Confession time: Before this beer festival I had never been in St Luke’s church at the top of bold street aka the bombed out church. Now I’m not religious so not visiting would sound like a good excuse, however St Luke’s is a Liverpool landmark and institution, a stark reminder of the effects of world war two on civilian life, and a scar left on the city as a memorial to the Liverpool Blitz.
I wont bother with facts and figures as they can be easily found and they tell of the horrific damage dealt to Liverpool during the Nazi bombing campaign. Coming from a place that was untouched by WW2 I was curious about it, but never enough to go in. My loss! until now.
The festival was organised by Liverpool Organic Brewery (LOB) and Real Ale Events Ltd. I believe they may be a spin-off company of LOB as most Merseyside beer lovers will be aware there are lots of festivals organised by the brewery, so it probably makes sense to concentrate one part of the business in that, LOB do regularly advertise that they can help set-up festivals.
Tickets for the festival had been available for sale on the now ubiquitous Eventbrite, and the event did sell out for Friday and Saturday. Billed as a 4 day event with multiple sessions on some days the festival followed the comfortable format of other similar events. The list of beers that would be available was not made public before the festival or throughout so unless you had visited or knew someone who had been it wasn’t really possible to find out what was on beforehand.
Excellent Pies and pastries were on offer from peninsular pies to ease any savoury pains, Liverpool Cake Company had a fantastic array of cakes to satisfy your sweet tooth and new to these events was Delifonesca providing more hot food in the shape of, pulled pork, jerk chicken and falafel baps. I enjoyed one of the jerk chicken baps and a Oreo cupcake made with kitty Wilkinson stout!
Entertainment was on through out the period of the festival, on Thursday night when we visited splintered ukes were in session, who were bloody toe tapping good. however you had to get somewhat close to the “rear” of the church, i actually thought the acoustics would be good considering how booming the place is when i walk past when other events are on, however the sound system was mostly down at the bands end. As always with these events I’m sure it’s a fine line between giving people good music and not wanting to annoy the quieter festival goers.
The organisers and volunteers did a great job setting up St Luke’s for a festival, entrance was by the steps at the top of bold street, from there a walk clockwise around the grounds of the church took you inside, the paths outside were covered as was inside with a very well constructed transparent gazebo the full length of the church, should the British summer time have a tantrum. Luckily it didn’t! and in the warm summers eve it was easy to enjoy the festival in the open air. Having the transparent gazebo up meant that people could admire the odd juxtaposition of sombre surroundings, all while having a good knees up!
All the above aside, how was the beer? One really big concern many had been cooling. this was after all an outdoor beer festival in the summer months, and there had been previously acknowledge cooling issues at a past St Georges hall festival. However this time our fears were allayed, a super clever glycol pump system kept the vast majority of the casks cooled to a nice reasonable temperature. and I for one couldn’t notice the difference. so assuming the same system is implemented at future “warm” festivals there should be no more warm beers. (unless its one that improves with room temp).
The festival program lists 237 real ales, bottled continental beers (which some were sadly content to glug all night), wines, ciders and perries. Liverpool Gin which has become a regular fixture was also situated in their own bar under the church tower.
Thumbing back through the program now and my previous check-ins on untappd I can see there was a fair few darker ales on than at previous festivals even in the winter! (when dark ales are supposed to be king). this was a welcome change to me, and i took the opportunity to have a fair few mixed in with the usual pales and bitters. The festival saw many regular returns and also some new additions including new kids on the block Red Star Ales based in Formby who have done some great ales in my opinion in the short space of time they have been operating (Partisan and Hurricane are two of my current faves). Though there were some surprising local omissions such as Wapping brewery, Mad Hatter and Peerless. Why I am not sure, all have produced a lot of seasonal and one-off ales recently that I was hoping to try.
Granted my one visit didn’t give me much of a chance to make a dent in the list of over 200 beers but I have to be honest I wasn’t really blown away by the majority of the beers available. beers I really enjoyed included:
- Exit 33 – New England best: A traditional styled northern bitter, i found it quite nice but a bit thin on the body, other people on untappd tend to review it favourably. I reckon it would be even better coming through a handpull and sparkler.
- Rat Brewery – After Rat Mint: a mint and dark chocolate inspired stout which delivered as promised, also had a bit of vanilla and reminded me of mint Vienetta ice cream.
- Magpie Brewery – Pica Boo: a unique tasting amber with really woody resinous notes.
- Hopcraft Brewing – Graveyard Eyes: a porter which is hopped with sorachi, one of my fave hops and something new for a porter.
A closer look at the program reveals there was a decent array of speciality beers, I can see several saisons, weizens and fruit beers, so the range is definitely improving. I would like to see more of an inclusion of these beer styles as Pale ales and IPAs tend to dominate the program, indeed most of the programs. I quickly counted up in my head approximately 130 pale ales in the program, doing some bad brutal maths that’s almost 50% of the range. I’d like to see a more even balance of the styles, though I can appreciate this maybe hard to do as some people will downright refuse to drink anything other than pale ales, or prefer darker beers to light. maybe by narrowing the ranges it will encourage people to taste newer stuff?
I would also like to see more Keg beers, these have appeared on and off at the LOB festivals throughout the years, id like to see them become more of a permanent fixture. now if space is an issue i can understand not including them, but if its to keep say for example the bottle bar, then lose the bottle bar! I saw some people on nothing but imported bottles of the same stuff all night! What’s the point of going to a beer festival if that’s all people will do? maybe a bit of “cajoling” into trying new things is a good thing?
As always the volunteer army that manned the many posts at the did a commendable job keeping everyone happy. volunteers were happy to offer suggestions and I was even steered away from one beer that apparently wasn’t too popular, I was offered tasters nearly every time which is good for people not too confident in what they are picking. It was also nice to bump into people who i have been chatting with on social media for a while and finally met in person, and also bumping into other regular festival volunteers.
One thing that this festival does contribute to in an unintended way is the quiet discussion of “are there too many beer festivals in the area now?” A lot of people think there are just far too many to squeeze into the year. Another discussion point is some people I have talked to believe that it also affects local pubs and bars. I am not so convinced of this myself, I suppose the only way to know would be to ask the opinions of local publicans and managers in proximity to the festivals and see if they are positive or negative influence. At 10.30 this festival ended and it seemed that many of the local pubs I visited afterwards had plenty of customers in, especially for a Thursday night. I do know of one local publican who was quite furious that the festival was taking place nearby but this is the only instance I have ever heard of someone being quite vocal about it. Another topic for discussion at a later time.
I really enjoyed the festival at St Luke’s it was a great opportunity to visit the building. Though I hasten to point out it is open very much all year round with many a varied event going on throughout so even if you missed this festival you can still visit “the bommie”
The organisation, atmosphere and cooling of the ales were great, I just felt the choice of beers available was a bit uninspiring, maybe this would have changed if I had popped back a second time but this wasn’t possible. Would I visit for a second St Luke’s Festival? most definitely. If only to see what improvements might be made.
If you wish to discuss anything mentioned here please feel free to leave a comment or chat with me on twitter, I welcome any corrections.