An old haunt of mine that I always have to return to when in Southampton, this beer Mecca is still a relatively well kept secret, but more people deserve to know about it! Tucked up a nondescript residential street is Bitter Virtue, my vote for best beer shop in the country. You'll have to make the trip there yourself as (somewhat unusually in this day and age) they don't offer a mail order service.
Walking into the shop you're greeted by either Ann or Chris behind the counter and a whole array of beers spread around and about. To your left is a display cabinet full of glassware and a shelf of ciders. The fridge to your right holds those beers that work well chilled and a smaller tall shelf contains a plethora of exciting strong beers from around the UK.
The next grouping of shelves stocks a range of UK brewers, from local favourites to some of the exciting up and coming UK brewers from further afield. Then there's a German beer section, followed by perhaps the piece de resistance, an extensive Belgian range including a good proportion of Belgian's sour beers. Chris and Ann frequently make the trip across the Channel to restock and often source some interesting gems. Chris is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge and can read Flemish; so consult him if you get stuck! At Christmas time the special beers fly out in no time.
Perhaps one of my favourite features of the shop is cask beer on gravity available to take away in a 4pint container. Priced very fairly and with a try before you buy policy its well worth partaking. I used to buy beer here then go to a BYOB gig venue around the corner and sup out of my tankard...those were the days!
Eyes left now and you're met by a goodly selection of US beers. There's also a table of the more recent and exotic additions to the range, including Italian craft breweries and the now ubiquitous Mikkeller's offerings.
The shop is well worth a special trip to Southampton, though with a selection of decent boozers nearby, why not make a day of it?
What beer shop does everybody else rate? I'd like to see your posts on it, support the independent retailers!