Fill 'er up

Richard Croasdale unearths a true local secret

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There are tales, passed down from mother to daughter among the tribes of north-east Scotland, of a beery promised land; an El Dorado of astounding flavours and mind-bending labels. It is, the tales would have us believe, hidden in plain sight, just off the A90 and run by a mysterious, eldritch creature named ‘Chris’.

Westhill Service Station is by far the least likely bottleshop I’ve ever been to, as well as being one of the best curated. When I was first told about it, I’d assumed ‘Westhill Service Station’ was a kind of ironic hipster anti-name, but no: it’s an actual petrol station, with a Spar, which just happens to have an exceptional craft beer section. I bowled in unannounced, and demanded to see whoever was responsible.

“We started around 2007,” recalls Chris. “We were just starting to see some home-grown craft breweries, so I asked the owners of the store if I could have a bit of shelf space. They’re great and put a lot of faith in us, so they agreed to a single shelf alongside the more mainstream beers. That gradually grew, we got a fridge, then another, and it really just took off from there!”

“People will often make a special point of coming in here regularly, rather than just going to the supermarket down the road"

Today, there are five tall fridges dedicated to craft, as well as shelves of Belgian, German and more traditional Scottish styles. It’s obvious from the selection that Chris really has his finger on the pulse, and I spy several sought-after beers from some really hot breweries; this is clearly not an off-the-peg craft distribution package, and that’s what Chris’s regular customers have come to love.

“People will often make a special point of coming in here regularly, rather than just going to the supermarket down the road, because they know they’ll find something different here, and that we share their passion,” he says. “But it’s also great to see people’s faces when they’ve just come in for some petrol and a Mars bar. They glance across and can’t believe what they’re seeing!

“We’re lucky to have such a great beer community around here. BrewDog has obviously played a huge part in that, but all the other breweries too, the bar staff, the retailers, and of course the beer lovers themselves. Everyone is just really excited about what’s happening, and that gives us a real sense of community.”

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