Who are The Epicurean Beer People - by Matt Curtis
September 27, 2022
Author: Matthew Curtis.
We are delighted to be working with Award Winning Beer Writer Matt Curtis (pictured above) who over the coming months will be writing a series of Blogs for us.
What better way to start than with a Q&A with our founder Simon Yarwood to get some insight to who and what The Epicurean Beer People are all about.
Meet Simon Yarwood, Founder of The Epicurean (Pictured above)
In the first part of a new series on our blog, award-winning (and now) Manchester-based beer writer Matthew Curtis chats to our owner and founder, Simon. Expect plenty more posts from Matt in the months to come, digging into some of his favourite beer topics, as well as recommending a few beers he’s been enjoying recently. If you’d like to read more by Matt, you can pick up a copy of his book, Modern British Beer, right here.
Author: Matthew Curtis
When I moved from London to Manchester a couple of years ago, I knew the beer scene was better here in the North West, but I still feel a lot of people don’t realise how much better. Sure, central Manchester is a treasure trove of beer venues, from cutting-edge taprooms and craft beer spots, to some of the best traditional pubs you’ll find anywhere in the country. But it’s only once you start exploring outside of the city centre that you realise how rich and diverse the Mancunian beer scene really is.
I got my first taste of this suburban beer scene on a visit to Manchester eight years ago, when – for a project I was working on at the time – I decided to spend the better part of a day having a nose around Chorlton and Didsbury, on the city’s south side. As well as visiting some classic beer spots including The Font, and The Beagle, I also popped into a local bottle shop to pick up a few beers for my train ride home.
By coincidence, that shop was The Epicurean, which (completely unbeknown to me at the time) had only opened a couple of months earlier, in March 2014. I remember well being bowled over by the sheer variety of beers available, including lots of beers from new, small brewers I hadn’t heard of yet. Walking out of the shop with a bag full of Bock from Didsbury-via-North Wales’ Geipel Brewery I felt as though I’d had a real taste, not just how Manchester’s beer scene felt at the time, but of it’s potential – something I feel it’s definitely realised in the eight years since.
A little ironically, it was more than likely Simon Yarwood, founder of The Epicurean, who sold me those beers. It’s somewhat serendipitous then, that almost a decade on he’s asked me to start a little monthly column for the shop’s blog, and I thought what better way to introduce you to what The Epicurean is all about, than to interview the chap who started it in the first place!
Since he sold me those train beers, his business has grown quite a bit. There are now four branches of The Epicurean and counting, with stores in Heaton Moor, Chorlton, and Ancoats – plus the original West Didsbury location of course. I sat down for a chat with Simon to find out why wanted to open a bottle shop in the first place, and if that same spark of enthusiasm remains under today’s current challenging circumstances. Here’s our conversation…
Matthew Curtis: Tell me what got you excited about beer in the first place. Was there a particular beer that gave you an "ah-hah" moment?
Simon Yarwood: It was a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, enjoyed in a local bar called Mary & Archie in West Didsbury. Despite being a lager drinker at the time, for some reason I thought I’d try something different. I remember thinking: “wow how much flavour has this got!?” The rest, as they say, is history!
MC: Why did you decide to open a bottle shop, and how did The Epicurean come into being?
SY: After 20 years in the corporate world I wanted a change of direction and myself and my then girlfriend – now wife – Sarah had always said we would like to have a business in West Didsbury (where we live) due to its friendly neighbourhood, and community feel. An opportunity came up for an ideal shop on Burton Road, and that coupled with a love of craft beer and what I saw as an opening in the market at the time. Plus, what’s better than working in something you enjoy? I quite often think to myself this isn’t a real job, it’s a hobby.
MC: How did you feel when you got the doors to that first site open, and what was the response like from locals?
SY: We were nervous, anxious but very excited! We had other local businesses helping us out on opening day with the last bit of painting, cleaning, and stocking up – they even brought us sandwiches! At 5pm on that opening Friday we had customers queuing down Burton Road waiting to come in. We were blown away by how busy we were, and the positive feedback we received – many of those day one customers are still regulars and some have become lifelong friends.
I remember locking up on that opening night, going to meet Sarah (what a year, The Epicurean opened in the March and I got married that August) for a drink and feeling like a giddy kid with excitement as to how the opening had gone and the reception we received.
MC: How has that feeling changed now you're running four shops?
SY: I still feel nervous, anxious and excited at each opening, but I like to give the shop managers autonomy. While I’ve been at the openings in the background, the people who are running the shop take the lead, as I’ve always wanted them to become the face and character of their particular shop. And just like I did in Didsbury, they’ve all gained new friends through our regular customers.
MC: What's different about each of the four sites?
SY: They are all similar, but different in their own way with each one being a different size, and some stock varies in each shop. We do some group buying and have core listings, but the managers also have autonomy to order what they know their customers want. For example: some sites can’t get enough sours or DIPAs but don’t sell the more traditional ales, while others sell loads of the more traditional stuff. Heaton Moor, for example, has a huge selection of bottled German beers thanks to it being quite a spacious shop.
Within the next six months all sites will be branded as The Epicurean Beer People (as with our website), so no matter which store you go in they will all have the same look and vibe.
MC: Why did you decide to call the business "The Epicurean" instead of using a more conventional, beer-centric name like a lot of other bottle shops?
SY: I wanted something to stand out from the crowd, and be a bit of a talking point rather than have a more conventional name. An epicurean is “a person devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from food and drink,” which we think suits what we do perfectly.
MC: What do you think makes the beer scene in Manchester so special?
SY: Community is the word I think sums it up. I often bump into our regulars when I’m out visiting bars and taprooms, and people in Manchester always make a point to come and talk to each other. For example, I was recently in the Track Brewing taproom one Friday with my wife – I went to the bar to get us a drink, and it took me half an hour to get back to her, as so many people stopped for a chat!
MC: Are there any recent developments within the Manchester beer scene you're particularly excited about?
SY: Track has really changed the game with their fantastic taproom. In terms of breweries, I’m really excited about Sureshot Brewing, and the beers James [Campell] is producing – it’s rumoured they are planning to open a taproom as well, which is very exciting. In general it’s great that so many bars across the city are serving such high quality beers.
MC: Things are tough for breweries and other beer-adjacent businesses at the moment. How do you plan to navigate the cost of living crisis and support both your suppliers and customers?
I think we are in for a tough 12 to 18 months and as a team we are looking at how we can reduce costs. For example, do we run stock around in the van once a week rather than partly filled van loads every day? Do we start bulk buying to take advantage of the discounts that provides?
We pay our suppliers on delivery, and don’t keep wholesalers or breweries waiting for money. We will inevitably have to put prices up in the coming months (as everyone will) but I would never look profiteer from the current situation.
To help keep our customers engaged we’re sending out weekly emails, as well as carrying a really diverse range of beers – from limited release, premium products to more affordable fridge fillers. We also have a loyalty scheme so that regular customers can get back some of what they spend. We’ve always prided ourselves on our customer service, but we’re aware we need to stand out as the place to go, as customers are quite rightly going to shop around.
MC: Is there light at the end of the tunnel, and what does The Epicurean’s future look like?
SY: We'll continue to provide the best selection and customer service to our valued customers, and get through this difficult time.
The thing when it comes to reading about beer, is that it has the tendency to make you thirsty. To help you decide what to slake your own thirst with, I asked each of the store managers to recommend which beers they’ve been enjoying recently.
Delirium Tremens has stood the test of time, and was the first beer that got me looking at beer differently. Plus it's so tasty and drinkable! In fact it’s the reason I sought out specialist beer shops in the first place (albeit nervously as a women — thankfully they are much more inclusive and approachable now).
I’m also really enjoying Summer Saison by Runaway, here in Manchester (but soon to be Stockport). It’s delicious, and is especially great enjoyed in the sunshine.
My favourite beer at the moment has to be Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer from Brouwerij Het Anker in Belgium. It’s a complex and intense beer; roasty, with notes of caramel and plum. It’s all natural with no adjuncts or chemicals – pure brilliance.
Chris, Heaton Moor:
Simon (Big Si), Didsbury:
I’m a Big German lager fan, with my favourite at the moment being Rothaus Pils. As the dark nights approach, however, you can’t beat a good Imperial Stout. I’ve still got a large collection of Buxton Yellow Belly from over the years (before it had a cease and desist over its name) in my cellar. I suppose I need to drink them soon, or my wake is going to be an ace one for everyone else with my stout collection 😂!
Stay tuned for more posts from Matt in the near future, and keep an eye on our socials for news of an in store tasting with him in the not too distant future!