Monthly Archives: July 2014

Writing Memories

Many of us who love beer record what we drink, in one way or another. Some review beers via video, some take photos, some make lists (Untappd: the acceptable face of beer ticking), and some write.

I find that writing about beer crystallises the experience, making you consciously analyse and put into words the feelings that are as yet a blur of unidentified aromas, flavours waiting to be named, and memories lurking just beyond your grasp. Memories which, when they are recorded, make up my favourite type of beer writing: concerning moments personal and precious to the writer.

Just as a beer can conjure up memories of people and places past, these pieces take me back to long, slow afternoons drinking and de-constructing good beer in dear company; to the serene moments spent in quiet contemplation, when your pint isn’t an object of scrutiny but is instead your companion in solitude; to the frantic bustle and noise and heat of a festival as you work your way through a whirlwind of different tastes and end up wildly off piste, veering away from your meticulously marked programme and towards a viscous, inappropriate barley wine while clutching in your other hand a smartingly hot but sorely needed pasty; until I can no longer quite recall if the memories are mine or theirs, and I’m filled with wanderlust, nostalgia, and inevitably, thirst.

That’s what captivates me, and and what keeps me writing. New places, experiences, whether unusual or utterly humdrum, and the tales we turn them in to. “What I did on my holidays” can be transportive. To live, and record, something ephemeral, and to have somebody else understand what you mean, how you felt, and recall moments and beers dear to them… It’s almost as good as drinking the stuff.

Booths’ Own

Booths' beers from Lancaster, Ilkley, Tatton, and Hawkshead breweries

Ah, the North. Rolling hills practically on your doorstep, chips and gravy, whippets, affordable rent, and the supermarket chain Booths. For those of you who don’t live near a Booths, they’re similar to Waitrose, but with an even better beer range. I mentioned my local branch when I first discovered it, and since then, each of my lunch dates in Media City have ended with me wombling into the shop and coming home laden with beer and cheese. While I do of course prefer to support independent beer shops such as The Epicurean (on Burton Road, where you’ll occasionally see me helping out behind the counter) and, when I’m in the city centre, The Beermoth, Booths seems to have a dedication to beer which makes me happy to shop with them when I’m in the area. Browsing those shelves, I find so many good beers that my arms hurt after carrying the bags home; a wonderful contrast to most supermarkets, who generally stock two, maybe three beers that I’m happy to drink.

At the moment, Booths are holding their annual beer and cider festival, which runs from 18th June – 15th July. As part of this event, they’ve had four beers brewed especially for them by relatively local breweries, one from each of the counties they have shops in (Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, and Yorkshire), and are holding weekly Twitter tastings of these beers using the hashtag #BoothsCheers.  Despite not getting my act together in time to join in with the hashtag, I thought I’d better give them a go, and so Sunday afternoon saw me nipping into Booths Knutsford on the way over to visit the chap’s folks in Cheshire. Knutsford’s beer selection seemed even more extensive than Media City’s, but I’d arrived at the shop with roughly eight minutes before they closed for the day, so I grabbed my four Booths beers and made my way to the check out. High praise goes to their staff, who are always exceptionally polite and pleasant, even with the shop about to close and queues of people crowding the checkouts.

Hawkshead Black IPA, Tatton Golden Ale, Ilkley Summer Ale, Lancaster Lemongrass Ale bottles

As for the beers… Well, I enjoyed the Hawkshead BIPA (5.6%), and Tatton Golden Ale (4.5%) had a decent depth to it, but Ilkley Summer Ale (4%) and Lancaster Lemongrass Ale (also 4%) didn’t quite do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, well made, did what they said on the label, but I just wasn’t that into them. Personal preferences aside, I do think that it’s important to praise a supermarket for caring about the range of good beer they offer. Booths have been using Twitter to get people involved in what they are drinking, sparking discussions about flavour, asking for food pairing suggestions, and even posting Tweets about the brewing process. Often, good beer is merely paid lip service by supermarkets as it’s not as widely popular as mass produced, stack-’em-high knock-’em-back mainstream lagers, so it’s great to see a retailer working with local breweries and getting their customers to really engage with the outcome. Beer is a wonderful thing, and to see a supermarket not only curating a thoughtful selection, but actively celebrating it, makes me very happy. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Booths, and the prospect of coming home with bags full of bottles – and of course, some cheeses to pair them with.

Booths and Hawkshead Black IPA, 5.6%, local craft ale

There have been a couple of other recent blog posts about Booths from local beer bloggers: Connor of Beer Battered visited as part of his supermarket ale trail, and Jim from Beers Manchester also took a trip over to Media City.

My Favourite Beers: Flying Dog Gonzo

Gonzo, oh, Gonzo. I can’t quite remember when I discovered you – it was probably in my first year at university. I remember finding you on tap at North Bar once and being PSYCHED, despite you being rather pricey. To my (faulty) memory, you may have been about a fiver a half… In the days before the craft boom really, um, boomed, this was quite expensive, and caused me to inadvertently jokingly tell a university bursaries officer that I primarily spend my student bursary on beer. In my defence, they were sitting at the bar, and chimed in when I told the conscientious bartender that the price per half was ‘fine’. “Fine?” they remarked, “Fine?”, and I smiled sweetly, told them that it was a marvellous beer, imported, and I was more than happy to pay the price: after all, that was what my Leeds bursary was for. Their mate cracked up, before the chap told me, slightly awkwardly, that he was a bursaries officer. Luckily, not at my uni..!

flying dog gonzo

Student hijinks aside, this beer is a beautiful creature. Dark chocolate, freshly cut grass hops, soft spice, deep coffee, just gorgeously intense; everything I want from a dark beer, turned up to 11. I’ve tried so many imperial dark bastards over the years, and I keep coming back to Gonzo. There’s something a bit magical in that aroma, intriguing in that sip; it’s just so quaffable, which is seriously bloody dangerous at 9.2%. Most of Flying Dog, I can take or leave – although, late last year there was a very tasty batch of Raging Bitch knocking around – but this beer has been consistently marvellous. I love it. You should drink it.