Edit: see comments: it turns out I was misinformed by whoever was manning the phones that day….
Those who know me know I love real ale. And two trips round the Wychwood Brewery—once with friends, once with my in-laws—are testament to my devotion to local bitters and their brewers. They may be secretly owned by Refresh UK (a faceless-seeming company that seems to predominantly exist in order to provide the idiosyncratic Wychwood with a persona more amenable to the industry) but they make beer properly and seem to have a decent amount of autonomy and identity.
When I noticed that their new (and, until now, hard to find) fair-trade beer BeeWyched was available in Waitrose I leapt at the chance to get a case or two straight from the brewery. I’d done that before, prior to last Christmas, getting two mixed cases that formed part of a ten-case order from everyone at work. That made someone somewhere so happy that we got a discount of Â£1 per case. It was nice to buy straight from the producer anyway: their profit margins are a little higher and I get to deal with someone I already vaguely know.
So I rang them a week or so ago, to ask when I could buy two dozen bottles. I commute in the wrong direction on my bike every weekday, making carrying two crates of beer for fourteen miles an unlikely prospect: could I come in on the Saturday to pick them up, I asked, as I knew they were open for tours then? Oh, no, I was told: they only did tours on Saturday; they didn’t sell people beer. After umming and ahhing I said rather uncertainly that I’d have to get the car out especially and I’d maybe see them at some point during the week.
After I rang off, I started thinking. As I say above, I’ve walked two tours, and both of them ended up in the on-site shop. As I remember the tour spent as much time in the shop (and the tap room below it) as it did wandering round the actual brewery. On the first tour I think I bought a mug (Â£5); on the second tour my father-in-law was a bit more generous. But neither tour earned the brewery more than around Â£30 in itself, spread in each case over the three or four people I went with, and took a good hour out of the staff’s time. So in that case, how could they be unable to let me sneak in when the shop was being manned for one of the several tours they ran throughout the day, and spend perhaps Â£30–40, taking up only a couple of minutes of their time…?
The problem with, indeed inherent in the definition of, l’esprit d’escalier is that the door has long closed and your opponent too far away, for whatever reasons, to hear your riposte. And so, unwilling to ring the poor woman back and harangue her for her typical local-business anti-selling-stuff madness, I quietly succumbed and went to Waitrose. There the Beewyched was priced down to under Â£1.40 a bottle—odd given that at weekends it’s almost invariably sold out—cheaper than the brewery itself would have offered me: most of its beers sell at Â£1.50 a bottle direct, with the posher organics at something like Â£2.00. So I ought to feel like I’ve won after all. I still feel like everyone involved has lost, though. All except Waitrose.