Giving the gift of beer

17 September, 2010

? One of the less noticeable things about the current economic climate is the slight scaling back in freebies, jollies and other assorted relationship-building exercises that take place at every level of the industry. For example, there has been a slow drift from foreign wine trips to bringing producers over to visit. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it means the winemakers get to see where their precious offspring end up, however upsetting that may be for them.

The Liberty Wines portfolio tasting this month is a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship between producer, importer and retailer. It’s always a very nice event, but (and I’m aware of how odd this sounds), I always feel I should turn up with a bottle to give to someone. It just seems polite to give something back in the face of all that generosity.

Me being me, it will, of course, be beer. Perhaps I’ll surprise Liberty managing director David Gleave MW with a gift of a bottle of local beer. OK, in terms of power meetings, it falls a bit short of the Anglo-American beer summit, but I like that little moment of “Really? For me? How nice” that comes when you hand someone a bottle of beer. It’s only a couple of quid, and it brightens up the day.

This is also brought home to me when wine producers visit the shop. If they’re brought in to talk about a few of their wines, I’m aware they’ve had a flight and a drive to get here, and will also have a long day of driving to visit those selling their wines.

I like to lay on a bit of food for them – some charcuterie and nice bread, nothing fancy, just something to say thanks.

It also demonstrates that we English are a cultured lot, and possibly defies a few expectations in the process. Plus, I get to eat salami and drink wine at work, which, let’s face it, is why a lot of us got into this game in the first place.

I had a night out last week with a beer importer from Amsterdam. He was in Leeds visiting a couple of local businesses and mentioned he had a few bottles he’d like to give me. Not any old tat, either – some new releases from the very well-regarded De Molen brewery. Obviously there was a commercial interest for him in presenting me with these bottles but, all the same, I thought it was only polite to reciprocate.

He was tickled pink by my gift of a 2007 Fuller’s Gale’s Prize Old Ale, and I’m sure it wasn’t just the beer he appreciated, but also the gesture.

Mind you, his business partner remarked that we looked like 40-year-old beer geeks in the pub – he had a point, but contrary to his intent, we took it as a compliment.

A little while ago, a merry band of beer bloggers descended on the shop, as part of a “Twissup” (a combination of a Twitter meet-up and piss-up).

Wanting to be hospitable, I made a couple of calls and managed to secure a polypin of excellent ale from the celebrated Rooster’s Brewing Company. The bloggers were delighted by the shop, but again, thrilled skinny by a cask of beer being made available to them.

It’s good to give every now and again. It’s good for your reputation, your business and, if you’re that way inclined, good for your soul, too.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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