Thursday, April 24, 2008

Zak Avery: Without Beer Ritz, This Blog Wouldn't Exist

As you can read here, I've been an advocate of Beer Ritz in Leeds for some time. In fact, 99% of the beers you read about on this blog are from there; my monthly trip over, returning with a large box full of goodies, really is one of life's pleasures.

A chance meeting over on Beer Advocate with a knowledgable chap called Zak, and then seeing the name again (funny how life works, innit...) in Beers of The World Magazine led to the dawning realisation that Zak actually manages Beer Ritz, and he's up for doing a little interview for TGS

Not only that, but he hosts beer-tasting evenings on his site The Beer Boy (Link over there on the right) which also contains some snippets of his top-notch beer writing. We enjoyed a virtual pint:

Leigh: How's things?
Zak :
Very good, thanks. Busy with the shop, the beer tastings, the video blog, and quite a bit of freelance writing at the moment.
You've met Garret Oliver - how was that?
It was great! He's such a passionate, eloquent and intelligent chap that it would be hard not to enjoy meeting him. I met him at a beer & food lunch at Anthony's in Leeds, and then he was good enough to show me round the brewery in Brooklyn a year or so later.
Off the top of your head, whats popular Beeritz at the moment?
Well, our best selling bottled ales are Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Saltaire Cascade, so it's nice to be doing our bit for local producers. We also stock the hard-to-find Sam Smith's beers, which go well, and generally, the American "craft" beers are doing well. We get through about a pallet of specialist bottled beer a week, so happily the response to "what's popular?" is "good beer!"
...Any beers you still haven't been able to get your hands on?
Not really, we will try to source anything,a nd are pretty good at it too. We've just sourced Kasteel Cru, the "champagne lager", and we sell Deus, the "champagne beer". We get asked for the rare Trappist beer Westvleteren sometimes, but that is really pushing it - by which I mean, I have some at home, and it's mine!
What's coming up for Beer Ritz in the next few months?
It sounds very geeky, but we're going to re-arrange the British beers by colour (light to dark, left to right) and strength (strong to weak, top to bottom). That way, beers near each other will be broadly in the same style, and hopefully will give people confidence to try something next to their favourite beer. Now I've written it down, I have to admit that it looks mad, but I'm sure it will encourage people to try soemthing a little different.
We both espouse beer and food matching - whats your all-time perfect matchup? I'm not really a fruit beer person, but I think that Belgian kriek (cherry beer) and chocolate torte is pretty hard to beat - actually, on the local front, Sam Smith have just starting doing fruit beers, and their cherry beer is pretty good too. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and vanilla ice cream is mind-blowing. Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and a good strong, hoppy ale is pretty high up there too.
Where do you drink?
I run a specialist beer shop selling about 600 bottled beers, so mostly at home! But when I do haul myself off the couch, The Rosebud in Carlton (I live in Rothwell) is a fifteen minute walk - it's a good, traditional public house, in the old sense of the phrase, that always has a good range of ales on. In Leeds, North Bar, the Cross Keys, the Palace, the Scarborough Taps. I like the fact that you can still walk into North and they'll have something new and exciting on tap.
Running a beer specialist supplier seems to many like a dream job - is it? Have you noticed any trends in trade of late?
I always say to people that apart from the hours and the pay, it's the best job in the world. Trends - hmm, people generally seem to be getting more interested in the idea of good quality bottled beers, and maybe drinking less but better quality, stronger and more flavoursome beers, although that might be wishful thinking on my part.
Ever tried brewing yourself?
It's very close to the top of my "To Do" list. I'm going all out for a full-grain mash rather than using an extract kit - I guess that's the foodie in me - so I want to make sure that I've researched everything carefully.
Go on then - Favourite beer of all time?
No chance! And my top ten has about fifty beers in it!

Zak can be contacted via The Beer Boy.

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