Month: October 2014

West Kirby Oktoberfest

The weekend around the 18th of October this year saw the first Oktoberfest beer festival in West Kirby to help raise funds for Westbourne Community hall, beer and charity? you can’t say no to that! Beer drinkers are usually a very charitable lot. I popped over to see what was going on!

Even though it was called Oktoberfest the actual real Oktoberfest (In german terms) had been over for a week or so, and there were no european beers on, but who cares about that? unless your very anal about these sorts of things, what was on offer was a greatly organised setup, great beers, satisfying food and toe-tapping entertainment.

Westbourne Community hall is funnily enough down Westbourne road in West Kirby, a mere stones throw away from the Train station, so getting there is no problem, and if any festivals are held there in the future i can assure you that it’s an easy place to get to from anywhere on Merseyside and the Wirral.

Tickets were easily available online via the now ubiquitous to local beer festival goers eventbrite, they were also available in several local businesses and priced very reasonably at £5 popping into the event was straightforward, hand in your tickets, pickup your festival glass and program and then exchange your hard-earned pounds for beer tokens, a typical format. Beers were priced at £9 for a set of 6 tokens making each drink £1.50, quite reasonable in my books! I am unsure whether or not your glass was to take home or not it wasnt mentioned to us, im quite sure it was but sadly i and my friend had no safe means of getting them home, also our cupboards are now bulging at the seams with beer festival glassware!

Now having experienced disappointment at the previous beer festival at St Georges hall with regards to the quality of beer i was curious to see the setup and taste the beer. No stillage was present at the Westbourne hall, however a bar had been built virtually the whole length of the side room and all beer was dispensed from hand pull.

This was great because you could easily match up your choice in the program to what was on the bar, sometimes matching up a beer number to the cask is a bit of a “where’s Wally” affair at some larger festivals, no such issues here, and if you decided to just browse you could easily do that. Tastings were offered by everyone who served me a very welcome thought, i was usually quite happy with my choice having been given several suggestions on what to try before hand by reliable peers. I didn’t have a bad pint all night, even the drinks i would class as average or OK were still nice to drink, so whatever was being done to make sure the beer was at least in top condition worked, im assuming that behind the bar was some sort of cooling system, so whoever sorted that out, well done!

Of all the beers i had my favourites worth mentioning were: Domino Welsh stout by big hand brewing, Autumn breeze by Arundel brewery, Olive Branch by Mr Grundy’s, Nova by Bristol beer factory and finally Dark Mild by Bank top brewery a category winner of this years GBBF.

I would like to just point out again that i throughly enjoyed every beer at the festival, the ones mentioned above stood out the most. And I think that a good testament to the folks who organised the festival that all the beers were kept consistently good and providing a good range of light session ales through to dark strong stouts.

Food was provided by Latitude of West Kirby and you can see the menu below!

I grabbed myself a pulled pork batch (or bap or bun…) which was very satisfying while my friend managed to scoff both meat options over the course of the night and was quite pleased with them. There was also a pub quiz on over the period of the festival, in the form of a question sheet left on your table to fill out over the course of the night should you wish to enter, the only downside to this is that everyone could google the answers on their phones if they wanted to! I at least knew the answer to two of them straight away!

#5 being the prancing pony and #9 stones was first brewed in Sheffield, if I’d got that wrong i’d have probably not be let back into Yorkshire! This is actually the first festival i have been at to feature any sort of quiz and i think its something that other festivals could include! but it would have to be done live to avoid mobile internet cheating if possible!

Entertainment was supplied by Mersey Morris dancers early in the evening and then later on by reckless elbow a local folk band. Now I don’t get Morris Dancing myself its a really odd English peculiarity, i wont criticise the fellas who entertained us because even though some were thrice my age they are a damn sight more spritely than me! I cant help think they were a bit ignored at first by the crowd who were more happy supping their beers and chatting amongst themselves, its possible the hall was almost a tad too small for them, but by the end of their set they had several audience members helping out and everyone was having a good chuckle, one of their sticks did go whizzing past me but no harm done!

Reckless Elbow came on for their set a little later on in the evening, and while we didn’t stay to hear the whole set through i really enjoyed the music and it rounded out a good nights worth of entertainment for a small beer festival, counting the numbers in the program there were 37 beers on which isn’t bad at all! not forgetting there was cider and other alternatives available too then I think this was a very succesful event!

I’d certainly be very happy to go back for another even in the future, if you organise things right you can always visit the festival and then have a walk around the many other lovely pubs and bars in the West Kirby area and even hop the train to a few in Hoylake.

So Kudos to all the volunteers and organisers of the West Kirby Oktoberfest, I think you did yourself proud! and I think it just goes to show that you don’t need a massive venue with a huge list of beers to have a succesful beer festival!

Last thing worth mentioning is whoever put the copies of merseyale out on the table was a genius because what was inside this issue? the responses to the article made by Wirral CAMRA members labling the Wirral as a “real ale desert” this has become amusingly known as “Desert Storm” to some, well folks who thumbed through it could make their own mind up. I’d like to point out that Wirral Camra did nothing to publicise this event, compared with one of their neighbouring branches who actively promote other beer festivals even those not directly affiliated with CAMRA

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St Georges Hall Beer Festival 2014

The second of two new beer festivals that were born last year the St Georges Hall Beer fest is set up in the eponymous 160 year old neoclassical building, a grand setting just like the Crypt Location for CAMRA’s beer festival, arguably one of the largest beer festivals in the city, last year over 5,500 people visited the inaugural festival, myself included. Numbers were expected to exceed that this year, it certainly felt like it did. read on to see how the second outing for the festival shaped up.

Organisation: papers please

As is quite the norm now for local beer festivals the tickets were available from many places, chiefly online via the eventbrite website, and ive never had an issue with it (unless your printer runs out of ink), it’s a good smooth process and it works! tickets were available on the door to some sessions.

And as usual for these events swapping your tickets and hard-earned pounds at the door will net you a festival glass, program and book of 8 tickets for £12, smaller denominations were available though. pricing was helpfully flat across all beers, other than bottles of continental lager for the unbeliever.

After navigating the corridors of st Georges hall the vast majority of this years action took place in the cavernous great hall, food was available in side rooms and the beers were readily accessible, in the previous year keg beer and entertainment had been relegated upstairs to the concert room. This year entertainment was in the great hall itself but more on that later.

The large open space made itself well suited to hosting a large number of casks on the stillages and long rows of shared tables and benches, though these filled up quickly on friday evening when we visited it wasnt to hard to find somewhere to sit down if you needed, you could also this time step out onto the top of the steps outside the hall facing the plateau if you fancied a breather.

Hats off again to whoever designs and writes the programs for the festival, they are usually packed with all the info you need and the really important information the beer tasting notes and colour are clear. new for this year were abbreviated notes such as adding IPA to denote an india pale ale, and ST for a stout, and so on. it might not be necessary to veteran drinkers but i think it’s a good idea to help out all the newbies. I myself used it when quickly scouting the program while mixing up my styles.

Munchables

Perennial beer festival favourites Peninsula Pies, Liverpool Cake Co and Liverpool Cheese Co were all present again to satisfy whichever tooth was itching for food. I myself grabbed the last sausage roll of the night! and still lovely it was too! last year the Blackburn hotel was present providing some warmer foods such as scouse, something i would have liked to see again, but the spread of food on was enough to satisfy most!

The Beer

284 real ales were available this year up on last years 260 odd, again keg beer has made a welcome addition to the setup, cider is as usual available and so is Liverpool Gin.

Now im going to get right to the point the beer this year was just not good, the quality was quite poor, i am not the only person to comment on this several friends have agreed with this assessment and also some total strangers at the festival and on social media. Liverpool Organic have themselves admitted it was not that good, it seems whatever options were used for cooling did not work out all that well this year. I can’t remember too clearly what last years beers were like so it’s not fair to compare them to a previous session. However when compared to the Waterloo beer festival and Liverpool Craft Beer expo there was something definitely amiss, beers just didn’t taste as vibrant or were straight up warm. something we all know real ale shouldnt be. It’s good that Liverpool Organic have commented on the quality i hope it can improve for next year but i fear the actual problem is St Georges hall itself. Its huge, and when the light comes streaming in through the windows straight onto the casks it cannot be doing them any good.

Were there any stand out beers on this year then? well because of the overall disappointing quality its hard to decide. A week previous I tasted Wapping breweries Amarillo Pale ale at the Baltic Fleet Pub, home of the brewery, it was a lovely pale with a  intriguing woody resinous smell and taste. Angus the chief brewer of Wapping suggested trying it at the festival to see how its quality held up moving from source to stillage. I can honestly say it was affected, while it was definitely a nice pale that unique smell and taste had gone. So i had a feeling from that point on things might be affected by the environment the ales were in. Probably Bristol Beer Factories Sorachi was the best ale to me, it was recommended to me by a friend who was volunteering and it didn’t disappoint, im finding something of a taste for sorachi myself.

Flicking back through the program i can see a decent spread of ale colours, some beer festivals are guilty of having barely anything above an amber colour on offer so it was good to see a nice range of milds, stouts and porters on offer.

One thing that i noticed was missing before i even got to the festival was the unusual absence of Liverpool Craft Beer Ales. It’s rare to not see them at a local festival, I don’t know why they were absent, i was told there was nothing untoward about them being left out of it, but it is the first time it’s ever happened. Hopefully its just a blip, its good to see local brewers working together and complementing one another.

Music for the Masses

Last year the entertainment was situated up in the concert room, which would make sense given the title of the room but a curious one considering few people would probably wander up there, i felt a bit sorry for the groups and artists up there. This year entertainment was moved down in to the great hall and oh dear it didn’t really do it much justice. I think once again the problem here is St Georges hall itself. When the entertainment started we were sat right at the back by the organ and try as they might the band just couldn’t be heard at the back over the chattering masses and echoey acoustics of the hall. The only real option was to move closer to the band if you wanted to hear them. penniless Tenants were in session on every night excluding sunday, im not a big fan of irish folk music but they were enjoyable to listen to and certainly folks didnt want them to pack up at the end of the night.  Other entertainers included Uke Box, South London Jazz orchestra and Pete Brown spoke at the festival on Friday day session.

Volunteer Army

Despite the disappointing quality of the beer and the entertainment struggling against the halls acoustics one thing you cannot fault is the reliable unsung heroes who turn up to these events ready to help out, serve you a beer and offer advice and banter on whats on. There were many familiar faces from other beer festivals in the region. without these people it simply wouldn’t happen so we should always be grateful for their attendance!

Feedback and other issues

If your still reading then I thought id make a little extra section for more constructive feedback rather than just summarise what happened. As I said you can’t fault the organisation of the event or the staff and volunteers but the beer quality took a real knock this year, so too did the entertainment in my opinion.

I cant help but wonder then  is St Georges hall really suitable? it certainly packs people in if that what your after but does it lend itself to the storage of beer? cooling seems to have been an issue and what with the warm sunny september we have had it doesn’t seem to have done the ale on the stillage any favours, anyone who has visited St Georges hall before knows it’s a wonderful open grand hall but sunlight certainly streams in, and sunlight is one of the big enemies of beer.

Most beer lovers know that Cask beer doesn’t usually keep for more than 3 days or so once its been tapped. So why is there a trade session on Wednesday when the main bulk of the festival takes place over 4 days? why not do away with the trade session all together so it gives the Ale less chance to start deteriorating? or even maybe limit it to a Friday Saturday and Sunday? or Thursday to Saturday? I Previously had mixed feelings about the rotation method at Liverpool Craft Beer Expo but wonder if this sort of thing would suit a larger beer festival?

One other thing that really irked me and a few others is the inclusion of a VIP section. This is the only beer festival i have ever been to that has had one and i think it is a very bad idea. The enjoyment of quality beer should bring people together, it should be inclusive, not exclusive, coming to a beer festival all suited and booted and hiding away in a room with other people goes against the principle of a beer festival and for me that’s to enjoy good beer, food and music at a big social occasion. I would like to see the removal of the VIP section from future festivals, they have no place at them as far as im concerned, while we are on the subject of VIP’s i cant help but think that there is a creeping amount of corporatism (is that even a word) creeping in? Sponsorship may be important to some of these events but did anyone at the festival even pay attention to the sponsors? I didn’t. Maybe therefore my argument above is moot? I just worry that VIP areas and Corporate sponsoring is a slippery slope.

The last thing that i think was a bit of a let down was some of the people at the festival, its great to welcome new people to the festivals, but when they are holiday drunks who only drink a few times a year and spend the entire night drinking a bottle of lager i have to wonder why they came? I saw people barging into one another in the corridors and people arguing about seating and proceeding to take seats even when they were for people who were already there, indeed this happened to me. I’ve never seen one bit of a trouble at a beer festival and the atmosphere was still better than any saturday night in concert square but there just seemed to be something missing at this years St Georges festival.

Maybe we could have beer festival mentors? “have you been to a beer festival before? no? ok would you like me to tell you how to get the most from it?” something like that maybe! Personally id stop the sale of bottled continental lagers and wine, its a beer festival for crying out loud. maybe that’s a tad too draconian?

I’m not sure what a good fix would be for the entertainment, moving it back upstairs is an option but again it puts it out-of-the-way for most people, maybe the PA system needs a helping hand? get a few more speakers in about the place, the issue with that is then just like in a noisy pub everyone is fighting to be heard. It’s a difficult one that I don’t have a real suggestion for.

Ill end now by at least saying remember it is only the second year that such a festival has been put on in St Georges hall, not everything will go right first two times, and from it the organisers will no doubt learn lessons that will hopefully improve upon it for next years festival, you wont have to wait to long as a winter ales festival is set to be run in January, being a fan of winter ales im strongly considering getting myself a ticket! Its no easy task organising a beer festival, so lets see how things get on next year for St Georges beer festival?!