cask beer

The Merseyrail Trail – Northern Line

With very frequent train services to the most densely populated areas of the region and with the two big draws of Chester and Southport I thought it was time to see if we could have our own “Rail Ale Trail”. I would like to make clear that when I had the inspiration for the trail I did a bit of research to see if a previous version had already been done and discovered that our local paper the Liverpool Echo had already printed a story involving rail trails written by Alistair Houghton; you can read about the original here. The trail I have decided upon is similar but also somewhat different, it will concentrate on one train line only for the moment; this line I feel offers the best in variety of places, ease of moving about and also change in scenery.

Please note that I will attempt to provide you with as much information on the pubs and bars as possible but do not wish to overload you with too much, as part of the fun will be experiencing these places for yourself.

The criteria used in selecting a destination pub were as follows:

1) Is there a pub within a reasonable walking distance of each/a train station?

2) Does the venue offer a good choice of beer and a unique environment?

With this in mind I initially settled on the idea of the Merseyrail Northern Line, between Southport and Liverpool.

Disclaimer

Before we start I would just like to make it clear that this blog post and this trail is not endorsed by Merseyrail or any of its associated companies, please respect the railway and its staff when travelling on the network. Due to unforseen circumstances i was not able to get good photo’s of all the locations i have temporaily used what is available on social media accounts until i can replace these with my own photographs. All information contained within is as up-to-date as possible, if you spot any errors please contact me directly and I will correct them if relevant. Thank you and enjoy reading!

Transport

Reaching the start of the Merseyrail Trail is very easy as long as you can get to a Merseyrail station then you can reach either end of the trail. And if you are travelling from further away outside of Merseyside again it’s not difficult as long as you can reach one of the main hubs such as Chester, Liverpool or Southport.

You can purchase a Merseyrail “daysaver” ticket which allows unlimited travel around the network, currently priced at £5. Up to date prices can be seen on Merseyrail’s website. Alternatively you can purchase a “saveaway” pass to cover both rail and bus services for £5.20 these are issued by Merseytravel the local transport authority. As of 2016 unless bought at a train station the Saveaway is now issued as a smart travel card called “Walrus” in a similar fashion to Oyster for travel around London.

Trains on the Northern line operate very regularly throughout the day Monday to Saturday, expect to see at least one train every 15 minutes operating in both directions, this will be reduced on Sunday’s and public holidays. As always check with the travel operator to see if there are any potential delays on your journey.

The Route

Accessibility wise most of this trail is quite flat. Please note some stations will have stairs; please check with each station to see if it meets your requirements if you have mobility restrictions. Most Merseyrail stations are staffed and they will be able to help you if required. For the most part the destination pubs at each stop are either outside the station or a few minutes walk. For full details on all Merseyrail stations Click on the Link here.

Southport – The Tap and Bottle

Located on Cambridge walk inside Wayfarer arcade, the Tap and Bottle is a recent welcome addition to Southport’s pub and bar scene. Just this year (2016) it has won Pub of the Year from the local Southport and West Lancs CAMRA. In the small but well stocked bar you will find four cask handpulls, six craft keg taps and bottles.

The bottle selection isn’t just limited to the bar, it’s also on display for you to peruse in 3 different shelved areas. The eclectic selection of bottle beers includes but is not limited to: British, European and North America bottles which can be both taken away as well as enjoyed in the bar. Seating is limited as is standing room during busy periods.

Cask beers on offer are a mix of local, regional and national brewers. Seating comprises tables, chairs, stools, plus one large table and bench close to the bar, handy in case you fancy plonking your bum down. A small upstairs area provides additional seating and displays the myriad of ales that have previously been available and also has an old school table arcade game cabinet!

The tap and bottle is very active on social media and within the local community, hosting bottle shares, meet the brewer events as well as a home brew club. There’s a real friendly chatty atmosphere to the tap and bottle and staff will always be on hand to provide helpful suggestions of beers to try regardless of you level of knowledge.

Tap and Bottles – 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN.


Birkdale – The Barrel House

Situated under a covered Victorian style shopping parade similar in style to the ones lining Lord Street in central Southport, the barrel house is a continental style café bar that has two cask ales on tap, as well as two other keg taps and a varied bottle selection is available to take out and drink in as well. On my visit the cask available was one local beer and one regional beer.

The range of bottles covers mostly Europe, the UK and North America. Seating inside is limited however in keeping with the continental feel there is additional seating outside on the pavement. There is a friendly, chatty atmosphere inside and despite its small size it feels light and airy. Don’t forget there is also the bottled ale section should you want to be more adventurous.

As the barrel house is a café style bar, food is available at certain times of the day, however snacks are always available. A large selection of newspapers is available to buy and read. Please note that the barrel house operates strict opening hours and last orders are 9.30pm

The Barrel House – 42 Liverpool Rd, Birkdale, Southport, PR8 4AY.


Hillside – The Grasshopper

Previously a branch of the bank of Liverpool, The grasshopper is named after part of that banks coat of arms and has literally just opened (as of 17th of March 2016). Based on the micropub model, the Grasshopper is decorated in a modern style with bare brick, white walls and beer related pictures on the wall. It is bright and welcoming inside with a small bar that stocks 4 cask ales and two keg beers. A big emphasis is currently placed on local ale, featuring as of my visit 5 breweries local to our corner of Merseyside!

Keg lagers were available as was wine. Again being a smaller establishment, seating and standing room are at a premium during busier periods. Despite only recently opening there were a few groups enjoying the atmosphere which was quiet yet chatty. It’s worth noting that children were welcome during the time I visited, so it’s a good place to pop in for a quick drink if you have children with you, but please note that all children must vacate the premises by 6pm.

The Grasshopper is also dog friendly. The possibility for the Grasshopper to extend into the neighbouring part of the building is also an option for the future, so hopefully it will prove popular enough to warrant this. Through the weekend opening hours will be 12-9.30pm. Weekdays will be 4-9.30pm Monday to Friday; these are of course subject to change. Bank holiday hours will be extended to weekend hours.

The Grasshopper – 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport, PR8 4QD.

Side Step

Not too far from Hillside station is Royal Birkdale golf course which has hosted many prestigious International Golf competitions, why not tie in a visit to watching future tournaments with a beer in one of the local stops?


Freshfields – The Freshfield

AKA “The Freshie” is the largest pub on our trail and one of the only two chain pubs to feature on the trail. Located in the leafy suburbs near the Formby point National Trust site, the Freshie is very popular with locals, families and is a dog friendly pub. It has three distinct areas with the front of bar area being popular with drinkers, the restaurant area around the left and to the rear is for diners, and an additional seating area to the right is often popular with dog walkers and patrons watching live sport. A large garden to the rear and patio area provides an excellent place in summer to sit outside and enjoy the weather. Even in the cooler months it remains a pleasant place to sit if you don’t mind wrapping up!

Photo Credit: Kindly provided by Patrick at the Freshfield.

The Freshfield is owned by Greene King; however you’d be hard pressed to notice. Branding is very subtle. In fact i’d go so far as to say this is “The most un-Greene King like, Greene King pub” you could visit. Wisely the staff are afforded a large degree of freedom when it comes to choosing beer, up fourteen cask handpulls are available at most times with beers featuring from the immediate local area and also further afield. In fact the only clue that you’re in a GK pub comes from occasionally seeing their ales on the bar! Be warned though, being a popular destination not only for locals but those from further afield it can become very busy so plan accordingly. Quiz and live music nights are arranged by the pub but check with them for specific dates and times. Also keep an eye out for the Freshies own beer festivals which sees a stillage setup in part of the restaurant to augment the already impressive line up at the bar. Awarded many times by local CAMRA branches the Freshfield is a great halfway point in the journey

The Freshfield – 1 Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD.


Freshfields – Beer Station

What’s this two pubs within walking distance of the one railway station? When I initially set out to write this trail I knew that Formby would be getting a new micropub, though where it would be was initially unknown to me, since then Beer Station has opened up in the most perfect spot. Beating the Hightown hotel and Railway in formby for closest pub in proximity to the station, Beer Station is located a few steps from Freshfields station in a small suburban row of shops on the corner of Victoria Road and Freshfield Road sporting a classic British Railways style logo.

As is typical with the format of many micropubs Beer station is mainly one room. A small L-shaped bar hosts three cask pumps with a big focus on local beers from around the immediate region, also present on the bar are keg lines featuring Freedom Brewery ales including a lager, a selection of bottled beers, spirits and wines provide a good range of beverages for all tastes. Snacks are available including usual fayre as crisps and nuts alongside quality pies. The pub is neatly arrange with a few tables and a “comfy corner” which is of course in high demand! Walls are adorned with art and photographs from local artists and quite importantly there are also train times listed. Of course you could just wait to see the Level crossing coming down it really is that close. The Beer Station despite only being open a short time has become a bit hit with locals and can go from being quite to rapidly quite busy, it is popular with visitors to the beach and is a Dog friendly establishment.


Formby – The Railway

The second of only two chain pubs on our trail the Railway has been recently renovated by the Mitchell and Butler owned Ember inns. Five cask ales are available and are repeated twice on other sides of the central bar. The ground floor of the railway occupies what is primarily a dining space, tables are available but will be mostly occupied by people eating.

The large bar and area around it does provide accommodation for standing and the true front of the pub has a large terrace area overlooking the car park which is a pleasent suntrap during the warmer months. Inside it is very much in keeping with other Ember Inn format pubs. I counted at least 3 Fires so getting cosy in winter shouldn’t be a problem! On my visit 5 of the pumps were available however none were local ales and one was a cider. This will likely rotate and according to the local CAMRA branch local ales should be available often from Liverpool Organic Brewery.

Side Step

During your stops in Formby if you feel up to a walk you can visit Formby point coastline, at low tide you can sometimes find fossilised footprints of our ancient ancestors who walked there in ancient times, keep an eye out for the endangered native red squirrel in the pine forests or climb a sand dune to take in the big skies over Liverpool Bay.

The Railwail -Duke Street, Formby, L37 4AS.


Hightown – Hightown Hotel

A truly eclectic multi-purpose establishment, the unique multi-roomed and levelled Hightown Hotel is home to not only the village pub but a community centre, a chemist, computer classes, library and a talent agency! Numerous military artefacts dot the establishment thanks to being a neighbour of the army’s Altcar Rifle range and nearby RAF Woodvale. Despite its size the Hightown Hotel has a real warm and cosy character, mostly populated by groups of locals keeping to themselves.

Photo Source: The hightown hotel Facebook page

You should find six cask ale pumps from national, regional and local brewers, however availability depends on demand. A large beer garden is located right outside the main entrance and is very popular in summer. Food is available throughout the day and many live events take place as well, please check with staff or posters inside. According to CAMRA’s Whatpub website the Hightown Hotel was in the past owned by Bass and was a reform school for Liverpool Education Authority in the early 20th century. Rather than a house of unruly schoolchildren you will now find an establishment that is really at the heart of its community.

Hightown Hotel – Lower Alt Rd, Hightown, L38 0BA.


Blundellsands and Crosby – The Corner Post

Another recently opened micropub on the local scene. In a previous life the Corner Post was, believe it or not, a Post Office and a post box still sits proudly outside on the corner. The Corner Post hosts four cask ale pumps with regularly changing ales, often with more than one from a local brewer. The Corner Post provides not only cask and bottled beers but wines spirits and drinks to its customers so there is a good chance that everybody will find something to enjoy.

The micropub formula remains the same and there is no music, no TV and conversation is king. Tables dot the outskirts of the interior and provide a little extra standing room should no seating be available, the pub remains light and well lit with lots of old photos of the area and Post Office related prints dotting the walls. Basic bar snacks are available supplemented by fresh pies from local bakehouse Satterthwaites. The Corner post is another pub that does a good job of keeping people up to date via social media especially twitter and facebook. And Like several stops on the route, dogs are welcome. A warm friendly atmosphere and a well kept choice of cask ales make it a worthwhile penultimate stop on the trip.

The Cornerpost – 25 Bridge Road, Crosby, L23 6SA.


Waterloo – Stamps Too

Photo Source: Stamps Too Facebook Page

Located on South Road in Waterloo just yards from the train station, Stamps Too is a popular local bar and live music venue, most weekends and some week nights feature live music acts. The single long rectangular bar can quickly fill up during these live music periods so if you really want a seat you will have to be there early otherwise it’s down to luck.

Photo Source: Stamps Too Facebook Page

The L shaped bar displays its cask wares on the short end and up to four can be available. One of these ales will often be a local beer with several coming from elsewhere in the North-West or a national brewer.

If you’re looking for a bit of entertainment to end your night with, Stamps Too is a great place to do so. Please check with the establishment to find out what upcoming acts will be performing. Stamps Too does stay open beyond 11pm but please remember to check the departure of the last train! It’s quite easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of stamps too and find yourself running to the station! Should you find yourself unfortunately without a train buses do run towards Liverpool from here and Taxis will be reasonable alternative as well.

Stamps Too – 99 South Rd, Waterloo, L22 0LR.

Side Step

While you are at either Crosby or Waterloo maybe even consider a walk to the wide sandy beaches to get some fresh air take in a lovely sunset or see the Iron men that dot the beach as part of Anthony Gormleys “another place” installation


Moorfields Extension

Now at this point I would think eight destinations along the northern line is a suitable amount to provide a well paced day, however if you are looking to extend your trip or are looking for a central meeting point you can easily do so by riding the train all the way back to Moorfields station in the centre of Liverpool. Getting off at Moorfields provides you with a myriad of choices to either finish the Rail Ale Trail with, or a gateway to continue exploring Liverpool’s famous pubs. Below is a list of my recommended stops within easy walking distance of the station that fit in with the flow of the trail. There are many other great pubs and bars at this end of the city and of course beyond so feel free to explore.

The Lion Tavern

The Lion was recently shut for a short period over the summer of 2016 due to a disagreement with the previous managers and the pub co that owns the premises, since then the pub has re-opened under new management with a commitment to keep things as they were but improve things where possible. The information below reflects the Lion as it was before the temporary closure, and will be updated if need be asap.

Just a few short steps from Moorfields is the Lion tavern, named after one of the first locomotives to work the Liverpool to Manchester railway. A Grade 2 listed building and with an interior deemed of historic importance by CAMRA, the railway has a central bar serving one large room from a long bar, as well as two smaller rooms via serving hatches. Eight cask hand pulls are available and usually has at least one local beer on offer alongside other regional and national brews. You will also find the pubs own house beer “lion returns” brewed by George Wright brewery in St Helens.  Home made hand raised pork pies are also available should you fancy a treat.

Thomas Rigby’s / Lady of Mann

Rigby’s and the lady of Mann may appear to be separate bars but are both owned by Okells an Isle of Mann Brewery and are one of the few outlets in mainland UK that stock their cask beers. Rigby’s recently underwent a refurbishment to spruce up its interior. Cask ales are now easier to view and choose as they have taken centre stage at the bar and here local, regional and national beers often rub shoulders. The range of craft beers has also been improved in both bottle and keg form. Food is served regularly and the establishment is quite popular with city workers and when sporting events are on. Across the large courtyard is the Lady of Mann which offers a more relaxed open plan atmosphere and a more modern feel. Three cask ales are usually available with some more unusual offerings that you may not find in its sister establishment; craft beers are again available in keg and bottle form. As mentioned before the two premises share a courtyard this is very popular regardless of the time of year and in summer despite the urban environment can be quite the sun trap!

The Ship and Mitre

With an Art Deco style exterior and one of the largest beer ranges in the city centre, the Ship hosts a real bonanza of cask lines, keg lines and bottles. Supporting all sizes of brewers, from small local micros to big name nationals, the Ship has regular organised festivals such as Belgian, American and British real ale. The centre bar dominates the middle of the pub while two large front and rear rooms provide lots of seating. Don’t be surprised if you still find it busy despite its size as its very popular stop on local pub circuits. Food is served regularly.

Dead Crafty Beer Co

Just recently opened Dead Crafty is a modern dedicated craft beer bar. New and unusual craft beer offerings will be available from not only the UK but from around the globe. The bottle selection also adds more depth to the choice and also the option to allow take-away. The long bar is uniquely constructed of flight cases as is the tap selection behind which currently features 20 keg lines! The team running it are dedicated beer fans and will always be happy to hand out advice on what beer to try. Tasters are available and beers are served in 1/3rd and 2/3rd glasses. If at the end of your long trip you want to switch things up a bit dead crafty will help you do it!

West Kirby Pub Crawl – 2017

The prom of West Kirby faces out to where the dee estuary meets the irish sea.

If you’re looking to travel as far west as possible for a pint in the Merseyside area you can’t get much further than West Kirby. Nestled in the top left corner of the Wirral peninsular West Kirby is a small town that enjoys a great clutch of places to drink, and is a great place for a day out to boot. You can walk out to Hilbre island, accessible only during low tide. (Please check tide times so you don’t get cut off! you already knew that though didn’t you?). Take in one of its famous sunsets, or the view from its hills just above the town by the memorials.

Getting there is a doddle either by Train, Bus or Car, when using public transport please note when the last outbound journey finishes, unless your local West Kirby is one of the areas most extreme geographical points! If you’re visiting from Liverpool I recommend using Merseyrail train services as the trip is quick and cheap. The only disadvantage is that as of this date trains to Liverpool do finish at 11pm

As with previous Pub crawls I have published please note that places are included and excluded at my own choice, you are as always encouraged to explore. I believe that this route provides a good representation of what is available in the area.

If you believe there are any mistakes or corrections please contact me directly.

The Route

The route is circular in nature and can easily be completed in an afternoon or a whole day depending on how long you wish to spread out your journey. The route is quite hilly so if there are any mobility issues you may wish to plan accordingly. The number 437 bus can take you some way around the hill to the back of the Viking pub cutting out some of the hill but not all of it. Sadly since my last visit two destinations have permanently closed, it now leaves West Kirby with no decent Pub or bar serving cask/craft beer along Bank Road. I have modified the route accordingly but have also included a route that takes in the sea front of West Kirby which on a good day provides splendid views over the Dee Estuary towards North Wales and Hilbre Island. The sunsets in this part of the world are noted to be quite good.

The West Kirby Tap

Photo Credit: @wirraledrinker

On arrival at West Kirby Station take a right and a short walk up grange road to your first pub on the trip. Painted a shade of red that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mediterranean village its difficult to miss! The brewery tap has only been open a few years and is  Spitting Feathers second outlet pub the first being located in Chester. It has already become very popular amongst Wirral’s beer lovers and has been awarded by the local CAMRA branch.

At any time there should be 8 hand pulls available one often with a real cider. Blackboards above the bar display what is currently available be it draught, bottles or spirits. Another neat addition is small kilner jars filled with the beers to show you what colour they are, if you’re the sort of person who leans towards a particular end of the beer spectrum. Staff are quick to turn around beers that have finished and helpful in giving advice on your choice. In my experience the beers have always been in very good condition and a varied range has usually been available. A good range of Craft bottled and canned beers are available as are several foreign beers from Europe. Gin is also available owing to the recent resurgence and popularity of Liverpool Gin.

small plates are available and the bread cheese and meat platters are quite popular. The pub itself is quite open but also has cosy areas to settle down in, it looks and feels warm in winter and in the summer you can enjoy the large open front windows or sun yourself outside on the pavement. Entertainment is regularly planned so if you enjoy a bit of music with your drink you wont be disappointed. The tap is also very active on social media and today its something that pubs and bars cannot afford to ignore. So follow them on twitter and Facebook to keep up to date

The Dee Hotel

Once you have left the Tap, continue to backtrack towards the station, follow the main road as it curves around the station, opposite the bus stop you will find the large front of the Dee hotel.

UPDATE: Since this article was originally conceived JD Wetherspoons have decided to sell off several of their pubs, the dee is one of them and will close in the future. What date has been chosen for the Dee’s closure remains unknown, until then it is open for business! What will become of it is unknown though it is speculated it will return to a hotel.

Next on your route is the Dee Hotel. follow the road to the left as it curves around past the train station and municipal buildings. cross the road and you will see the classic Tudor styled front of the Dee Hotel. During the 1930s the hotel was expanded so today the interior of the Hotel is quite large and spacious and is similar in style to many other JD Wetherspoons outlets. The area closest to the bar is invariably the busiest so if your after a quiet drink you may want to move to one of the outlying areas of the bar. Several hand pumps are available dispensing regular ales as well as guest ales, usually at least one local ale, in previous visits I have seen offerings from both Peerless brewery and Cheshire Brew Bros.

On my previous visits the majority of the ales have been available and have been in good to fair condition, if sometimes a bit too cold. Food is served until late, and is standard Wetherspoons menu. A small back yard terrace allows you to enjoy the weather. The Dee did until recently have a social media presence but this seems to have disappeared, possibly due to the impending closure.

The White Lion

 

Turning right out of the Dee you can now walk uphill and around the corner to your next stop, please take care crossing the road here. The 200-year-old sandstone white washed white lion stands out like a beacon on the corner so its difficult to miss! As just mentioned the white lion is fairly old and has a great warm, solidly built traditional free house feel to it. Exceptionally cosy in the warm winter months thanks to its hobbit hole like nature and real fires, the white lion is all bare stone and wooden beams. It’s a great example of  a classic British pub. The white lion is a pub for all seasons with a large beer garden at the back which is a great sun trap in the warmer months, its also full of all sorts of quirky garden decorations.

Black sheep bitter and Directors Courage best bitter are the regular ales on but there are also 2 guest beers on at a time as well, often one from a local brewer. I have seen beers from Frodsham brewery and Peerless in previous visits. While the White lion may not have a massive variety of Ale available it has been consistently good when I have visited, and has a look, feel and atmosphere unique on the circuit.

The Viking (Formerly The Hilltop)

After leaving the White Lion please head up hill until you reach a T-junction. you may then turn left onto Black Horse Hill road, a short walk down hill will then take you to the Viking.

Now re-opened after an extensive refurbishment the Viking is a large gastropub owned by Celebrity chef and local lad Simon Rimmer. If you have ever visited the Elephant in Woolton Liverpool the formula is somewhat similar here. Inside the Viking the pub has been opened out into one large room with a mixture of modern and retro fixtures, a single large island bar dominates the centre of the Viking with 5 Cask hand pulls displayed on the end facing the door and other keg taps on the longer sides.

Local beers often mix with beers from further afield. One of the unique selling points of the Viking is that Tank Budweiser Budvar is available, an unpasteurised keg beer shipped as fresh as possible direct from the Czech Republic. Outside a large beer garden is on offer to take in the views across the peninsular east towards Liverpool. Note this beer garden will get very busy during summer months.

I would categorise the Viking as a gastropub and despite just opening has been very busy on each visit so please be aware of this affect on seating, during weekends and evenings it is very popular with families during the day and into early evening, after 9pm it becomes an adult only venue. Should you wish to grab some food on your travels the food in the Viking is great value and has something for everyone.

After leaving the Viking you will need to walk back up the hill a short distance, you will then need to take a left onto the A540 Column Road and then a Right down Village road.

The Ring o Bells

Continue to follow the road as it winds it’s way down hill and you will reach your next stop. Nestling on the corner of Village Road and Rectory Road is the mock-tudor styled Ring o Bells. Regardless of which route you take both walks to the ring o bells is a enjoyable affair, as this is the older leafier part of West Kirby. Indeed the pub dates from 1801 and is one of the last two remaining original village pubs. Currently a Greene King pub this operates more of a family dining pub in keeping with other similar Greene King pubs.

There were 8 hand pulls on during the last visit the majority taken up by Greene King’s own ales there were others sourced from national brewers as well. A generous wooded beer garden sits just next to the pub and is very popular during good weather. recently there have been strides taken to try to improve the beer range and organise small beer and cider festivals. Beer quality is usually good if maybe occasional a bit too cold. Recently the cask hand pulls have been moved to the top most tier of the two tier bar. this is immediately visible on your right as you enter.

Owing to the nature of the pub expect it to be filled with mostly families during the evening and weekends. so seating may be at a premium if many people are eating.

Hickories Smokehouse

Just down the hill and around the corner from your previous stop is Hickories. This was previously known as the Moby Dick pub built in post-war style. Now owned by a small USA Smoke-house restaurant chain the hickories is often genuinely rammed at weekends, with tables usually booked weeks in advanced. It is a nice place to grab a bite to eat, but be warned if you don’t book ahead you could end up waiting a long time for a table owing to its popularity. Noise is also something you may want to be aware of because of its popularity, open kitchen, TV’s and family friendly atmosphere it can be quite loud at weekends. Don’t let this put you off though as it’s a nice place to visit for a drink on the route and the food is very good! outdoor seating is also available.

Beer wise owing to its north American styling you will find several USA beers available. On my latest visit I found Brimstage trappers hat and one house cask ale has been available “Hickories Old” which is brewed by Weetwood in Cheshire. USA craft beers are available bottled however and the other usual suspects are also available at the bar.

Full Circle

Once you have left Hickories your route is complete. From this point you can return to any of the other establishments in the crawl if you have a favourite and you would like to spend some more time there. The map included with the trail takes in a route returning to the station via the excellent promenade where you can get some fresh air and enjoy the fine views across the Dee Estuary and out to sea. Should you however wish to take a shorter route it is possible to make your way via Ashton Park back to the centre of town.

Despite the loss of two unique venues on the route (Curio and The Hilbre). West Kirby is still a fantastic beer destination for Merseyside and the Wirral. Easily reached from most parts of the region and has a great array of pubs and bars, and also individual eateries. It’s entirely possible to visit other nearby destinations too, Hoylake also has a few noted pubs. The crawl is suitable for any time of year, if however you fancy taking in some of the views of the Dee, the sea or views from the top of the hills you will of course benefit from it being a clearer day.

15 years a drinker in Liverpool – part 1

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!

an unflattering photo of the author, not at least because of the bottle of reef and the huge flip mobile phone.

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.

Profits spike for Barmouths off-licences

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.

RIP Cains gone but not forgotten

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.

At one time this was extremely sophisticated for me

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!).

The ill fated bottle of tactical nuclear penguin

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.

Think locally at St Georges Hall beer festival 2015

a busy previous St Georges hall beer festival in grand surroundings!

St Georges hall beer festival 2015 is on this weekend! If you didn’t get any tickets commiserations. I myself am not going this time owing to festival fatigue. The beer list was released just a few days ago and includes many of the new breweries in the local area. Even though I can’t attend there are several I can strongly recommended you try ill list those below. Many of these are newer brewers and have only just started operating this year.

Ladies that Beer

Worth mentioning as well to any female visitors is are you a lady that likes beer? or are you curious about trying some at this festival? If you are Ladies that beer will be at the festival on Friday evening between 7-7.30pm! Ladies that beer are a welcoming group who want to encourage more women to drink good beer, and can offer you great advice on beer styles and brewing. They are very active on social media and host regular events for members. you can chat with them direct by clicking the links to Facebook and Twitter. Check your program for where they are located within the beer festival and go say hello!

Uh yeah but I just drink lager – an appeal

Some bottled continental lagers will no doubt be available but please don’t waste the opportunity at the festival to sample the ales available. The main thing is do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask what to try! That’s what the volunteers are for! If you traditionally prefer lagers try starting with something pale or lighter coloured and maybe move up to more amber coloured beers. If you like a strong hoppy lager try some IPA’s.

Volunteers will offer you a taster before you commit so don’t be afraid to try a few. Just don’t take the piss and ask to try 10! When you sample what is out there hopefully it will open up for you a whole world of different tastes to enjoy.

Recommended beers to try

So below I am going to suggest which beers by brewer to try while at the festival, some I have had in person others I think sound interesting, I will of course indicate which ones I have actually tried.

Neptune Brewery

Located in Maghull, Neptune just started producing full-time this year. They offer a great broad colour range of ales to choose from. Neptunes ales are becoming available on draught at pubs and bars around the region. And are also available bottled in many of the local beer shops to try at home Neptune also do not use Isinglass finings which is great news for those with specific dietary requirements!

  • Amberjack 4.5% – an easy drinking with nice bittering and a marmalade like finish.
  • Riptide  3.6% – English bitter, which is nicely balanced and very sessionable
  • Triton 4.4% – pale ale, good hop flavouring and nice light biscuity finish

Keep an eye out in the pubs and shops for the “thick and twisted” and abyss these are both very lovely dark beers. Also worth trying is AmberJack’d a stronger version of the already tasty 4.5%.

Red Star Brewery

Bridging the gap in the West Lancashire plain and based in Formby is Red Star another Merseyside micro-brewery. With a solid small core range they are quickly becoming regular features in many of the local pubs and bars, bottles again are also available in the many local beer shops too.

  • Partisan 5.4% – strong-tasting and complex malty brew with nice bittering, smooth.
  • Weissbier 5.3% – a new ale, unfiltered and unfined so naturally cloudy, wheaty body and fruity.
  • Formby IPA 4% – tweaked since my last tasting but had lovely toffee malts.

Keep an eye out locally on draught or in bottle for Hurricane a strong bitter which punches way above its weight, bit of trivia the partisan is quite popular amongst some eastern European football fans!

Rock the Boat

Another micro-brewer who has just commenced operation this year is Rock the boat, working out of a 16th century wheelwright’s workshop in Little Crosby Village. Currently working with a good core range at the moment there maybe a stout on the horizon soon!

  • Bootle Bull 3.8% – a great traditional bitter which leans more towards malts than hops, don’t miss.
  • Dazzle 3.6% – a well bittered pale with a nice initial bite to it.
  • Liverpool Light 3.4% – very sessionable and refreshing pale.

Also try the mussel wreck at the festival i have not tried this myself yet but is a 3.9% golden ale. Hopefully bottles will be available soon to take home!

Liverpool Craft Beer Co

Established in 2010 and operating from the railway arches on love lane, LCB have become a local favourite amongst drinkers, pubs and bars in the area. they have a core range supplemented by changing seasonal and one-off special brews. Please note I have not tried any of the beers below yet sadly, however knowing the good work the brewery puts in I can recommend them easily!

  • Hinnomaki Wheat 4.7% – Hefeweizen style ale, so naturally cloudy and fruity
  • Pzyk Diablo 4.8% – a tea infused ale brewed for liverpool festival of psychedelia
  • Springbok 4.6% – a pale ale which i believe has been brewed with south African hops

LCB bottles are readily available in many outlets across the region to take home. American Red is one of my favourite beers that LCB produce and keep an eye out for their oatmeal stout!

The Melwood Beer Company

Up and running since 2013 and based in the picturesque Knowsley parkland area. currently operating out of the old Cambrinus premises. A regular fixture in many of the pubs and bars in Liverpool and the surrounding areas, a regular range of beers with a tie to music are brewed along with one off brews.

  • High Time 4.2% – rarely brewed on cask a good sessionable pale.
  • Jester 4.4% – made with the new English jester hops (unsampled)
  • Life Of Riley 4.5% – balanced pale ale (unsampled)

Melwood beers are also available to take home bottled from stores in the area.

Liverpool Organic Brewery

Festival organisers LOB have a large range of beers to sample, some have been available in hand pump dispense in previous years so keep an eye out for these! Based close to the Leeds & Liverpool canal LOB is currently one of the longest-serving breweries in the city and brew a large range of beers.

  • Kitty Wilkinson Chocolate & Vanilla Stout 4.5% – a lovely stout with choc malts
  • Bier Head 4.1% – based on an old Higsons recipe.

Bottles of the entire range are very easy to find in local beer shops.

Peerless Brewing Company

Operating since 2009 Birkenhead based Peerless has recently expanded its capacity and is a popular fixture in pubs on the Wirral and on the Liverpool side of the Mersey. A core range of beers is regularly produced along with seasonal’s and one-off’s, they hold regular brewery tours and “thirsty Thursday” open nights.

  • Fusion 3.5% – session pale ale with a blend of UK hops
  • Peninsula IPA 5.7% – popular and robust smooth IPA with biscuity malts.
  • Waimea 3.7% – an amber New Zealand hopped ale (unsampled)

Peerless bottles are available in many shops around the area and are also available direct from the brewery as are some mini kegs for home use. I recommended trying the Red Rocks, Paxtons peculiar and the lovely oatmeal stout.

Brimstage Brewery

Based on a farm in the heart of the Wirral and founded in 2006, Brimstage have a solid core range of ales that are found regularly around the Wirral and Merseyside. Bottles are easily found in many of the shops in the local area.

  • Rhode Island Red 4.0% – a pleasant red ale that is malty and sweet
  • Scarecrow 4.2% – marmalade coloured fruity session ale
  • Trappers Hat 3.8% – smooth and easy drinking session ale.

Oyster catcher is also a nice stout to keep an eye out for

Cheshire Brew Brothers

Located just outside Ellsemere Port and opened within the last few years Cheshire brew bros have become a regular fixture in bars across the Wirral and Cheshire, and produce a regular range of core ales.

  • Cheshire Best Bitter 4.5% – English style bitter which is a bit more malt forward
  • Earls Eye Amber 3.8% – tasty amber tinged beer with a slight smokey after-taste
  • Roodee Dark 4.0% – lush dark ale with hints of coffee

Bottles are available to take home in many of the shops around the region.

In Closing

I hope that you do enjoy your time at the festival, enjoy the quality local beers from our local brewers, get some local food and have a great time. But don’t forget if you enjoyed what you had, SUPPORT your local brewers, drink their beer, follow them on social media, and interact with them. These people are not sat in an Ivory tower they are regular working people like you and I and it’s us buying their beer that keeps them in business and keeps the lovely beer flowing. Support your local brewers and support your local pubs! Because lets not forget Liverpool and its surrounding areas are chocker with great places to drink.

Hoylake Beer Festival

Credit: Rob Shaw

August bank holiday saw the return of one of the Wirral’s newest beer festivals held in Hoylake Parade Community Centre, organised by Peerless brewery and sponsored by several local businesses the festival saw several very busy days and plenty of sold out beer. Plus it was all for a good cause helping to fund a new lift for the remarkable building.

I visited on Saturday with a large group of friends, for the purposes of this write-up and any future ones on beer festivals I am going to try not to ramble on too much. Truthfully I also had such a good time I can’t really remember many of the finer details but ill try to do it justice!

The community centre was originally a school but has been now re-purposed into a community centre that has a myriad of uses for local groups and residents. A beer festival being just one of them! The building was an excellent place to host as the various different sized rooms provided quiet areas to sit and chat, an area to enjoy the live entertainment and also the old school yard was made great use of for the catering and for anyone to soak up the last dying rays of the British summer. my party opted to sit in the room adjacent to where the bar was set-up.

The bar itself was very well-arranged, with all beers served from hand pulls and all fully labelled up. you could just as easily browse the length of the bar in search of your next ale as you could thumbing through the festival program. The army of volunteers many now familiar faces stood guard and were ready to serve and offer suggestions.

The range of beers was good, with several local brewers featured as well as those from further afield. a blackboard kept punters up to date as to any substitutions and which beers had been finished off. The beers were also in a good condition, despite the warmth of the day and the sun beating down on that side of the building the cooling system coped admirably.

Pricing for the event was kept flat regardless of beer strength, something very much welcomed by our party, 1 token equals one half of beer. Nice and simple. unless you were drinking wine then it required 2 tokens. A full sheet of 8 tokens cost £12, half sheets were also available. Its worth noting again that the proceeds from the event go towards the upkeep of the centre and hopefully provision of a much-needed lift as well. So its good value for money and it goes to charity!

Credit: Rob Shaw

my personal favourite of the day was local brewery Deva Craft Beer of Chester with their American pale “pandemonium” additional brownie points to the guys for letting us know what the IBU’s were on the pump clip, not strictly necessary for all us but im sure there are a few out there who appreciated that bit of info! Those of us who have seen the Japanese Animé and comic book series Dragonball Z will probably love the art on the pump clip also! Pandemonium was well hopped but not overwhelmingly so and had a smooth finish.

Other honourable mentions included beer festival début by Neptune brewery, based in Maghull the small brewery has just started delivering its casks and bottles to outlets in the local area. Amber-jack was their festival ale, a 4.5% Amber/red ale a nicely balanced beer with a marmalade after taste.

Loch Ness Brewery was someone I had not heard of before and after some of my party sampled it and commented it was a good choice I picked up their “Red Ness” which was a rather lovely 4.2% dark malty brew.

Predominately ales were mostly coloured blonde to amber. There were several nice stouts, porters and milds on offer, of particular note was “Dark Horse Stout” By Elmtree Beers and “Beijing Black” by potbelly brewery.

It was also possibly for everyone to vote on a beer of the festival, something that was while a small touch was a nice addition! the winner was the popular Salopian Brewery with “Kashmir” (que the led zep). Though i cant actually recall trying it on the day my friends reassured me it was a great choice.

Credit: Rob Shaw

Pen-Y-Lan pork were catering for the event with sausages, burgers and pulled pork on offer. I picked up a very nice pulled pork bap towards the end of the evening, and they were very popular by all accounts.

Alas we didn’t stay for the evening’s entertainment, our group wanted to visit other places in the area and make the right transport connections later in the evening. So after running out of tokens and then using up another stub of four we ventured onwards. Would I be coming back again? Most definitely. I believe that everything about the festival came together very nicely, it was a great venue with a choice of beers not too large or small and a great atmosphere to boot. Tie it in with a visit to some of Hoylake and West Kirby’s pubs and bars and you’re not only helping to contribute to the excellent Parade centre but also the local economy as well.

And just to back that up it was recently confirmed to me by the Parade centres twitter account that approximately £10,500 was raised over the weekend.

When you can raise that much at a weekend beer festival why bother with dry charity months?

Acknowledgements

Several photos in this blog post were kindly provided by my friend and peer Rob Shaw. These photos are clearly marked and all other photos were provided by myself.

St Luke’s Beer Festival

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!

The main cask bar area and gin den.

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.

looking towards the far end of the church with the stage, sound would struggle to progress beyond here.

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.

In Summary

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.

Mapping Merseysides Brewers

Just how many Breweries are there in Merseyside and its neighbouring areas? listing them is easy. There are a quite a lot of them now!, in the course of creating this I found some I didn’t know about myself!

Merseyside is a bit of a catch-all term, some people dont even like it. but being a geographer i find it useful for describing the area surrounding the Mersey estuary and Liverpool bay area. When deciding which areas to include i decided that no where further than the western most point of the Wirral, Just beyond the south of Chester city, St Helen’s, and the shoreline of the Ribble would provide a decent boundary.

You can click on each individual brewery to get information on them. For clarity i have not included brewers that have ceased production such as Cains. I recommend viewing the map in a full new window or tab to get a better view of the area.

Did i miss anywhere? if so please let me know!

I produced the map using google maps. This is strictly for informative purposes, enjoy!

The Legal bit: All logos and images used are the property of their particular owners. Kind permission has been given from the brewers to reproduce them on my map project, this has not been created for profit or any commercial means, and is purely informative.

If any of your information is incorrect please contact me and i will resolve this.

If you wish to change any imagery or add some photos please contact me and i will add them.

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

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?!

Liverpool Food and Drink Festical 2014 – brief roundup

Liverpool Food and Drink fest has been and gone again, and it would be safe to say most people left fed and watered very happy! Since i chat mostly about Beer that’s what ill be concentrating on but ill mention the food briefly

I booked for the sunday session with 2 other friends, £5 was the entry fee online for this last day, i can actually remember when the food festival was free. I suppose with growth and popularity comes the inevitable requirement that your going to have to pay to get in some day. Located in the open northern half of Sefton Park the area was loosely arranged into certain areas such as a market place, street food and other vendors. One observation was that it was becoming a bit too corporate now, and thinking back i think they are right. It’s a fine balance i suppose from those people comes the big money, but when they overshadow all the independent places it becomes less eclectic.

Either way there was a decent spread of smaller liverpool food vendors and larger ones. The food was nice but honestly nothing to shout about, burgers, burgers, burgers, pulled bloody pork everywhere (note i like pulled pork). There was a bit of eastern variety but not much else. i suppose you have to retain some familiarity to not put some people off.

Anyway im rambling, so the food was ok but what about the drink? well there wasnt that much in my observation! if i am wrong please correct me. Present from my memory was Lancaster Brewery’s own tent, Bierkeller, Liverpool One Brewery, The Ship and Mitre beer tent, The Hub, Bier and Tavern Co.

Initially i was worried the Ships beer tent wouldn’t be making an appearance this year as it was missing on the food fest website (either that or im blind). But i found out in the week leading up to it that it would be. The ships tent was usually always busy right up until the last hour when it got quieter. there was a good range of pumps on mostly mirrored on the left and right. Mostly light coloured ales, and one darker ale from Liverpool Organic in the form of their stout, there was good bench seating outside the tent and if all the beer vendors hadn’t started closing by about 5pm i probably would have had more than two drinks sadly!

Lancaster brewery mostly had their range of own ales on and some ciders but since that’s not my thing right now I didn’t venture in. It was nice to see Liverpool One brewery present their small bar had a couple of ales on and their own ale had sold out shortly after i had arrived. Apart from Liverpool Craft beers being present on at The Hubs stall that was pretty much it real ale wise. After thatt it was the ubiquitous big name brands on tap or euro beers.

I popped briefly into bierkellers tent but when i saw that the first few taps were fosters and John smiths i walked straight back out.

I think next year the Food festival needs to have a dedicated drink section. It would be great to see some of our local brewers having a few stands, even if it’s just selling their own bottled beers to take home that would complement the festival nicely and give a bit more variety. I think it would be great if there was a home brewing section too? I know that there is a new group of Home brewers springing up in the area, would be good to see them too!

So in the style of my old P.E. reports from school

“good effort but must try harder”