Members’ bottle share

Lavery’s, 12-18 Bradbury Pl, Belfast BT7 1RS


At the heart of Belfast’s golden mile, Lavery’s is a true institution: a labyrinth of bars, terraces, saloons and snugs that seems to defy the laws of normal physical space. Like a Tardis, except that every new room you enter is stocked to rafters will delicious booze. 

Wonderfully, Lavery’s is celebrating 100 years since the Lavery family bought the bar in 1918 from two brothers called Kinahan, who ran a spirit grocer’s and a stage coach stop for the Belfast to Dublin coach. At this point, the Lavery family owned more than 30 bars throughout Northern Ireland, run by the four Lavery brothers Tom, Patsy, Charlie and Donal, although this would be reduced to just five by the end of the first world war. In 1972, at the height of The Troubles, Lavery’s was burned in an arson attack, very nearly killing Tom who lived in a flat above the bar, but was soon rebuilt in 1973.

Tom’s son Charlie and Patsy’s son Patrick took over ownership of the bar in the late ‘70s and the story since then has, thankfully, been one of good times and growth. In the mid ‘80s, Charlie and Patrick converted the upstairs apartment into the first floor Middle Bar and top floor Attic Bar, also adding kitchen facilities. Three years later a second renovation was carried out, this time knocking down the old Back Bar, which was rebuilt and extended. Most recently, a complete renovation and redesign resulted in a much-improved Back Bar & Beer Garden, new (absolutely jumping) middle floor nightclub, as well as a top floor pool hall and roof terrace.

Each space has its own distinct character, giving Lavery’s the overall feel of a connected village of awesome pubs and bars with their own clientele, drinks selection and décor. To be honest, I spent the entire day of the bottle share drifting between these bars, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the hearty and great value food, chatting to the staff and getting a bit of writing done. Time disappears in places like this.

The newest addition to the Lavery’s collection is The Woodworkers, a craft bar and bottle shop built into a neighbouring retail space the Lavery family bought a few years ago. There’s a space set aside for diners, but the majority of the space is just a really good modern pub, with a well-chosen selection of 14 craft taps and a great range of bottled beers, wines and spirits (I ended the evening with a Yellow Spot whiskey, which absolutely blew me away). There’s plenty of Irish beer on the menu, but also some very incredible brews form further afield, including Burning Sky, Chorlton and Verdant.

Our members start arriving on the dot of 7, and The Woodworkers has kindly roped off a corner of the bar just for us. Filly, our main man from Lavery’s for the evening, gets in a round of Castaway, a passionfruit Berliner Weisse from Yellowbelly Beer. It hits the spot perfectly.

Graeme Robinson: “Sours are still kind of a new thing for Northern Ireland, but they’re massive. The fruity ones are better I think – I’ve had a couple of raspberry sours that have been great. As long as the fruit’s not a shitty artificial flavour like Fruli. You want raspberries that taste like raspberrries.”

“And the snozzberries taste like snozzberries,” quips Joel Egerton.

“I like this, it’s nice and clean and the passionfruit really comes through,” says Kris Stoker. “But I also like the more complex Belgian sour beers too – to get some Lambics with crazy fruit flavours.”

Next up is Simcoe Simon from Beer Hut, a NEIPA that several members have already tasted. It certainly looks the part; lurid and opaque, with a full creamy head.

“I was drinking this before we started,” admits Jolene Stoker. “I love it. It’s thick and tastes of tropical fruit – mango and pineapple. I reckon this is one I could drink all night.”

This seems to be the consensus, but for me Simcoe always tastes a bit like hand soap – an observation which spirals into a discussion of how I would know that, and what flavour hand soap I’d recommend to the discerning craft beer lover.

Next up, we’re onto the cans, with Yeah Yeah Yeah – a witty name for an ultra-trendy brut IPA collaboration between Wylam and Magic Rock. I admit I’m not generally a fan of brut IPA right out of the gate. I find their extreme dryness tends to make them unbalanced, accentuating hop characteristics that really need to be tempered by some sweetness. It’s light and floral, with notes of fresh melon, and not painfully dry.

Jolene and Kris Stoker agree. “I find that surprisingly drinkable – I’m getting through it quite quickly. I can imagine this being a good first drink of the night,” says Kris, while Jolene adds: “it’s got more flavour that a lot of the Brut IPAs I’ve tried. And I don’t even think it’s all that dry.”

The group’s split though, with Graeme Staples feeling it tastes “a bit dead” and lacks “the tight, small bubbles you’d expect from a brut IPA.”

Graeme Robinson is also unconvinced: “It’s quite wheaty – I don’t know if that’s maybe because they’ve used a Belgian yeast, but I’m getting a lot of that wheat beer flavour and can’t really get past that. Maybe a bit of mango, but very dry. I’ll drink it quick.”

Moving on to our penultimate beer of the night, Liesölve is a collaboration between Verdant and Dugges, a full-bodied American IPA with wheat and oats, hopped with Mosaic, Ekuanot and Loral. Predictably, it’s a hit all round.

Filly smacks his lips: “It’s super juicy, tropical and citric. I love the creamy mouthfeel.”

“It’s certainly got a really nice body to it, agrees Kris Stoker. “It’s more chewy than the last beer, but it still goes down really easily. I could drink this in winter very happily.” 

“Yeah it’s heavier, but it kind of sucks you in,” agrees Graeme Staples.

Our last beer of the evening is Hagstravaganza Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged on raspberries, from our friends in Ireland, White Hag. I saw this stuff in the barrel, so it was a real thrill to finally be able to try it. It’s as good as I’d hoped – a rich, unctuous stout, which takes fragrance rather than huge residual sweetness from the raspberries, all wrapped up in an oaky barrel-aged finish. The group agrees, though most of their reactions at this point in the evening are basically unprintable.

“It doesn’t take any prisoners – that’s a beer that kicks you in the face,” says Graeme Robinson.

Joel Egerton is moved to poetry: “I wandered through a wooded glen, and stumbled across a patch of pure ripe raspberries. Will that do?”

It’s been a great night, and The Woodworkers’ hospitality has been exemplary. Admittedly, I didn’t get around to exploring much of Belfast today, but there’s always tomorrow, and frankly it’s felt like a day well spent.

Special thanks to Filly, both for his hosting skills and for posting my laptop back to me after I left it in the bar.

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