What is it with these craft beer festivals? Like buses, you don’t see one for 40 years and then they all come along in a short spell. First we had IndyManCon, then London had a go (less said the better) and now it was Liverpool’s turn. In case you have been too busy stockpiling Skol to have noticed; the idea of these events is to place the new wave of keg beer on an equal footing with cask beer. Something the traditional CAMRA festival is unable to do. Host it in an unusual place, mix in a bit of music and events-in Liverpool’s case, live brewing-etc and you will have something that marks you out from the, in some eyes, old-fashioned CAMRA hall event. Having been tipped off about this one by the guys from Liverpool Craft Brewery and not needing much of an excuse to go drinking in Liverpool, I set sail for Merseyside.
The inaugural Liverpool Craft Beer Expo was held at the Camp & Furnace on Greenland St which is about a mile from Liverpool Lime St station and is part of the so-called Baltic Triangle area. It was an interesting venue: naturally lit by the glass roof and with plenty of toilets. Admission was by ticket only and both Friday and Saturday sessions were a sell out. Seating in the main hall was in the Germanic way of long wooden tables. Which meant squeezing in and chatting with your neighbours. With a glam blonde on one side and a very friendly young CAMRA couple (Hello John & Claire) facing me, the time passed very pleasantly. Of course, it wasn’t all young hipsters; a few of the CAMRA pros were in there early doors and I spotted Mr Beige and Mr Stockport amongst the familiar faces.
But what of the beer, you may ask? Well the 50 cask beers were all on one bar; complete with cooling jackets and all served on handpull. The 80 keg beers were split over a number of bars. The nature of the venue meant that it was warm-giving the kegged fraternity a natural advantage. However, I found the cask temperature to be fine although perhaps some beers were lacking a little in condition. Certainly there were no complaints with a choice that straddled styles and had some very good offerings. The keg side also had its share of winners, but one grumble I did hear throughout the day was that there were too many beers over 5%. Another, albeit more minor, quibble was the lack of tasting notes. The festival programme was the biggest I’ve seen, but a tasting note, not the one. Still, as I told people, that’s what tasters are for!
Winners and Losers
Oakham’s Eugene’s Lair was the pick of the cask with its ultra-refreshing tropical hop punch. Mallinsons and Harbour also put in more than excellent efforts. Keg wise, there was NZ Sessions from Blackjack and some very good Kernel and Partizan, but the winner was Five Points No 4 Pale Ale which was a perfectly balanced example of the style and very moreish. Weird beer award goes to the spiced ginger offering that was Hand Drawn Monkey Tandori IPA. I only had one truly bad beer and that was Brupond Tip Top Hop which somehow managed to mix diacetyl with gravy stock flavours.
What else? Well there was cider and whisky to be had, but who has time for that on an afternoon
pissup tasting session? Payment was made via a £10 card token system
and the glasses enabled you to have either a third or half measure. My only
real complaint-and I wasn’t the only one, it has to be said-was the very loud music which seemed
to consist of no discernible tune but an over enthusiastic drummer. Unnecessary and unwarranted in such an environ.