As we come to an end of the first month of the season with an ‘R’, cold winds creep in from the North and we prepare to embrace winter fashion. Although as days become shorter and temperatures drop, it’s quite tempting to stay in the peace and warmth of one’s own home, rather than venture out in to a cold night.
Previous guides to Harrogate’s independents have covered coffee shops, pubs and family restaurants – however there’s no reason you must leave the comfort of your home for a new discovery and a great experience. We’ve drawn up a list of our favourite independents of wine and beer retail: whether you have unexpected guests and need an extra bottle for the dinner table, or simply want to try a new brew but the pub is a bit of a distance; these shops provide a service of choices and guidance that are sure to satisfy any range of tastes, palates and preferences.
Harrogate Fine Wine Company:
The shop itself has been selling wine since 1985, at which time it was part of the Martinez Wines company. For nearly thirty years, this spot has attracted locals and visitors alike with its selection and service.
About twelve years ago, Andy Langshaw & co. bought the location out and established Harrogate Fine Wine Company, ensuring that the wine continued to flow in and out the door, as it does to this day.
While we browse an extensive and well-presented supply of wines from all corners of the world, Andy explains that quality has been the key factor since day one. The greatest intention of Harrogate Fine Wine Company is to ensure that any customer is provided a selection that offers no chance of disappointment.
This principle is manifested strongly in their selection process. Andy describes the critical quality inspection involved in selecting the wines they sell: without looking at the market value of a wine, they research it, taste it, make their own notes on quality, suitability and of course, fair retail value. If the market value turns out to be much higher than they anticipate, it’s obviously not a wine for them. However when they find a phenomenal wine and discover its market value is well below their own expectations, it’s a very good day for both Andy and anyone visiting the shop.
Fear not – HFWC accommodate all budgets, on both ends of the scale
Harrogate Fine Wine Company stand as key players in Harrogate’s local wine and beer retail scene. Besides having good relations with regular customers, offering guidance and dialogue to anyone with a passion for wine, they also host regular tasting sessions. However the key for Andy and his partners is keeping their reputation for quality and service – these aspects attract wine enthusiasts from all over the north of England. The nature of the business facilitates an enthusiastic and social relationship with customers and other merchants alike.
As Andy says quite rightly; if you have a real passion for wine and the people you get to meet and work with, it’s doesn’t even feel like a job. It’s this very joy and enthusiasm for the culture that gives Harrogate Fine Wine Company its edge: a real passion for the product and compassion for the fellow drinker. Whether you’re a long-time enthusiast, looking to expand your palate or simply need a good recommendation; Harrogate Fine Wine Company will offer you only the very best of their wine, and their service.
As this is our first guide to retail rather than service per se, we investigated a company that has taken retail to it’s natural conclusion.
Beer Hawk have no fancy window displays, no hand-written signs boasting their rarest brews, not even a reception. We arrive at their facilities a few miles outside of central Harrogate, finding some warehouses and a small office, populated by a friendly and busy staff. Director Mark Roberts greets us warmly.
Mark explains: several years ago, he was sitting with his current business partner Chris in a quite pleasant pub, agreeing that it’s shamefully difficult to explore beer from one’s own home. You can venture out to a pub and hope they have something interesting in stock, or scour import shops, sometimes few and far between with a selection more limited than the business implies; otherwise you’re rather stuck with the regulars.
It dawned on Mark and Chris that the people who could offer an exploratory range of beers, delivered to the comfort of one’s home, would stand to make some serious money.
Hence Beer Hawk: through their online service, you can choose from 300-400 brews, imported from all corners of the world: American IPAs, Belgian ales and of course UK efforts are carefully picked, ordered and catalogued. It really is that simple – browse, choose and your drinks will be sent directly to your home – speedy delivery; for free if you spend over £50 (which, considering the selection; it would be hard not to).
Making sure a new pallet of beer replaces every old one, Beer Hawk ship out a few boxes a day on average, however holiday seasons can increase that number into many dozens. They also follow the seasons; with Octoberfest underway, the warehouse is well-stocked with all the German imports you need to celebrate in spirit.
The business only started two and a half years ago, however with the steady stream of satisfied customers and a constant expansion of their business network, Beer Hawk have no intention of slowing down. As more and more people take advantage of this fun, educating and efficient service, warehouse space will only increase in demand as well, particularly with breweries sending them more samples than they know what to do with, in hope of scoring a spot on the shelves of Beer Hawk’s warehouse.
Beer Hawk won’t let you get away with an order, without ensuring you have all the information (and beer) you need
With that many beers to choose from, Beer Hawk are more than happy to offer guidance and suggestions. Besides a well-organised product browser on their web page, they offer themed discovery cases, ranging from country to type-specific collections. A resident beer sommelier ensures that the warehouse is stocked with an eclectic collection of high quality of both industry paradigms and new creations.
Beer Hawk also have a Beer Club – members are regularly sent a batch of 15 beers based on their requests and preferences. An excellent service for anyone who’d like to have a new discovery at hand for both personal enjoyment and guests – what better way to impress than with a constantly rotating stock of new and exciting imports?
Everything about Beer Hawk’s service is designed with an efficiency and passion for simple, excellent service and beer. Even the boxes they use for their orders have been meticulously selected for Beer Hawk’s highly specific purposes and service.
There’s an undeniable trend of consumers wanting more immersion in the world that produces and serves these brews of passion – Beer Hawk have cut out a corner of this market by offering a highly efficient, pedagogic and innovative service, accessible to anyone with any degree of personal interest – from the comfort of your own home. Well done, Beer Hawk – it’s not often you get to see both ends of supply and demand quite so satisfied (although it’s more common amongst independents, we believe).
Ake & Humphris:
A brief walk south of Harrogate’s commercial centre, past some quite lovely real estate you can find Ake & Humphris on the edge of the Leeds Rd. roundabout, just across from Country Butchers. The name alone is enough to raise some curiosity, not to mention an eye-catching selection in the window displays.
Previously the shop was called Wineways, as one of the gentlemen part of setting it up used to work there. However, as an independent, a catchier name was necessary. Surnames were offered, a survey was done amongst the customers of the shop. It didn’t take long before they were known as Ake & Humphris – courtesy of owners and directors Shirley and Edward Ake, and Jonathan Humphris.
As we enter the shop, Tara greets us warmly and offers tea. She tells us the enthusiastic man pacing the shop while speaking on the phone is Des Tinline: fine wine taster and longest serving member of staff. He just got back from a tasting in Germany; it seems to have done him well.
Tara tells us she’s responible for the books, and makes sure the merrymen are sufficiently pestered to keep business running smoothly. As an independent, Ake & Humphris purchase selectively from suppliers all over the UK, and are looking to branch out to importing as well.
Browsing the extensive, eclectic international selection, Tara explains that the key ambition has always been to select the best wines and beers you can get, at a price. With thorough research, investigation and networking, they make sure that every product they choose to retail retains a standard. Regardless of what you walk away with, Ake & Humphris can say hand on heart that it won’t disappoint.
Besides an excellent range for any budget (including a 10% discount on buying 6 bottles of a wine), Ake & Humphris carry some of the finer options, as well as stocking Havana cigars – a much appreciated contact allows them to take requests as well – just ask and they can order in a range of brands.
A fine selection of beers, local and otherwise occupy one of the walls. Tara pulls a bottle off the shelf, telling us it’s one of many pre-aged beers from auction – this particular bottle is from 1984. More oddities are discovered, before we’re lead behind the scenes, to their new tasting room. Still in the process of decoration, this room can be used by groups for private tastings. Free wine tastings are also held regularly in store – you can sign up for their newsletter for an invitation to the next one.
Ake & Humphis pride themselves on providing a personal experience, and are happy to offer as much guidance as you desire. They’ll gladly put together themed packages for you as well, like these decorated bags of Yorkshire ales:
Besides tastings, research, excellent service and another location in Collingham, Ake & Humphris are about to launch a new web page, and have plans for an e-commerce option as well. That’s right – all the options of an established independent, right on your web browser.
Having said that, Ake & Humphris is well worth paying a visit in person: a knowledgable staff intent on building friendly relations around personal interest and recommendations, guarantees that this shop will both satisfy and delight.
Just as we’re about to leave, Des concludes his 20-minute phone conversation, before saying: “that was our best supplier!” We can only take that as a sign that Ake & Humphris will continue to be well-stocked with both wine and beer, and a passion for both.