Shops

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.

New Beer Shop: The Epicurean

writing on the wall 'The Epicurean - a place devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine ales'

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!

The Epicurean shop front on Burton Road, West Didsbury

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.

stacks of german beersshelves of british beer bottles

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.

sign saying 'over 220 beers in stock, if you can't find what you like, tell us, and we'll do our best to get it... find us on facebook and twitter'

The Epicurean has only been open for a couple of weeks, but already it feels like it’s been on the Road forever. We’ve already seen a couple of meet the brewer events go on at the shop, featuring brewers such as Geipel and Tickety Brew, and a little bird tells me that there are going to be many more, so if you want to meet the people behind the beer in a chilled atmosphere, keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events. Simon and Rob really do care about providing people with great beer, and, as the sign says, if you particularly want something that they don’t have, they’ll do their best to get their hands on it. You can’t say fairer than that. Cheers!

Booths

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.

Wainwrights bottles with a recommendation card

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.

Steven's Point IPA, Red Pig Ale, Monteiths Original Ale, Booths/Hawkshead 1847, and Duvel 2013 Tripel Hop

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?

Tesco ‘Simply’ Beers

I’m lucky to live in a place where I can get my hands on good beer just by walking five minutes down the road and into Reserve Wines, who stock some lovely local stuff, or walking ten minutes and enjoying a pint in Mary and Archie. But it was not always this way! For a while early last year, I lived in the countryside. The house was surrounded by fields and motorways; very unnerving for a person who grew up a 25 minute train ride from central London. This countryside location was a veritable beer wasteland, with the only pubs within walking distance not keeping their cask very well at all. I wasn’t in a position to be ordering beer online, or to be stocking up adequately on my infrequent trips into Manchester. So, though I was loathe to do it, when I needed a hop hit, I bought beer from supermarkets. I never dared venture into their own range, expecting it to be crap – after Tesco ‘Finest’ American Double IPA (9.2%) was discontinued, of course, the days of picking up Hardcore at 2 quid a bottle were glorious indeed! – and so I ended up drinking a lot of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%), which is always a solid go-to, and, um, gin.

 

These days I am able to support pubs and independent retailers when I buy beer, but on our weekly food shops at Tesco, I have become increasingly curious about their ‘Simply’ range, brewed for Tesco by Marston’s. I already know I like their alcoholic ginger beer (I mean, it’s no Hollows and Fentimans, but it’s better than that awful Crabbies), and finally, in the spirit of enquiry, I decided to give their ales a go. On a gloomy Sunday afternoon, I settled down on the sofa with the Mr and cracked open the first bottle: Tesco ‘Simply’ Golden Ale (4.5%).”First of all,” I said to the Mr, handing him the bottle, “Before you taste the beer, what’s wrong with this?”
Slightly perplexed, he narrowed his eyes at the label, and ventured, “The phrase ‘Golden Ale’ evokes urine?”
*Chortle, splutter*
“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”.

Moving swiftly on, we then tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ IPA (5%). The bottle describes it as a ‘classic’ IPA; there’s no way this beer would survive a long sea voyage. Another clear bottle, another slightly skunky beer, but I also get malt sweetness on the nose, and even a little cantaloupe melon hiding behind the hint of citrus. It’s still over-carbonated, and I taste some soft toffee and caramel, a little earthiness, a bit of citrus, but it’s all just overwhelmed by herbal bitterness. This dry bitterness is pervasive, it’s persistent, but bitterness alone does not a good IPA make. Now, I generally like super-crazy bitter beers, even if they aren’t perfectly balanced and overwhelm their backbone a bit, but this beer just had no substance to it. The Mr opined “It’s just bitter and not very nice – it’s not as bitter as some of the beers I’ve tried, but in this beer there’s nothing to justify it being this bitter”. All that, unprompted!

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.

 
Raisins killed the dinosaurs. (It looked lighter than this).

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?