Beers To Go: Eel & Bear
By Mary Redmond
The question Nick and I are most often asked by customers in our little bottle shop and tap room (apart from “what’s with the name?”) is, “What made you decide to do this, then?” The answer is almost embarrassing in its simplicity: we really love beer. Beer is diverse, delicious, thrilling and intriguing. We want to drink it, talk about it, and share it; and that’s what we’d been spending all our spare time doing before we moved to Hastings in March 2018.
I had worked part-time in various beer pubs for many years, mostly as an excuse to gush hysterically about breweries to like-minded people, but neither of our careers up to this point had been beer-based. Nick was working as a picture framer, while designing and crafting leather goods on the side; and my full-time employment was in children’s clothing. The move allowed us an opportunity that was beyond reach in our previous home town of Brighton – the chance to combine work and play, and open our very own beer wonderland.
Hastings was the perfect location to realise the dream, with its vibrant pub scene, love of the unusual, and comparatively sane cost of living. While there are some extraordinary pubs serving great craft beer in Hastings, a specialist beer shop was conspicuous by its absence. Knowing that such an establishment would be invaluable to us as Hastings residents as well, it was this glorious niche that we set out to fill with Eel & Bear.
Our aim is to carry a packaged beer for every taste, and with styles ranging from light lagers and rich, treacly imperial stouts to sour beers aged in wine barrels and hazy IPAs indistinguishable from juice, we truly believe we do. In addition we offer three constantly changing draught options, and everything is (normally) available to drink on the premises, too, a concept we explain as ‘a beer shop with a few taps and a few stools’.
All of the breweries we stock are independently owned, and we are passionate about keeping it that way. It’s not always easy when a beloved brewery announces its sale to a conglomerate, thereby ousting itself from our range; but we’re incredibly lucky in this country to have such a wealth of spectacular independent breweries to choose from; the real tragedy is not being able to stock them all.
We’ve now been open nearly two years, and had always planned to have an online shop running alongside our Waldegrave Street venue. We had often talked about providing a local delivery service, too. Sadly, we got distracted, and when Covid-19 arrived we had yet to implement either. Although, as an off-licence, we now qualify as an ‘essential shop’, being an incentive for others to leave the house made us uneasy and we quickly closed our doors to the public. In the disorienting days and weeks since lockdown, we have scrambled to adapt, like so many businesses. Thanks to the extra time and sudden urgency, we finally have a fancy web-shop, with local delivery and contactless Click & Collect options. We’re still offering freshly poured draught beer in our returnable glass litre bottles as well as the packaged range.
In many ways, we were very fortunate in already being established as an off-licence, but nonetheless people have been wonderfully patient and forgiving as we find our feet again. The thirst for exceptional beer certainly doesn’t seem to be diminished by lockdown, and at times it’s felt like quite the reverse! It’s humbling and heart-warming to have customers going out of their way to support small, local businesses during this time, and we feel privileged to be in a position to continue trading and in turn support our industry. That being said, we’re desperate to welcome people back into the shop and catch up over a half, and there are many hospitality businesses worse off than us. We very much miss happy afternoons in our favourite pubs, and we hope those times will soon return.
Oh, and the name’s based on an old joke about how my Northern Irish friend Mel pronounces the words ‘ale’ and ‘beer’.
• Eel & Bear, 28 Waldegrave Street, Hastings TN34 1SJ; www.eelandbear.com
Telephone: 01424 602055 – Click-and-collect, local delivery and national courier service.
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