular events such as beer and food matching, and beers from different parts of the world.

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A lot of research has gone into the choice of bottled beers. The partners have spent time on specialist web sites selecting some of the more interesting world beers. There will be around 200 beers on offer and the shelves, surmounted by a frieze of hops, are divided into beers from Hertfordshire, London, the rest of Britain, and then brews from Belgium, the United States, Germany and Scandinavia.

Belgium, as always, will be a special section of great interest. It’s a small country with a big beer reputation and the shop will allow people to sample the likes of beers brewed by Trappist monks, sour beers, red ales and spiced wheat beers. I’m also looking forward to tasting the beers from Mikkeler in Denmark. They’re known as “gypsy beers” as the founder, Mikkel Borg Bjerso, doesn’t own any brewing plant but travels the world to make beers in other people’s breweries. He uses such ingredients as avocados, chillies, beans, syrup, tortilla flour and ground coffee beans. Not beer as we know it? Taste it and judge.

The opening of the Beer Shop crowns a brilliant few weeks for beer in St Albans. 10,000 people packed the CAMRA beer festival, a record number and an astonishing figure for such a small city, testament to the growing and passionate interest in good beer. My beer tasting at the festival, in the council chamber, was a sell-out and the audience was studded with well-known local people, including politicians, who had many questions to ask and comments to make.

The following week I took part in a well-attended cheese and beer tasting at Andrei Lussman’s restaurant in Heritage Close. Cheese expert Eric Charriaux from La Cave à Fromage in West London brought some magnificent samples and I shall long remember the taste of the cheese Eric had washed in Meantime Pale Ale.

With the famous Munich Oktoberfest in mind, several local pubs are staging special events this month. The Verulam Arms in Lower Dagnall Street has widened its beer range to offer the likes of Adnams, Oakham, Titanic and Tring cask beers, with Bitburger Pils from Germany and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from California. The pub also has 20 bottled beers from Belgium, Germany and the US.

Wetherspoon’s Lloyd’s No 1 opposite the Arena is staging a 16-day beer festival from 16-31 October. As well as 40 British cask beers, there will be a range of beers from American craft breweries offering such delights as pumpkin, peppercorn and coffee beers.

Go forth and enjoy!