The decision to have a few days in Liverpool was a last minute one so I hadn’t really done much research and simply ripped out the two page ‘Liverpool pub feature’ from January’s edition of What’s Brewing and that was about it. I never realised the Liverpool and Districts CAMRA beer festival was on, starting the day we arrived which probably explains why a lot of the pubs we visited during the afternoon were bit quiet?
Having discovered it, we couldn’t really pass up on it could we? Certainly not when it came with the kind offer of a couple of complimentary tickets for the Friday evening session. Now I’m pretty glad this opportunity presented itself because I reckon I would have baulked at nine quid each to get in, the discovery of this fact prompting a chorus of the old Yorkshire war cry: “How much?”
Now if you come to our Leeds CAMRA beer festival, 17th – 19th March, the dearest session is only a fiver, which I think is about right. Having walked through Liverpool city centre first and seen the litter of doe eyed Hens and hartless Stags, I can sort of see the reason for the selective pricing and the advance ticket only policy though.
We didn’t get off to a good start because we walked up Mount Pleasant towards the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was a mistake as the entrance to the crypt is on Brownlow Hill and we had to do a full circular tour of Gibberds iconic structure to reach it!
Now if any Liverpudlians are reading this (and the associated articles) and thinking he’s a right gob shite this bloke, I am now going to do a full about turn and eat some of my words.
Until about 1900hrs on Friday 19th February 2016 I never knew the Cathedral of Christ The King had a crypt, even though I had visited many times in the past. Had I known, I would have gladly paid nine quid to repeatedly visit Edwin Lutyen’s vaults. By rights, a beer festival should, if held in a church, be in the narthex, but sadly the grand design of (potentially) England’s greatest architect was, for various reasons, never completed, so we will have to be content with the under croft. For most of the night I walked round, head up, wide eyed, mouth agog in this barrel vaulted, modern day bricklayers night mare. What a place. What a place for a beer festival!
Nine quid got you a wrist band, a programme and a half pint commemorative glass. Staying with the financial aspect, all the beers were priced on ABV; £1 under 3.9%, £1.50 up to 7% and £2 above that. I thought that was very reasonable, effectively two quid a pint for the less strong beers. The glasses were quite natty, with a splash of colour, obviously no Evertonians on the glass designing committee? Sadly, I caressed and cradled mine all the way back to the other side of Dale Street after the festival, only to drop it onto the bedroom floor and smash it! Thankfully Mrs C was a bit more careful with hers.
I didn’t count all the beers, but there were lots of them in a sort of Merseyside version of alphabetical order, the posters said 200+, the programme a shade under, plus a few ‘no shows’. First thoughts; too many local and North West breweries and traditional styles. Second thoughts: some of these local ones aren’t half bad. Third thought; I remember reading an article in Original Gravity Magazine (#7) by Adrian Tierney-Jones saying that British regional styles were dying out. Conclusion: They’ve got this bang on, you know nothing Richard Coldwell.
I was surprised to only see twelve hand pumps which were reserved for those brewers that sponsored the bar. There was no cooling system neither, I guess a crypt is no more than a giant cellar though and everything I drank was spot on temperature wise. I didn’t get chance to talk to any of the organisers so I don’t know whether the absence of any key keg ales was a deliberate stance? Feedback from the recent Manchester beer fest was they went a bomb and there will be over a dozen at Leeds CAMRA beer festival. My standout beers from the locals were Unhinged Amber (7.4%) by Mad Hatter Brewing Co. which sort of tipped it’s hat to Magic Rock’s Cannonball. Similarly Tectonic (6.2%) by Peerless Brewery winked at Flying Dog IPA. Both were excellent beers in their own right though and I reckon both would have been better dispensed from a keg? Mrs C discovered a really nice, and very fresh beer, you know, the one you only get at a beer festival or in the brewery, which was Gower Brewery Gower Gold (4.5%) and this Welsh brewers golden ale was the best beer I tasted that evening, despite it not being a ‘go to’ style for me. Encouraged by this I also tried their Gower Power (5.5%) a traditional IPA style brew, which was also very good, but only ranked 4 stars to Gower Gold’s five.
If you wanted something to eat there was plenty of choice; roast pulled meats, pies of various denominations and cheese platters. The emphasis clearly being on quality products. I didn’t try anything myself but people I spoke with confirmed what my eyes could see.
I would have loved to wander around the crypt at leisure, exploring all the locked doors and roped off corridors, unfortunately festival goers were confined to the Crypt hall housing the bar side of things and the adjacent concert room where there was plenty of seating and a guy called Martin Smith playing some Jazz, a quality trumpeter who sounded even better when the backing trio came together. I enjoyed the set though, it was a good accompaniment to a beer fest.
As beer festivals go this has to be one of the better organised events I have attended, as well as being one of the more aesthetically pleasing locations, it’s also got as wide a range of ales, oh and ciders and perrys, as you will find. I would thoroughly recommend a weekend trip to next years event. Combine it with a tour of the city’s thriving real ale pub culture. A very good beer fest, top marks to Liverpool and Districts CAMRA.