Sir Toby's Beers - Great Bottle Shop in Norwich

Sir Toby's Beers by starlight.
I live in a bit of a craft beer desert. A very pleasant craft beer desert to be fair, surrounded by beautiful countryside, some excellent real ale pubs, and close to the sea. Norwich and Ipswich are both around an hour’s drive away. Not a massive distance, but far enough that those trips don't happen often. In fact, trips to Norwich are so rare that I never got to visit ABV Store in the year that it was open.

Finding myself in Norwich this week I Googled “bottle shops in Norwich”, more in hope than expectation. In amongst the wine shops, I noticed Sir Toby's Beers and decided that I had to call in.

Not Sir Toby
After a bit of a wander round the market, I found the shop. I might have found it sooner if I had paid attention to the numbering on the units. While I perused the shelves another customer (presumably a regular) popped in, grabbed the last two cans of something or other, and hurried off on his way.

I happened to be there the day after Ampersand had hosted Craft Beer Hour on Twitter, and so my eyes were immediately drawn to the selection of their beers. However, there were plenty of others to choose from - ranging from well known breweries, like Beavertown and Cloudwater, to local offerings, such as Poppyland from Sheringham and Malt Coast from Wells-next-the-Sea. There was even a few bottles, local to judge by the beer names, which didn't seem to have any details of the brewery on the label. I should have asked about them but, unfortunately, I didn't.

Norfolk Ale from Malt Coast and Ampersand
As I was clearly taking my time in choosing, and with no other customers around at the time, the stallholder, named Toby, started chatting to me.

“So, you're Sir Toby?” I asked.

“No, I haven't given myself a peerage. It's named after Sir Toby Belch, from Twelfth Night,” Toby explains.

Having noticed the Gamma Ray, I asked Toby if it was still selling well since Beavertown had struck a deal with Waitrose.

“Most of our customers don't buy beer in supermarkets, so it doesn't seem to have made much difference. I know you can buy some of the beers I sell a bit cheaper in other places in Norwich, but my customers like the range of beers I have.

“I would love to sell some Redwell beers. The new guys there seem to be really good people, but I can't buy them at a price that works. It would be cheaper for me to go and buy them at Tesco.”

London Beer from Wild Card
A couple of times Toby said that he didn't want to “get into the politics” of some of the issues around beer. Clearly he just wants to sell good beer to people who appreciate it.

He explained that he had previously sold independently produced beer at one off events, like fairs and festivals. For a little while he had been thinking about setting up a shop, and the market seemed like a good idea with its lower overheads. By lucky coincidence he approached the market authorities at about the same time that ABV Store were looking to get out of their lease.

As I understand it one of the partners in ABV Store was having to relocate out of Norfolk, which is why they were closing down. Toby said that business had been going well in his first couple of months. ABV Store customers were glad to still have a quality bottle shop to use, and new customers, like me, are still finding Sir Toby's Beers for the first time. There certainly seems to be a good beer scene in Norwich in particular, and Norfolk in general, so I would hope that there is enough demand to sustain a bottle shop.

My first impression was that Toby is a friendly guy who knows his beer. He certainly was able tell me all about Malt Coast, which was a brewery I hadn't previously heard of. I hope his business thrives and I am sure that I will be shopping there again on future trips to Norwich.

My Ampersand Haul - back at home
Full Disclosure:

Toby normally charges two pounds for his gift boxes but he gave me one for free to carry away my six Ampersand beers. However, this didn't influence my opinion of him, or his business - I had already decided that I would be giving him a good write up.


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