beer festivals

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?!

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Liverpool Craft Beer Expo 2014

Last year saw a new edition to the beer festival scene in Liverpool, the craft beer expo, organised by Liverpool Craft Beer Co, The Camp and Furnace and an army of volunteers. It was in my eyes a great success and the biggest coming together of both cask real ale and craft beer (yes on keg CAMRA U MAD?). the great surroundings of the camp and furnace, great entertainment, lovely food and of course great beer made it a stand out event. And it all happened again this year!

Sadly i only got to go to the opening night, otherwise I definitely would have been back again over the weekend, but it was enough to wet my appetite for another expo in 2015

Bring me your huddled massess of beer lovers

Organisation: Papers please

Again like a lot of the well organised events in the city tickets were available for sale online, early sales were available if your signed up to early access by email, various places around the city also sold tickets for the event adding greatly to the availability, owing to the popularity there were a few last-minute desperate calls for tickets over Facebook and twitter, hopefully they didn’t miss out.

swapping your tickets gets you a wristband not as snazzy as something you would get a music festival but it does let you move onto the next stop, collecting your glass and program/menu and 3 free tokens of course your going to need more than that!

Tokens are available for £10 or £5, a full sheet includes 20 tokens, beer pricing ranged from 3 to 5 tokens. Usually this was affected by the beers strength, and the pricing does work pretty well, though your sheet can end up looking like a game of connect 4 after a few drinks, so a bit of careful management might be required if you want to avoid overspending! 20 tokens is quite generous if you prefer lighter abv drinks but you’d only manage 4 very strong beers, in the end i myself mixed stuff up and ended up with two sheets during the whole night!

The program/menu was smartly designed and quite easy to thumb through quickly, the previous years took the form of a broadsheet newspaper which in some cases was a bit unpractical so its good they slimmed it down, also more detailed info is included on the beers this time which is great that feedback was listened to, also you got a pencil when you come in if your that way inclined you can scribble on your menu, thumbs up and down marks are available on each beer, being a bit of a geek i did scribble on mine. I liked all the beers I had as well, not a single thumb down. Beers were marked whether they were cask or keg so you could wander over to the appropriate bar. I’d like to go on record as saying I quite liked the newspaper look of the 2013 expo program, but it was a bit large and lacked info on the beers.

Menu, tickets and glass and your off!

The glass which is as usual yours to take home at the end of the night and was the same as last years event with slightly different writing on, i left mine behind as I’m running out of glass space in my house! also i had no practical way of getting it home again sadly!

The 2013 expo took place in the smaller of the two camp and furnace warehouses (are they warehouses?) this year it was moved into the large one that tends to host the fanpark and other events. A lot of people thought it was a good move, im still getting mixed feelings about it, i can see why it was done, you can fit more people in, its less cramped, i just prefered the atmosphere that the other warehouse gave off, maybe that’s just me and its a personal thing, it seemed more light and airy. But it doesn’t take anything away from the expo itself this year was great, im just being a fusspot so ignore me! as in the previous year, long bench seating was provided which was generally easy to find, so there was no hovering round trying to get a seat or giving people evil stares to make them shift.

A new edition was the big screen at the stage, projected onto it was a rotating list of a the cask and keg beers currently on. Brewer, beer name volume, token cost and which bar it was situated on were all handily visible for quick reference, and this swapped from cask to craft at a regular interval so all you had to do was look on your menu and see if it was currently on.

Not all the beers in the menu were available each day so the screen would allow you to double-check before you got off your bum to get your brew.

Munchables

There was a good selection of food on this year including burgers, hot dogs and fish, im not sure if there was a vegetarian alternative? but since im a raging carnivore i was ok! Queues for the food did tend to fluctuate but service was quite quick for me when i went, although i have to say having a booming loudspeaker right next to where you collected your food made it a bit hard to hear (WHAT!?) when your food was ready!

SAY WHAT? the food was damn popular!

I opted for a simple cheeseburger and chips it was quite nice! the bun could have done with being warmed maybe but im no food critic, it got demolished by me and i was a happy monkey afterwards! my friends got fish and chips which looked pretty tasty as well.

The Beer

Again this is what you really come for isn’t it!? The craft beer expo doesn’t disappoint either, and blends cask and craft beer better than any other event in the city at this point in time. Over the 4 day period of the expo there were 140+ real ales and keg craft brews available, there was also a whiskey lounge and cider as well to complement the whole list. Something else that only the expo does is all the cask beers are on handpull, no other beer festival in the city does this. I for one think it makes the beer better, im not sure why but it just tastes and feels better, I feel that some beers can be a bit watery or lifeless when they come direct from a cask, I don’t know why again, I’m certainly no expert but that’s just what i think. So well done to the expo for having all the cask range on handpull.

Cask bar replete with handpumps for ALL beers!

However not all these beers would be on at the same time, things ran a bit different at the craft beer expo! After speaking to a few folks i could understand why this setup was chosen. If you have all the beers on from the get go some of the most popular can sell out, some later people will miss out, not only that but the beer will start to spoil after a few days which isn’t good of course! so by running a certain selection and then replacing them with newer casks/kegs as they run out it maintains the freshness of beer on hand. The main disadvantage with this is you might look in the program (as i did) see something your interested in, check the big screen or bar and discover its sadly not on. Not quite an issue if you’re coming to another session but since I couldn’t, I missed out on quite a few.

It’s a good idea to try this method, no other beer festival in the city has done this to my knowledge, do you think it worked? let the guys know with your constructive feedback it will all help! I would have liked to have had everything on so I can just pick as a I please but i can understand why its been done so if this system remains in years to come ill be comfortable with it! probably means ill need to visit twice though!

one of the many keg bars present.

Thumbing through my menu I can see there are quite a lot of beers i circled to try. I tried to keep a wide scope of different opposing styles, so I’d have a malty beer first then a hoppy one, then maybe another malty and then maybe a saison, and so on so forth. There wasnt a bad drink in the house for me, probably the most memorable was the napalm like Hell’s Porter from Liverpool Craft Beer Co, a smoked porter made with chipotle chilis, it was very VERY spicy and VERY hot, probably too much so for my taste! but i had it on a whim and i sure wont forget it!

Other stand out beers included again from Liverpool Craft; bad choice milk stout, which wasnt a bad choice at all but a very good one. I haven’t noticed that many stouts coming from the folks at Liverpool craft I hope it’s a sign of change because this one was lovely! it would be nice to even see it added to the core range (pretty please guys!). Siberia Rhubarb Saison from Ilkley Brewery back home in my native Yorkshire was a highlight, and it was made using proper Yorkshire Rhubarb (probably from very close to where i was brought up too) so even more of a patriotic bonus for me!  Dark Arts by Wirral brewery Peerless was something i had been hunting for a while, and was a nice surprise as it wasnt listed in the program, it was very sweet and very drinkable, i believe it has the distinction of being hop free as well?

From the keg bar comes I ♥ Galaxy, recommended to me by Angus of Wapping brewery which was a great balanced beer it had toffee and biscuit malts mixed with hops which is how i like my pales. Truman’s Runner was a lovely traditional tasting nutty bitter which offset the hoppy pales well. Finally bringing the event to a close for me was Anspach & Hobday Table Porter, this is a very low percentage beer but it’s amazingly rich for its low strength, so you don’t have to make things a silly strength for them to be tasty!

At the risk of being shouted at by my peers i think having low strength brews on such as a the table porter in many bars and pubs might not be a bad idea for those who may want to have a drink out but who may need to be up and about in the morning for work! Of course self moderation works just as well!

Music for the Masses

The expo had a wide range of entertainment on over the weekend all attached to different establishments, Thursday night when i went was in association with Bido Lito (Liverpool music magazine), Friday was the Kazimier garden, Saturday afternoon The Caledonia, Saturday evening Rebel Soul and finally on Sunday Mello Mello

The DJ on thursday did a great job of trying to entertain everyone with a varied mix of music from a bit of 80s new wave (is it still new wave or old?) to house music. It wasnt too loud as long as you were not right next to the speakers (WHAT?!) so it didn’t impinge on any conversations going on. I personally would have prefered a live band, i suppose i was spoiled by having Loose Moose on when i visited last year!

Volunteer Army

once again the beer fans of Liverpool answered the call and came to help out at the expo, without these people it simply wouldn’t happen! you can’t pay people for this sort of even and expect it to balance out economically so hats off to the Volunteers again, they do get paid in beer though the jammy sods! It was nice to bump into many familiar faces at the expo and everyone was friendly and suggestive of what to try.

And Finally….

I think the second ever Liverpool Craft Beer Expo has again been a stonking good success. It’s not inclusive it welcomes all, real ale fans and craft beer fans, yes it probably might seem like the cooler cousin to all the other beer festivals in the city but it’s not uppity about it, everyone is here from all walks of life and age ranges. It proves to me beyond all reasonable doubt that having both Cask and Craft beers on works, they work together, they compliment each other, they are just GOOD BEER and that’s all that matters in the end. So a hearty slap on the back to all involved in making it a success and here is looking forward to the 2015 Liverpool Craft Beer Expo….

Republic of Liverpool Beer Festival

Another new beer festival to add to this years ever-expanding list of beer festivals is ROLFest (nothing to do with Rolf Harris)

ROLFest will be running from the 25th to the 27th of April, which forms a nice bridge between the CAMRA festival and the Ever approaching Waterloo festival, it’s the inaugural Republic of Liverpool beer festival so if you can, get your self along and support another fine festival, alas i myself will not be able to go.

full details of the festival and how to buy tickets can be found on their website: http://www.rolfest.com/

in summary though they expect to have 70+ Real Ales and Ciders, 50 of which to be dispensed by hand pump instead of direct from the cask (the method a friend of mine prefers), there will also be food and entertainment at each session.

The festival is to be held at St Luke’s parish hall next to the church its self. located just in the centre of Crosby its easy to reach, if your feeling up to it as well don’t forget you can visit the other great pubs in the local area on the same day, checkout my own suggested pub crawl here.

One of my first posts was saying how blessed we are for festivals in the Merseyside area, i reckon we are fast becoming the beer festival mecca of the UK!

I wish ROLFest a succesful 3 days and hope to see it next year when i might be able to visit!