By Stuart Flint, General Manager BottleShop: Margate
When I first joined the The BottleShop back in 2016 as the company prepared to open their first bar in sunny Margate, I was, like many of our early customers, a complete novice to the world of “craft” beer. Fancy glasses with a stem, the pricing at half pints and 2/3rds as well as pints and, of course, the beers and breweries themselves; tasty treats from all over the globe. Opening night was a crash course in new experiences; strong, bitter, hop forward American pale ales and IPAs that were a far cry from the local cask ales and bland corporate lagers I was used to drinking. Belchin’ Beaver’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout was unlike anything I had ever tasted; having never been a fan of stouts and porters, this was love at first sip! Then there were the real surprises like sour beer and boozy imperial stouts; taste sensations that I never could have dreamed could come from beer. I still distinctly remember my first sip of Lost Abbey: Angel’s Share on opening night; a Bourbon barrel-aged Barleywine Ale. The nose reminded me of tiramisu and I had never experienced depth of flavour in a beer like that of the caramel sweet, boozy, oak, dark fruits ale. I was floored and my eyes were well and truly opened. My perception of what beer was, and what beer could be, was shattered and I knew I had a lot to learn.
Over the last two years, that’s an experience I’ve shared with many of our now regular customers and it’s still a journey I see people embarking on every week; that first sip of a beer that sits totally outside their perception of what beer is supposed to taste like, and it can have one hell of an impact! It’s easy to forget that for a lot of people, their entire adult drinking life has been void of any real variety. For me, growing up in Margate at least, there was very little in the way of choice as to what beer was available. Big brand lager was the only offering in almost every pub you went in and, whilst we’re sold the idea that many of these brands are exotic and come from all over the world, rarely do they and rarer still is that reflected in the taste of the beer. Anyone who’s been drinking lager for any length of time will of course have their brand preference, but none of them are likely to make you sit up and think “Wow! I haven’t tasted anything like that before!” But that’s a reaction I’ve been lucky enough to see on a regular basis since working at The BottleShop.
Every time someone tastes their first fruity sour and I see their eyes light up as they purse their lips together from the tartness, or their eyes close and they let out a groan of pleasure after tasting a rich, boozy, flavoured imperial stout, I know that person’s relationship with beer will never be the same again. It’s been a pleasure to share my experiences as a beer novice with others in a similar situation and learn and discover new beer styles, flavours and, in the case of this blog, new breweries.
As anyone who begins to explore the world of craft beer does, I quickly discovered who the rockstar breweries were and which of their beers to look out for in particular. Breweries who you know are consistent and reliable in their brewing of delicious ales but who also seem to have a speciality that always satisfies beyond compare. Anything DDH (Double Dry-hopped) from Cloudwater is going to immediately get your taste buds tingling, an imperial stout from Omnipollo and you’re in for a seriously rich, indulgent treat or perhaps a nice saison from the Belgian style masters at Burning Sky. These are breweries that never seem to fail when it comes to delivering the goods and in the modern beer drinking world, where tap lists are continually evolving and new beers are being showcased every week from unfamiliar breweries, it’s good to walk into a bar or pub and see a familiar name. It means you can be adventurous with your choices that evening, all the while safe in the knowledge that you’re in the presence of a familiar friend who you know you’ll be able to rely on. Going from having one or two preferred brands of lager to developing a portfolio of trusted breweries, all of whom offer wildly different styles and seasonal brews providing you with new things to try, can lead to you feeling like you’ve just discovered beer for the first time, all over again in your 30s. Trying new beers, learning what you like and don’t like, developing your palate, it certainly took me back to my late teens when, upon first starting to drink in pubs, everything on offer was new and exciting, a new world of beer at my fingertips.
The best thing of course is that, these days, that feeling of discovery isn’t over after a week or two of trying everything the pub has to offer. Perhaps already familiar with the similar ethos found in micropubs, our regulars have embraced the ever changing tap list and are more than willing to try new beers and journey outside their comfort zone and that’s a journey we’re happy to share. The BottleShop is always looking for fantastic new breweries to work with and we’ve been lucky to showcase some absolutely stunning beers here in Margate over the last two years, from breweries that we’re confident you won’t have found on offer anywhere else! We’ve showcased some #WorldClass breweries and loved sharing their beers with our customers and seeing them continue to fall in love over and over again. Last year the incredible Burnt Mill brewery won many a fan, particularly with their delicious pale ales Pintle and Steel Cut, meanwhile German brewers Fuerst Wiacek made a name for themselves among local hop lovers with their truly astonishing IPAs like Don’t Get Hit By Lightning and Exploding Rainbows. This year Brick Brewery have set our resident sour beer fans’ tastebuds alight with their deliciously tart Gooseberry & Elderflower Sour and their latest Raspberry & Thyme sour. Our customers are always happy to let us know what they like and often they’ll be so impressed with a specific beer or brewery that they’ll request it over and over again. It’s great to know that a customer’s love of a brewery isn’t built on brand loyalty as a result of years of subconscious targeted advertising and sponsorships. It’s about the quality of the beer and nothing else.
Seeing people falling in love with new breweries or being overjoyed to see one of their favourite beers return to our taplist is some of the best bits of my job. Knowing that people are excited to come in and enjoy their favourite beer at the bar with us, or take away the latest batch in bottles and cans is, I imagine, a large part of the reason The BottleShop as a company exists. When founder Andrew Morgan began selling #WorldClass beer from a small corner of The Goods Shed Canterbury back in 2010, he surely experienced the same satisfaction from seeing customers returning again and again having fallen in love with a new beer and I’m sure he found it equally rewarding as I do when said beer is no longer available, and I find something else for that customer along similar lines that they also love.
At its core, this job, for me, has always been about sharing great drinks with great people and seeing a customer fall in love with a beer or a brewery, well that’s a pretty good sign that we must be doing something right!