Liverpool Organic Brewery

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.

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Weekend Wanderings: Waterloo Beer Festival & Mad Hatter Brewtap

So over the weekend quite a lot was going on in the area! we had beer festivals, Brewtap openings and meet the brewer events, I only managed to get to two events myself but it was a great weekend by all accounts judging by discussions I’ve had with people and from what I’ve seen on social media.

Waterloo Beer Festival #7

Seven Waterloo beer festivals already? seems like only yesterday i went to my first one! I remember hearing a story from someone that the very first one was very quiet, its good to see its gone on to be popular and maintained that popularity it would have been a shame for it to have fallen by the wayside! The Bi-annual event held in Old Christ church in Waterloo was again great fun and busy on both days i visited, with good music on, generous amounts of beer and good food its hard to go wrong, and when your done you have the whole of Waterloo and Crosby to visit as well.

Friday evening at the WBF

Friday along with saturday are probably the two busiest days, for obvious reasons. This year it featured extended sunday hours to coincide with the may bank holiday weekend. It was certainly very busy on friday seating as usual was at a premium so we ended up getting a wobbly stand up table, everything that i went for on friday night was still on and in good condition. As usual upon entry you can buy tickets, pickup your program and festival glass which you can take home as well.

Organisation: papers please

Waterloo Beer Festival is pretty well publicised, Tickets are easily available and convenient to get via Eventbrite who seem to handle most of the ticketing for all the local beer festivals, if it’s not broke eh? they only bother you will have is if your printer runs out of ink!

A full sheet of 8 for £12 (£1.50 a token) and smaller denominations were available, the simplified pricing is some of the best from any festival i have been too and its remained so for several years, only going up in price from £10 to £12 recently, there is no difference in strength of beers affecting the price its a flat price for everything, which for you the punter means no odd-numbered boxes left over!

the sun puts in a brief appearance illuminating the lovely interior of old christ church

I have to tip my hat to whoever does the program for WBF because being honest? the beer descriptions are better than what you get in the Liverpool Beer Festival program! furthermore its a lot more easier to read, yes i suppose that’s being a bit pedantic but the CAMRA LBF program is like a wall of text with no information on some stuff.

I opted to leave my glass behind this year for practical reasons, i had nothing to carry it home in, didn’t want to lug it around and also i am running out of room for glasses in my house!

Munchables

A familiar trio of treats were available as usual over the weekend, Liverpool Cheese Company were on hand with a wide selection of cheeses breads and crackers, and friendly advice to anyone without the slightest idea of what cheese to go for. Peninsula Pies were back as always with their Awesome sausage rolls, pasties and pies. I’ve said this before and ill say it again i wish they had an actual shop because i would rent a van and buy a ton of their sausage rolls they are that damn good. And last but not least Liverpool Cake Co were on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth after the savouries, i had a cupcake myself on friday evening and it was quite nice!

Peninsula Pies and Liverpool Cheese Company

I think i should mention as well that initially Liverpool Cake Co were posted in a side room off the main floor of the church, i got the feeling that they were not getting much attention because of this, thankfully by saturday night they had been moved into the main area, im not sure why they were not put in their to begin with but good that it was rectified! On sunday Peninsula Pies had completely run out by 4pm sadly, I almost started crying over that! seriously I love those sausage rolls! I wish they would always have more available but I don’t know the first thing about catering so can’t really comment!

The Beer

The most important thing of course and why you actually come to a beer festival! 154 real ales were listed in the program 8 Keg craft beers were also available along with 20+ ciders and perries and Liverpool Gin was also available for those who fancied a bit of a change

From what i recall of the two visits I didn’t have a bad drink at all, speaking with some fellow drinkers recently it seems to be that you rarely get a bad drink now, that is a beer that just doesn’t taste nice at all, beers now often range from excellent to average, and if you have a bad beer, chances are it just wasnt kept correctly! if this little theory of mine is right then its good news as it means that not only is the quantity of ale on its way up, the quality standard is remaining high!

Having said that nothing much grabbed my attention this weekend, everything was consistently good, i still recall getting some smoked brews at the winter WBF last year they really stood out to me, still there were lots of very nice brews in particular i loved the Mad Hatter ESB, York Brewery Finishing Touch, RAW majic mild ale and Tiny Rebel Beat Box

Festival glasses with contrasting ales, and the infamous wobbly table.

One thing i felt compelled to mention and, im thumbing through my battered program just to check, yes there is quite a lack of stouts at this particular WBF, only 8 in total i believe. Now I didn’t get around to having more than one on Friday and was hoping to have another sunday, but it seems Merseyside stout lovers hammered the few available ones over the weekend and alas there was none to be found! not even any on the south road pubs afterwards! now 8 might sound like a lot to some folk but compared to the amount of other pale ales available at the festival its not that much! i wonder why there were so few stouts?

Is it because were heading towards summer and people are in “summer mode” that’s an imaginary thing i dreamt up where people drink lighter coloured beers in the summer? Regardless i liked all the beers i had.

By Sunday though the previous few days and extended hours had taken its toll on the beer range and it was severely reduced by the time we got there, of course we still found some good drinks but  it made choosing a bit of a headache! since you had to make multiple back-up choices! I attended a previous years sunday session and don’t remember it being as hammered but this was winter! maybe the extended hours brought out more folk?

If you’re looking to get the first dibs on the beer and not wanting to worry about stuff running out you should ideally aim to go between Thursday and Saturday, stuff will certainly start to run out saturday, I didn’t observe anything sold out on Friday.

Music for the masses

Over the course of the festival entertainment was provided by 6 groups/entertainers with 3 squeezed into the extended sunday session. On Friday the Penniless Tenants were in-house providing us with some great folk tunes, especially appreciated by some of my friends of irish descent, on Sunday we enjoyed a bit of swingology and The Rip Roaring success, who were my favourite of the night, mixing early 20th century music and some well-known favourites such as Johnny Cash etc.

Rip roaring success take the spotlight

The size of the church does mean if you want to enjoy the music your best being closer to the stage, as the PA can struggle to fill the air in-between, we did struggle to hear it a bit further away on friday, so sunday we got close up to enjoy the tunes!

Volunteer Army

Again all the volunteers did a great job, helping the uninitiated, offering opinions on brews and keeping the whole process running smoothly. I felt sorry for the poor fella calling time at both sessions, the ringing of the bell was met with the inevitable chorus of good-hearted boo’s from the crowd and the gentleman had a good chuckle over it!

In Summary

Waterloo beer festival remains a great place to go to, it’s well organised, fairly priced, has a good selection of beers, Cask, Keg, cider and now Gin, the catering is super. If i had one suggestion to make it would be could someone please pretty please make scouse for the winter one? The festival also has what i consider a more relaxed atmosphere than the Liverpool Beer Festival and even when its busy it’s not so bad you can barely move. I would certainly recommend going to more than one session as well if you can, going to the sunday session especially which is not as busy if you prefer things quiet and you also have ample time to explorer the local pubs and bars in the area.

Before you go!!

Personally I don’t think any visit to the Waterloo beer festival is complete without going into at least one of the local areas fantastic pubs and bars, there are quite a few to choose from and all within walking distance or one train stop away. Not only that but there are some good quality eateries around the area as well to fill any hole in your belly

I have a selection that i prefer myself which you can read here, but you can also use the Local CAMRA branches pub passport maps as a good basis to go off or the CAMRA whatpub website. This weekend when coming out on both Friday and Sunday we headed to the South road in Waterloo, my two choices are generally music themed but if your after a nice quiet pint you can’t go far wrong with a walk to the Volunteer Canteen (aka the volly).

First to the old bank for a pint and then onto one of my favourite places Stamps too, a mecca for real ale and music fans, Stamps Too regularly hosts live music, has a good consistent range of excellent ales and are very often Local Ales (LocAles)

Live Music and Good Beer staples of a good diet in STAMPS Too

I have never had a bad night in Stamps too the beer is consistently well-kept by the staff, there is usually a good range of beers on from light to dark, unfortunately for me this weekend there was no stout! However the ales that were on were great, over the weekend period beers from Southport, Brimstage, Burscough and Purple Moose brewery were all on, the golden sands by Southport was quite delicious.

The dockers belting out some cracking tunes on sunday

Sundays music was by far the best for me the lads from The Dockers Band were on the stage, three talented lads who can knock out a fantastic tune, they had stamps suitably head bobbing and foot tapping until close of play when we sadly had to jog for the last train!

full of beer, song and food, now you can’t do much worse than that can you?

Mad Hatter BrewTap

This weekend also saw the inaugural opening of Mad Hatter Brewing Co’s own Brewtap premises in the Baltic triangle, Mad hatter will soon be moving fully into the new premises on the corner of Jamaica Street and Watkinson street, once things are settled down there should be more regular openings of the Brewtap so you can enjoy the creative magic right at the source.

A good selection of the Mad hatter range was available, in both Cask, Keg and bottled form, we plumped for a Liverpool best which was very satisfying, there was also Wapping rye smile, showing the continuing strong links with Mad Hatter and Wapping breweries.

mad hatters new brewtap

A regular theme ive noticed over these last few years are how unassuming and humble most of the places are local breweries occupy, half of the time you’d probably not even know they were there as you drive or walk by, this is in stark contrast to the red brick behemoth of Cain’s old brewery, the giant Tetleys plant i remember from back home in Yorkshire and also the Black Sheep Brewery which i had the pleasure of a tour of once.

I think it’s reassuring, in a way, there’s a down to earthness about it all, ill be looking forward to seeing more of the brewplant as it gets put in, a few fermenting vessels were present when we visited and although we only had time for one pint, it left me thirsty for another visit which i hope won’t be too long! So best of Luck to Gaz and everyone at Mad hatter with the new location!