Published on September 3rd, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Hop on board
Ray Stokes, the owner of independent craft beer shop Hop & Bottle in Berwick upon Tweed is the self-styled Artisan Beer Monger. If it’s conversation about his favourite subject you’re after or watching people on Hide Hill go by, it’s the place to be. That’s in the interludes between buying beer and sampling it.
The counter and display areas in the light and airy former florists are constructed from polished pallet timber – very effectively, too.
“The town hadn’t had an off-license for about 15 years, since Oddbins closed,” says Ray. “This was a flower shop and now it’s a hop shop.”
Ray’s accent takes some placing but he assures he was born in Berwick then lived over the border in Eyemouth (distinctly Scottish in tongue) and as his mother is from Southampton and his dad is from Shetland, there’s a fair old mixture going on.
He says: “I did get stick at school for sounding ‘different’ but Berwick’s a very open-minded town.”
Before he set up Hop & Bottle, Ray worked in hospitality around the area for about 15 years, at Curfew micropub, The Barrels and The Brown Bear which he always enjoyed, but he finds having his own place means he can talk a lot more about hops. He has installed a table in the middle of the floor for lingering over purchases and sampling – or just talking hop. A record player quietly runs though a charity-shop vinyl repertoire that could be Led Zeppelin, Chvrches or Hot Chocolate (why does every charity shop have a Hot Chocolate LP?) which invariably starts conversation on the correlation between beer and music.
“Berwick to me is music, beer and conversation,” he says. “People can come in here and have a fun time without breaking the bank. I like chatting to people and it’s two-way traffic. I love the friendly element to this industry. There’s also lots of collaboration between the shops in Berwick, such as the barbers across the street which has a late night and we’re open so people can have a beer and a haircut. Hop and chop, that’s us.”
Hop & Bottle is fiercely local but also stocks Belgian beers and cans and bottles that have national distribution, plus wine and spirits. Holy Island Gin, Alnwick Gin, Thistly Cross Cider, Lindisfarne Mead, Left-Field Kombucha are produced around these parts and he even sells that Scottish staple Buckfast Tonic Wine by the bottle or shot.
Furthermore, Ray Stokes, The Beer Monger, surely has the shiniest boots in Berwick.