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Beer Ritz: A Loss For Beer And A Loss For Leeds

March 15, 2011 10 comments

My post yesterday about geekiness discussed in passing the importance of specialist shops to spark and inform an interest in a particular geek “scene”, be it beer or comics or otherwise.

In July last year OK Comics, the best comic shop in Leeds, was threatened with closure due to reduced foot traffic as works were going on in the arcade in which it sits. Jared from OK went to the internet and asked for help.

In a remarkable show of support, its customers and the comic community stepped up to the plate, coming into the shop or making purchases online, spreading the word through Twitter, with even celebrity comics fan/writer Jonathan Ross getting behind the campaign. And lo, OK Comics was saved and remains a little independent haven of geek pleasure in the heart of Leeds.

However, today I learned that my other favourite shop in Leeds has closed its doors, suddenly and apparently for good. Beer Ritz is (or was) the best beer shop I’ve ever been to, without exception. Its passionate, knowledgeable staff and management were happy to help people to understand its fantastic range of beers from all around the world.

We didn’t know that Beer Ritz was under threat and didn’t have a chance to help save it, if indeed that was possible. I obviously don’t know yet why it closed, but it had seemed to me to be in good health, and deservedly so.

It’s great having online beer sellers like My Brewery Tap and Beer Merchants, but to my mind they mainly provide a great service to the initiated.

When you’re first becoming interested in beer, you want somewhere to explore the shelves, read the bottles, see what’s available. You can chat to a member of staff, buy a couple of their recommendations (rather than a case), then come back next week for more.  Beer geeks aren’t born, they’re made by places like Beer Ritz and people like Zak, Ghost Drinker and Cheeeseboiger.

That’s what Beer Ritz did for me. The first time I went to Beer Ritz I’d read and heard about a beer called Jaipur but had never been able to find it anywhere. On a quiet Saturday, I decided to look for a better off licence in the telephone directory, saw Beer Ritz and drove to Headingley. Since then I’ve been back countless times, each time spending more money than I really should due to excitement about the selection.

I started reading beer blogs after finding Zak’s brilliant one, then eventually decided to start writing my own, for what it’s worth. It’s not a coincidence that there are so many beer bloggers and tweeters in and around Leeds.  Pretty much every beer I’ve posted about here I bought from the shop.

The closure of Beer Ritz is obviously a terrible thing for the passionate staff, who deserve better, and I wish them all the best for the future. It’s bad for small breweries, who find a loyal customer base through their sales. It’s also a blow for the customers, for independent shops and for Leeds.

However, it’s also a loss for those beer geeks who will never be, who will never see that packed but carefully organised back room with hundreds of bottles from the UK, Europe, America and elsewhere and go: “Wow, I wonder what all these are like?”

Please read Ghost Drinker‘s post with the news and his reaction, and the tributes from  Rob, Glyn and Leigh.  Thanks to Yorkshire Daily Photo for the picture and apologies for not asking first.

UPDATE: FORTUNATELY BEER RITZ HAS SUBSEQUENTLY REOPENED!  HOORAY!

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Comics and Beer Part 1: The Transferable Skills Of Being A Geek

March 14, 2011 3 comments

Geeks are geeks are geeks, and I would suggest that a beer geek is unlikely to be a geek about beer alone, if you follow.  Many beer geeks are also cooking geeks, as evidenced by Mark, Zak, Hardknott Dave, Rob and Leigh‘s food and beer matching.  Beer, brewing and cooking have a lot in common for the geek, as naturally does the appreciation of beer and other drinks, most notably whisky/whiskey.

Similarly, many beer geeks are also football fans, which are both fairly social forms of shared geekery.  Football is such an ingrained part of British life that it seems odd to describe it as geekery and lump it in with, say, an unusual appreciation of classic Doctor Who, but many of the same characteristics apply: particularly in dressing up; being obsessed with trivia in relation to the subject of your geekdom; and arguing passionately about your preferences with other geeks in whatever forum is open to do so.  However, Sylvester McCoy fans are less likely to be engaged in street violence against Colin Baker fans than Old Firm supporters might be. 

As well as being a beer geek, I’m a bit of recovering comics geek.  In fact it’s fair to say that I’ve become less geeky about comics at the same time as my interest in beer has grown.  There are a number of parallels and transferable neuroses that apply to beer and comics geekery, not least in a completist’s obsession with searching out and finding rare, renowned and unusual examples of each.  Without such an attitude, no brewery would ever be able to sell a limited edition beer and nobody would ever pay several times the price of a supermarket beer for something imported.

However, I think that beer and comics are an unusually good fit, in that both are generally underrated, misunderstood and dismissed as being lowbrow, when in reality it’s simply that the majority of comics are shallow, spandex-clad teenage power fantasies from the established publishers, in the same way that the majority of beer is made for cold, unthinking guzzling by soulless multinationals.

In both fields there are fascinating and interesting things happening, largely away from the mainstream and especially from independent sources, where individuals or a small number of creative people work on new and interesting things.  Moreover, it’s only when you go into specialist shops or read about these things on the internet that you generally find out about them.  Discovering this underground of quality and auteurism that very few people know about is part of the thrill.

At the same time, however, neither comics nor beer needs to be highbrow, challenging, thought-provoking, genre-busting or world-changing. Just like many things in life, depending on what mood you’re in, both can be at their best when they’re simple, accessible, unpretentious, joyous, throwaway and fun.

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