The Wirral? never heard of it, that was until I moved to Liverpool. Somewhat overshadowed by its world-famous neighbour and foreign tourist trap Chester to the south the little peninsular sits between the Mersey and Dee estuary’s just quietly getting on with its own thing. It has a good range of pubs and bars and several home-grown brewers. But when it comes to festivals it does lag behind its neighbours somewhat. Wirral CAMRA (of Wirral beer desert fame) abandoned doing their own festival some time ago, though it does seem they are trying to get it back up and running again. Leaving other people in the meantime to try to fill the void.
Arguably one of the biggest is the relatively young “Wirral Beer Festival” organised by Liverpool based pub The ship and mitre. The event is held in Hulme Hall in the delightful model village of Port Sunlight. the hall is famous for the debut of that drummer bloke in the Beatles that nobody seems to like. The Hall is a Grade II listed building, and sort of acts like a village hall. It has an early 20th century dance hall vibe to it. It works well as a place to host a festival, the two largest rooms play host to the beer and catering, it usually provides ample room for punters to mill about on the quieter session but it can get quite full on the busier nights. Two other large rooms provide a quieter seated area to get away from the bulk of the crown and gives you somewhere to sit down.
With it being a “new” festival the organisers have been finding their feet and tried to accommodate feedback as best as possible. I have to commend them for being open to suggestions and criticism. The third incarnation has been one of the best arrangements so far I believe, the placing of the cask and keg bars has worked well. Bottle bars, cocktails and other beverages were dispensed from the halls own native bar. Entertainment was placed in a corner of the largest hall, it made it quite easy to hear but also didn’t really overpower conversation if you wished to stay in the hall.
Getting to the festival is very easy the location works well for anyone taking public transport or being dropped off by car. Ideally I would recommend the train for those travelling from the Liverpool side of the river, Chester and Ellesmere Port trains run very frequently and Port sunlight station is less than 5 minutes walk from the festival site of Hulme Hall. Wirral and Cheshire residents are well served by both the Wirral Line rail services and local bus routes.
Food and snacks were joyfully abundant and included; Liverpool Cake Co, Peninsular pies, Merry Berry Chocolates, Bongos Rock and Roll Chilli, Hulme halls own in-house catering was also serving hot meals. There was even a tuck shop were you could spend some of your tickets on snacks.
As usual for beer festivals the Beer was the main attraction. Credit where its due the ship and mitre have attempted to make as many people happy as possible. We had Cask ale, Craft Keg, ,Cider, Euro Beers, Bottled beers, cocktails, Wine and sensibly soft drinks were available. Alongside the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Wirral beer festival currently offers the best range of types of dispense and variety.
I amongst several others were excited to see some very popular US kegged beers. specifically the delicious Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro and Anchor Big Leaf Maple a lovely seasonal Autumnal brew, Founders Dirty bastard was listed initially but wasn’t available on the day sadly!
British Kegged beers were also very well represented with many locals Including Deva from Chester, Liverpool Craft beer Co and Mad hatter from Liverpool, highlights being the Deva Dual IPA, Liverpool Craft Badlands and Mad Hatter Autumn Saison.
The range of Cask beers was also pretty well represented and featured several new Local breweries from Merseyside including, Neptune Brewery, Red Star Brewery and Rock The Boat Brewery. Breweries from all around the country were also present with many big familiar names mixed in with smaller breweries. A good range of darker coloured ales were on offer alongside the more ubiquitous ambers and pales. This would have provided the average drinker a good chance to sample a whole range of tastes and styles in one sitting. A few people I spoke to felt that some of the cask beers were too cold I cant say I had the same opinion, though some of the stouts might have benefited from being a tad warmer. It’s a minor quibble! of all the cask that stood out well I remember Squawk Brewing Espresso Stout and Big Hand Brewing Co Bad Gorilla.
Overall I really enjoyed the third Ship and Mitre festival. I have held off writing about the previous two events as it is a relatively new festival and I wanted to see how it evolved. I’m pretty confident that it will be a regular fixture over the coming years, and in my opinion it’s now one of the better festivals in the area sitting confidently alongside other popular festivals despite its relative youth. For the moment it is still Wirral’s biggest beer festival.
I visited on two separate days, Thursday night and Saturday day. Thursday was certainly not heaving but it had a great atmosphere. By Saturday day some of the beers had started to run dry but this didn’t detract from the fun of a second visit. Generally in both groups I accompanied the feelings on it were very positive. So well done to all the staff, organisers and volunteers of the festival you’ve done a grand job! I would strongly recommended you try to visit if you have not already been yourself.
One last side note is that even though the Wirral currently has fewer festivals than the Liverpool side of the Mersey it still does have them! The ship and mitre make appearances at farm fest and also this year were on site at a local cricket festival. Hoylake beer festival is also very popular and is in the northernmost part of the peninsular generally this particular festival occurs during summer months. You can read my write up on it here. Keep your eyes on social media and local news for upcoming Wirral beer festival and who knows, maybe the Wirral CAMRA beer festival will be back eventually? Until then, I look forward to the 4th Wirral Beer Festival, hopefully in early 2016!