Ah, bless the bottle shop. These usually teeny, overwhelmingly independent bars-cum-stores have a particularly egalitarian vibe – there’s something heroically trampy about picking some booze off a shelf and drinking it immediately – as well as possessing the means to stock a greater range of decent beers than two or three pubs put together, and far less chance of queues come closing time. There’s very little to disparage.
Craft Tooting is no different. A miniscule unit in the less salubrious of Tooting’s two grotty markets, it’s a lovingly put together little spot. There’s a full wall of cans and bottles, a few choice brews on tap, a few anachronistic bits of ephemera dotted about (a retro back-lit sign on the bar, micro black-and-white TV, old board games… that sort of thing), some crappy plywood tables and a few lurid orange steel bar stools (given the purpose of the visit, we sit out of earshot under an intermittently active heater in the market alley outside). It screams ‘ersatz rural Scando dive bar’ and I like it a lot.
But rustic appeal would count for nothing without decent beer, and it’s got that by the gallon. Eschewing the usual suspects of Beavertown, Einstök, Brixton and the like, I ask for something ‘weird’; the girl behind the bar balks slightly, but I end up with a delicious can of Magic Rock Gooseberry Gose (4.1%), subtly salty and actively sharp with sea buckthorn and berry. A Northern Star Mocha Porter (5.9%) from Leeds’ Northern Monk Brew Co is more appropriate for the weather – heavy, bitter with the expected coffee and chocolate notes, warming in both strength and depth. Tap choices were fine: a Beavertown Lupuloid IPA (6.7%) is highly palatable, though I wish I’d plumped for a can of TailGate’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout. But no problem. This spot’s a gem: a welcome addition to the south London scene that I’ll certainly be returning to. So there’s always next time.