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.
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.
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.
Once upon a time, I lived above a pub. Then I moved to Brixton, where the Craft Beer Co was five minutes from my front door. When I moved to Manchester last year, one of my main criteria for flat-hunting was the close proximity of good beer; luckily, I discovered Burton Road, and on it, Mary and Archie. The availability of craft beer on the Road soon became even better with the opening of Volta, from the people behind Chorlton’s Electrik, who always have a good little range of ales and lagers. Then, to my joy, The Epicurean landed.
I must say, I love a good beer shop. There’s just something about being surrounded by all of those varied bottles of delicious beer that makes me happy. Burton Roadites had previously been able to buy a few select bottles of decent ale from the wonderful Reserve Wines, but the Road had really been crying out for a craft beer shop. Enter Simon and Rob!
These two beer lovers have gone with an elegant, minimalist aesthetic for their shop front, embracing the scene’s move away from old-school design and towards something far more stylish. But don’t worry, lovers of rustic chic – they’ve got comforting wooden shelves and crates of German beer stacked around the place, striking a nice balance between tradition and sleek modernity. This balance is reflected in the beers they stock – you can pick up all of your old favourites, from Timothy Taylor’s Landlord to Paulaner, while also choosing from a range which would get the hearts of hop-fiend beer nerds racing. Founders Centennial in cans, limited bottles of Burning Sky‘s Saison a la Provision, or a Pacific Pale from new kids on the block ShinDigger, anyone? Brilliant British beer, local ale, hop forward Americana, German lager, Belgian beer, Welsh cider, sweet fruit-flavoured beer, homemade pies, salted caramel, cordials… There’s something here for every palate.
I’ve picked up a fair few beers from here in the last week, my favourites so far being Siren, Omnipollo and Lindqvist Nacken (6.4%) – read the story behind this beer here - and ShinDigger Pacific Pale Ale (4.5%), who I interviewed recently.
As one of these Southern types from that London, I’d never encountered the Northern supermarket chain Booths before the start of this year, although various mutterings had made me aware of this magical realm of charcuterie and infused olive oil. When I heard that they had a decent beer selection, I put it on the To-Do list, and as luck would have it, it turned out that they had a branch in Media City. After a lunch date there one afternoon, I nipped into the shop to have a scout around, and was very impressed. Their range of beers is undoubtedly the best I’ve seen outside of a specialist off-licence.
As well as a solid range of standard ales, they have a sizeable selection of bottles from local breweries, which is always wonderful to see. They also have a number of continental stalwarts, and even a few bottles from America, Mexico, and New Zealand. Dotted throughout the shelves are little note cards highlighting certain beers as picked out by a member of staff, with a handwritten description of why he likes the beer. This personal touch makes it feel less like a supermarket and more like a proper beer shop. That Booths care deeply about beer is quite obvious. Hawkshead brew their own-label beers, such as Booths 1847 Winter Ale (6%), a red ale with festive spices, and Festival Ale, brewed for their yearly beer festival.
Browsing the shelves, I picked out a few treats:
Duvel Tripel Hop 2013 (9.5%) – I’m not sure how well the Sorachi Ace worked in this one.
Celt Experience Bleddyn (5.6%) – an excellent beer full of fruit and bitterness.
Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime (5%) – dry and roasty, nicely understated.
Hawkshead/Booths 1847 Winter Ale (6%) – I’m not keen on one of the spices, but it’s solid.
Thornbridge Halcyon (7.4%) – huge tropical gloriousness.
Ilkley Pale (4.2%) – fresh, clean, easy drinking.
Cerveza Mexicali Red Pig Mexican Ale (5.6%) – just malty, really.
Monteith’s Original Ale (4%) – pretty uninspiring.
Steven’s Point Brewery Point IPA (5.6%) – The hops have basically disappeared in this one.
Aside from the fact that the hops in the beers from further afield seem to have gone walkies, it’s a great range, and very reasonably priced. I do like Booths, and while, of course, I do prefer to support independent beer shops, I’ll certainly pop in and stock up if I’m in the area. As well as all of the beer, they also have an excellent cheese counter, where you can buy a wedge of something special to go with your beer. Kit Calvert Wensleydale with a fruity pale ale, anyone?
Slightly perplexed, he narrowed his eyes at the label, and ventured, “The phrase ‘Golden Ale’ evokes urine?”
“Not quite… A clear bottle means that there’s a good chance that, by the time your beer gets to you, it’s going to be fucked. Hops are delicate buggers and light makes them go wrong and get all skunky.”
(I seem to have turned into my father, who, for years, has been putting me on the spot by asking “what’s wrong” with this beer, pub, festival, etc, in a bid to make me think critically about trade stuff. Drinking with the Molyneuxs is GREAT FUN and HIGHLY EDUCATIONAL.)
Silly Mr Tesco, don’t you know that by selling beer in clear bottles you’re telling the drinker that you don’t care about the quality of the product? And surprise surprise, what do we get on the nose of this beer but a slight herbal quality, a faint spice, and, mild skunking. To be fair, there aren’t enough hops in here for it to get properly nasty, but it’s there, no doubt. All of those hours sitting under supermarket florescent lights were not kind to this beer; not to be too harsh, but the recipe was not kind to this beer, either. It pours straw-coloured and clear as a bell, feeling thin and rather fizzy in my mouth. There’s a little grassy flavour, slight bitterness, and very little else. Given it to try blind, I might almost think it was a mainstream lager! I will say this for it, though: it cuts through a stodgy Gregg’s sausage and bean bake just fine. The Mr, of course, would drink it, stating that “For a cheap beer than tastes like a lager, it isn’t bad, but if I had a lot of it I’d get bored”.
Now we come to the Tesco ‘Simply’ Dark Ale (4.5%). This is the most visually appealing of the bunch so far, pouring maroon/deep chestnut with a big white head, showing ruby tints when held up to the light. It smelled like rum and raisin – so far, so good. The initial aroma carries through to the flavour, bringing in some stewed plums to replace the rum in accompanying the raisins. Along with this, we get malt sweetness, and a weak coffee aftertaste. What was over-carbonation in the last two bottles actually serves to lift the heavy sweetness in this a little. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately I couldn’t get behind the raisin-y taste in this and, in a move that shocked even myself, I poured it away. I just couldn’t hack it. The Mr was already out of the running on this one, pleading the “Bleugh, coffee” card. He’s not huge on his dark malts. If there was a little more body, a little more coffee bitterness, a little more of ANYTHING else, I could have coped with it, but it was just far too cloying for me.
Last, we tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ Stout (4.5%). Pouring dark brown with a big, tan head, with herby hops and milky coffee on the nose, followed by more dark fruits as it warmed up, this was my favourite of the range. Slightly fruity with some bitterness, followed by dark, roasty malts. Standard. Once again, what was too much carbonation in the lighter beers worked to lift the heaviness of the malts. Tolerable, but I’m still not hugely keen. When you compare this to stouts of similar strength such as the lovely Hop Back Entire Stout (4.5%), this is just so nothing-y. The coffee-hating Mr surprised me by not minding this beer, telling me that “It’s kind of like a watery version of what would be nice… But it’s do-able”.
These are the sort of traditional, uninteresting beers which I had tried, and been unimpressed by, prior to 2009, Dark Star Hophead (3.8%), and my ‘wow’ moment when I realised that beer could be glorious. They just aren’t particularly exciting, or well made. I know that I’m used to mad, strong beers, but some of my favourites are below 4% (Marble Pint (3.8%), Dark Star Hophead Galaxy (3.8%), Redemption Trinity (3%)). This year I’d like to see if I can find any low-ABV pale beers/trad bitters made with English hops that I actually like… Mission impossible? Any recommendations?