The following post is about the author’s experience of living and drinking in Liverpool for 15 years, a second piece will follow at a later date charting the change in brewing in the city over those 15 years.
The students are back! That seems to elicit mixed responses from people in the city, cabbie’s love it, pubs love it, drivers nearly run them over because they’re either too busy gawping at what a wonderful town it is or they are all rather inebriated. Love them or loathe them they bring a lot of money into the city and also an injection of outside life beyond the M57.
15 years ago I was one of these fresh-faced students, eager to experience a new way of life and be out from under the loving thumb of my lovely parents. In those 15 years I have seen this city change a lot, most memorable being the capital of culture year of 2008 and the wholesale renewal of the paradise street project which in my opinion did tidy up that end of the city a bit. Fun anecdote I once got lost and drove completely by accident through that pedestrianized part of town and into the old bus station much to the bemusement of the bus drivers. This was very early on a Sunday morning so no one was about at least!
One thing that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years is the beer scene in the city. once it was dominated by one brewery namely Cains, but since I moved here we have had an explosion in the amount of people brewing commercially in the city and its surrounding areas, people’s drinking habits have changed too, not content to just keep downing mass-produced lagers people are moving onto a more interesting and flavoursome product.
So what were my experiences? Not auspicious I’m afraid. I seem to recall bottles of Stella and a shot cocktail in Baa Bar once being £1.50 phenomenal value for a student basically looking to get plastered, the aptly named “brain damage” was usually my favourite. I’ve some quite fond memories of “Wonderbar” or “Wonderbra” as we called it (yes we thought we were hilarious), it was loud, sweaty difficult to get served in and a Liverpool FC player got assaulted outside it once. Regular haunts would also include double vision on a Monday at the Students guild, Tuesday was and probably will continue to be Blue angel night aka “The Raz”. Where beers were £1 at the time and music was as cheesy as a block of cheddar. Everybody sadly remembers how sticky the floor was downstairs since “Raz Juice” was a super strength adhesive formed from a cocktail of human sweat, various alcoholic beverages and whatever liquid was dragged back from the basement toilet. Friday would be “Crunch” at Liverpool Hope University College (as it was known then) where I studied. Beer was cheap as were the laughs, £1.50 for a pint of Carling if I recall, we don’t know how the land lady got it so cheap and we didn’t dare ask.
My real “local” was a tie between the Hope and Anchor at the time a “scream” pub and the Cambridge on mulberry street. Both were about 10 minutes walk from our student flats, my friend Bob’s water polo team was sponsored by the pub and this would often net us a silly discount on jugs of lager. That’s pretty much all I remember of Bob’s birthday, probably because of the jugs. Quiz nights at the scream pub were a regular fixture too but if we fancied somewhere more down to earth we headed to the Cambridge which was (and still is) a nice quiet backstreet boozer. A good jukebox and dartboard meant students and faculty were kept happy.
A slight detour away from the city I can remember a geography field trip to Wales where on the last night everyone was allowed to cut loose, the university transit van was fired up after 20 minutes of failed starts and one of the staff drove several students to nearby Barmouth to collect a shopping list of alcohol. Now seeing as there were only 7 lads on the whole trip and we were all forced into one small room together we became friends pretty quickly and all decided to just club together and get a silly amount of booze. So we ended up with I believe 32+ cans of fosters and two bottles of Jack Daniels. I still shudder to this day remembering the unopened cans of fosters rolling up and down the aisle of the coach on the way home the next day.
This pattern continued pretty much for all three years of university and afterwards, I would manage to blag my way into student haunts for another two years after uni but that couldn’t last forever and im glad it didnt. The main drinking locations in town were just not fun any more to me, being squeezed like a sardine in a noisy sweaty bar and trying to get served was not my idea of fun. Concert Square and dale street were just getting way too fighty. During that time I had been cheating on town with someone else, and it was called Lark Lane.
Lark Lane has been written about many numerous times and all repeat the same sort of descriptions Well my description would be its like a village high street. It was pretty bohemian back in the early 2000s and still had that village street vibe, our next part of the story involves being stuck here for a long amount of time. Time after time we would pile into Maranto’s on a weekend and then if we felt brave we would head to town. And then one day we just decided to do a pub crawl up the lane, it opened our eyes to a more eclectic bunch of watering holes, soon we were regularly hitting Keith’s at last call, which was one of the few places around stocking Efes at one point. We would also join the united nations like throng of folk in the Albert.
2008 capital of culture had come and gone and we had also started visiting the Fulwood on Aigburth road near the vale end, remembered as Baz’s by many it’s probably were things started to change drinking wise. Sat in the fridge was a bottle of Cains export lager, proudly bearing a stylised Union Jack, an export British lager? it warranted investigation. It was a lovely drink and quite different from the usual fizz we had become accustomed to. About that time Aigburth cricket club hosted a beer festival, I remember it being not a particular busy affair, the power even went out twice which resulted in the usual bemused rounds of applause.
Here at the cricket club is where I started drinking real ale full-time. And what was the momentous first? it was a black sheep, why? Well I’m from Yorkshire and i had actually drank it before! After that i tried another, and then another and hey this stuff isn’t bad? A few of my friends took a little bit more persuading but they too had a sip of a black sheep and found it quite nice, that was the day the dam broke. It was also roughly the same time that local pubs and bars were cautiously starting to stock real ale and different beers from around the world and curious things called “Craft beers” from the USA.
Back on Lark Lane the old masonic pub had gone through a few different incarnations under a local bar groups ownership. It reopened as The Lodge ale house and kitchen and had draught real ale hand pulls! We found a new home. For a few years we were happy regulars a good bar manager kept the cellar in order and even though a lot of people might say the choices of ale then were not exciting, at that point in time all the names of these brewers and beers was new and interesting. Once we propped the bar up for a night and decided to go through the whole range of ales. It was a good night. Though I’m not exactly proud to say we probably hit 16 pints of real ale! A well stocked range and a decent jukebox kept us happy and just up the lane other places were starting to stock better ranges of ale, we drank bottled real ale in Keith’s, Black sheep in the Que Pasa and whatever happened to be on in The Albert. Eventually Bier opened up on Lark Lane and completed the circuit, its wider range of world beers and cask ales and more youthful appearance made it another go-to place, though we still regularly ended in the lodge.
Time keeps on slipping as seal once sang and despite Lark lanes ability to swallow mobile phone signals it couldn’t halt the passage of time. Things started to change-up lark lane around 2010, it’s just an observation of mine though I have had heard other people mention it too. The atmosphere had changed, you can check the local papers old articles to see how arrests and fights had increased. Certain places also had their hours curtailed. I blame this on two things; Lark Lane had become more widely known across the city so more people were coming to visit, and also a few other local pubs and bars had shut forcing their regulars to migrate, what used to be known as Akis at the bottom of the lane was in my opinion a bit of a scally magnet. With it shutting the old clientèle started visiting the other places on the Lane. It was time to move on.
While all this was going on we had started to drift back into town becoming more aware of the good pubs in town and the even better choice of beers. It was now well into the second decade of the 21st century and we had become regular patrons of the pubs in the city centre, developing our own favourite routes and haunts. Now we regularly hang out in pubs and bars in the Dale Street and Hardman Street areas and a bit less frequently the Baltic triangle. Each area has its own distinct atmosphere and hostelries and I had grown to appreciate them. These places felt a lot more “right” and were a big contrast to where I was visiting in my student days. We also discovered another gem back out in the suburbs. Pi bar had arrived on rose lane and filled the gap of a friendly down to earth place to enjoy well looked after good beers, without the need of travelling into town. Currently I think I’ve checked in more beers through untappd in the Pi Bar than anywhere else (126 as of 1st october!).
Becoming more confident about what i was drinking I decided to go for broke one birthday, i asked my mother to get me a bottle of Brewdog tactical nuclear penguin. One of the strongest beers for sale at that time (and not cheap either). I hadn’t quite got the hang of darker beers yet or even beers of that strength but i dove in at the deep end. Eventually when i got around to having it I was astounded at its strength and how more like a spirit it was. Unfortunately the next day I was violently ill. Either it was the beer itself or something I ate but it really put me off finishing off the bottle. Brewdog supplied a stopper for the bottle as it wasn’t recommended to drink it in one go! so I dutifully put the stopper in and laid the bottle down in my fridge, this may have been my undoing. For in the morning the bottle had blown its top and the fridge was a beer tainted wasteland. I salvaged what was left in the bottle but again I was quite ill and pretty put off the beer. To this day it still sits in my fridge laughing at me.
Beer festivals soon became the next thing to visit and the first “proper” festival I visited was the 2011 Liverpool CAMRA branch annual beer festival in the crypt of the catholic cathedral. I had caught the festival bug, and now regularly go to festivals in the city and the surrounding area, I’m also finding that there are maybe too many to visit! Next year I am hoping to start visiting a few outside of Liverpool, possibly the indy man beer con.
Liverpool CAMRA beer festival in the catholic cathedral crypt
The next part of my journey saw me becoming a lot more open-minded towards what I drank. Kegged craft beers and bottled craft beers started showing up more after 2010. I was somewhat snobbish about it to begin with. I felt that cask real ale was the pinnacle of beer and could not be beaten. I was wrong and happy to admit to it, after trying various domestic and import bottles and keg beers over the years i quickly accepted that it was just as good as real ale. I became a proponent of just “good beer” I also changed my outlook on mass-produced lagers like Stella and Bud. I still wouldn’t drink it but came to appreciate that although its mass-produced it’s still made to a particular set of quality parameters. I also started developing a taste for darker beers. initially like some people I thought Guinness was just Guinness and not stout, or porter. Now when it gets towards the end of a night I often change-up what I’m drinking and I will often look for a nice stout or porter.
Over the years drinking in the city I’ve had the honour of meeting a lot of new people who have very quickly become good friends. I often see the same faces out in town and at beer festivals, and regularly join up with them during days or evenings out. There is nothing wrong with having a quiet beer on your own, but its startling just how social the beer scene in Liverpool is there are home-brew groups, groups encouraging more women to drink good beer, student societies, there are even days where you can take your dog with you and meet other owners. Anyone moving to Liverpool and wanting to get involved in the local beer scene will find plenty of opportunities to meet new and like-minded people. There’s nothing quite like sharing good beers with good people! And there is no place quite like Liverpool for a place to enjoy a beer.
What will the next 15 years be like for drinkers in Liverpool? who knows! wondrous variety I hope. If I had to forecast or possibly dream I’d like to see it catching up to Leeds with regards to the craft beer scene. And it looks like its well on its way.