Nestled on the Ormeau Road, a short walk from the Southern embankments of Belfast’s River Lagan. The Vineyard is a blink and you will miss it Off License, an ordinary and unassuming shop front on a busy route through the east of the city. Unless you stop to stare at its carefully crafted window displays, or you know that it exists by its reputation alone, then you could be missing out on a hidden gem
At first glance, it has the appearance of a decades old family run shop, a business passed down from Father to Son. One that never quite embraced modern times or technology which ultimately is a big part of the charm. Entering the store initially is like stepping back to a time when the World Wide Web was Merely three words that begin with W, Craft Ale was a drink for old men in the Pub and a Growler, well a Growler was something your lady friend owned. This isn’t elaborate or well-designed theming, its character, character that comes with age.
The entrance, the most open and airy part of the store, leads you to a choice, left through the metal gate or right to the counter. It is in fact less of a choice and more of a carefully crafted one way system, designed to make best use of the stores limited space. An Artificial Light bathed Supermarket Liquor Store this is not. It is claustrophobic, intimate and dark all at once, but then 6000 products in a space this size will do that.
Picking up a basket and venturing through the gate was akin to walking through that Wardrobe and finding yourself in Narnia. The realisation that this is in fact a Magical Land hits home quickly. Did you ever visit Toys R Us or Leisure World (for locals), as a child and wish you had the means to buy all that tempted you? That’s the feeling this place produces! Bottles of Alcohol surround you in every direction, time is lost and only the windows at the front give you a sense of day or night.
As I browsed the abundance of Wines covering the shelves, the walls and in places the floor, I haphazardly flicked through my banking App to check the balance, some serious man shopping was about to commence. Winding through the bottles on the Pathway to the Holy Grail I found myself in the Beer section.. Like a time travel flash in a tv show, I was a 4 year old again, standing in front of the largest display of Star Wars figure in Leisure World circa 1985! That feeling of Joy, wonder & excitement was back. My eyes tried to take it all in, but as they darted in every direction at once I relalised it was pointless. There were far too many Cans and bottles to take in.
I began to fill my basket, a mixture of cans I liked the artwork on and breweries of which I had heard good things. I must have done ten laps, easy, of the intimate beer section, apologising for no real reason to each person I had to squeeze by on my travels. When my basket was full I decided, reluctantly, to call it a day. It’s a repeat visit kind of place, with more beers that were new to me than not. My 35 minute shopping spree, didn’t even allow me time to inspect the Ciders, Sour Beers or the Cities only Growler Station. Which during my time there, seemed to be well used.
So with no space left I reluctantly made my way to the till, finding myself facing the spirit section. Where I dug deep for self-restraint and did my best not to look at the vast selection of bottles. As the staff member totalled my bill, I took in the atmosphere & the smell one last time. The Wooden shelves and wine racks add to the ambience and I half expected Arkwright to appear from the store room berating Granville.
So, with a final bill of £**.49 (My Wife might be reading) I settled up and lugged my tasty haul to the car, but not before being offered assistance by the incredibly friendly staff.
The Vineyard is 60 this year! Although it has evolved over time, crucially it has maintained its independence, which allows the sourcing of so many niche wines and beers. The selection is unparalleled and it deserves its place as the best specialist off license in the North of Ireland (In my opinion at least)
My advice, pay this place a visit close to payday.. Life has many tough choices, which excellent craft beer to leave behind shouldn’t be on that list
The Vineyard is located at 375-377 Ormeau Road, Belfast and is open from 0930 to late most days, 1130-9pm on Sunday!
Although present on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, their website remains under construction.
All beer purchased was paid for by myself. Credit to the owners of the pictures, I was carrying too many beers to take pics