A 21st Century Expo for Beer

Liverpool Craft Beer ExpoLiverpool, home of the beatles, home of the Albert Dock, home of Paul O’Grady (!), home of the latest, coolest craft beer festival, Liverpool Craft Beer Expo 2013. It seemed like a long way to go, almost 200 miles from here to there, but it looked like it promised to be worth it. Over 80 beers on keg and 50 beers on cask from breweries all over the UK including both well established breweries such as Darkstar, Thornbridge, Marble Beers and Salopian and the new kids on the craft beer block such as Harbour Brewing Co, Quantum Brewing Co, Siren Craft Brew and The Melwood Beer Co. In fact, Melwood only opened their doors in March this year.

Tickets were bought for both me and Conchi (long term beer widow) about three months ago for the Saturday evening session (yes, I am organised). The day of the expo came around at last and on Saturday morning we set off for the North West. Now, what normally happens when I plan to go somewhere these days is I look to see what breweries there may be en route. This time was no exception. Lymestone haulThis time I chose Lymestone Brewery in Stone, Staffordshire. A good choice I thought as I had recently signed up to their Virtual Brewery program they are doing with Best of British Beer (BOB). So we stopped off quickly here on the way, picked up six of their beers, had a chat with Ian Bradford about the aforementioned virtual ale (bottling is happening and beers should be ready in a few weeks from BOB, I am not so keen on the voted for name ‘Beyond the Pale’ but am looking forward to the beer) and left with our spoils towards Liverpool.

LCBE Beer Menu BoardThe venue for the craft beer expo was the Camp and Furnace in the trendy Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool. We arrived at the converted warehouse just after the 6 pm session opening time and were given a glass to keep (it had both a 1/2 pint and 1/3 pint line), some tokens to get us started and a program. Making our way round the winding corridors got us to the main room of the Expo. A big, open warehouse space with a massive menu board of beers on the left (really, how do you start choosing which beer to drink from a gorgeous feast of beers like this), overlooking long rows of benches for sitting and enjoying your beers, surrounded by five keg bars and a long, hand pull cask bar.

The monetary system worked much like a CAMRA beer festival. You bought beer tokens from the token shed (10 pounds for 20 tokens on a card), went around choosing your half pint (occassionally 1/3 pint) and paying for it with 3, 4, 5 or 6 tokens depending on it’s strength. Liverpool Craft Beer Expo ShedHowever, this was not your average CAMRA beer festival. Both keg and cask beers were well presented here. There were live bands and music in the background and food stalls to keep the hungry hordes satiated whilst sampling their beers. Not that it was super busy. There were plenty of people there to make for a great atmosphere but thanks to the multiple bars I never had to wait for longer than a minute to get a beer. There was a good mixture of people of all different ages including plenty of young people. Many young people enjoying a few beers was a good sight to see. There was even a section in the corner where ‘live’ brewing was taking place. Hand Drawn Monkey (Huddersfield) were brewing up something crazy whilst we were there, using the throw of a dice to decide the final ingredients!

As for the beer choice, well it was a craft beer (sorry to use the phrase but it does fit quite well in this case) lover’s heaven. I won’t go through the whole list of breweries (check the website here for that if you are interested) but anyone who knows the current UK brewery scene would find a veritable who’s who of the hip and trendy breweries crowding the current scene, reading like a role call of the cool and ubercool breweries who have made their mark or trying to make their mark in the current cask and keg beer renaissance. I, for one, really enjoyed all the beers I drank. All 9, although feeling a little rough on Sunday morning. Amongst others, this included an amazing coffee stout by Summer Wine called Barista Espresso (I started with low ABVs like I think any self respecting beer drinker at a festival should do), thick, juicy and fruity pale ales by The Melwood Beer Co (Citradelic) and Harbour Brewing Co, a double IPA by Quantum Brewing Co (Citra/Centennial, 8.1%) and to finish, an imperial stout going by the name of Even More Jesus by Siren Craft Brew. A massive beer served in 1/3 pints due to the whopping 11.4% ABV.  Peardrops, smokiness, creaminess, it was a good 1/3 to finish the night.

LCBE MelwoodI have to say the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo was a very well organised event and one that other people who want to organise similar events should take note of. You felt that the organisers had not oversold the event in order to pack the venue but create an enjoyable evening for people to hang out with other like minded beer people, try many different keg and cask ales and get served with minimal waiting time. Congratulations. This should be the recipe for further 21st century beer festivals and I hope that this one becomes an annual event. It is a long way to go but well worth the journey.

The first of many Beer Tasting Evenings?

It appears that everyone is at it these days, Beer Tasting Evenings. Well I say everyone, what I mean is that a fellow beer drinking friend and CAMRGB member from Twitter had a beer tasting evening recently and asked the question: It’s Better Down the Pub. Really? I am not going to tackle the same subject but suffice to say there is an amazing array of different beers available to drink at home these days, as most of you are very probably aware, and what better way to try some, all in one go, than to get a load of friends around and get a load of beers in.

Beer Tasting Things

So I thought that I would give a beer tasting evening a go. I did a doodle poll (did I mention I like Doodle polls?) about 2 months ago to find a suitable date for everyone to come try and a variety of different beers for my first (and hopefully not last) beer tasting evening. Although everyone accepted, I have to say that in the end one of them drove, one of them was not drinking and one didn’t like beer! But the other 6 were good to go, plus the driver could drink about 40 mL of each beer (we did the calculations)! I acquired the beers from a number of different sources including a brewery visit, online, a supermarket and someone’s shed! I also got in some fruit beers to try and tempt the non-beer, cider drinker. The total was 16 different beers (including the 3 fruit beers), 29 bottles. This meant that everyone would roughly drink about 3 pints worth of beer. The idea being to give everyone a taste of each beer, not get them drunk enough that after the first few they had no idea what they were drinking.

Beer Tasting Evening 2013

Brewery Name Style ABV %
Man in A Shed Brewery Hoochie Mama #1 Lager Not Sure
XT Brewery XT3 IPA 3.7
Weird Beard Brewery Black Perle Stout 3.8
XT Brewery XT4 Amber Ale 5.0
XT Brewery Roast Cacao Stout 4.5
XT Brewery XT6 Ruby Ale 5.3
Weird Beard Brewery Mariana Trench Pale Ale 5.3
Fyne Ales Sanda Blonde IPA 5.5
Jacobsen Brown Ale Brown Ale 6.0
Fyne Ales Sanda Black Black IPA 5.5
Meantine Brewery London Porter Porter 6.5
Weird Beard Brewery Chinook Brown Beer 7.2
Fyne Ales Zombier Porter 6.9

So with the beer list decided, moving from low ABV beers to higher ABV beers as suggested by a few beer tasting sites, the night was ready. To go with the beers I had prepared some crisps and pretzel snacks and some hotdogs. Sausages always go well with beer. People started arriving in readiness for the tasting to start at 7:30 pm. Beer Tasting NotesAs they arrived, everyone got a glass with their name on it, some tasting notes for each beer and a score sheet (how organised am I?, well that’s the polite way of saying it). We weren’t going to make tasting notes ourselves but I wanted people to mark each beer out of 7 to see if there was an overall favourite for the evening. ‘Would you like a drink?’ I ask as the responsible host, ‘some beer?’ came the overwhelming answer. Which I suppose is what they came for but I wanted to wait until everyone was here to start with the beers!

So with the last person turning up just on time for the start, it was time to get the show on the road. Just as well he turned up on time because, not only were the beer tasters demanding the first beer, the first beer up was his home brewed concoction, Hoochie Mama #1. Being the first drink of the night there was nothing to compare it to, but for a Home Brew Lager it was not bad. It poured very clear and had a malty, lagery taste. It was not people’s least favorite of the night. We started moving slowly through the beers, well a new beer about every 15 minutes to be more exact. I knew that people would want to leave around 11 pm and we had 13 beers to get through! Some were a little slower drinking than others but with a little coaxing (and harassing, well much harassing) they soon got the message. The beers were smelled, sipped, savoured and drunk with reference to their aroma, flavour and taste using as much beery language that could be thrown around the room as possible (amongst other more colourful language to describe the beers, in a good way). Starting with the low ABV beers (Black Perle Stout by Weird Beard is really only 3.8 %? Wow), we made our way through the list of beers from the beginning and before we knew it we had reached the high ABV beers at the end.

The Beer Tasters

So, onto the top 4 beers of the night, here they are: in first place, Roast Cacao by XT Brewery, in second place, Zombier by Fyne Ales, in third place, Chinook by Weird Beard and in fourth place, Sanda Blonde by Fyne Ales. It appears that the favourites seem to be the darker beers amongst my friends. Although I am glad to see Chinook up in the top three as this was one of my favourites.

Unfortunately none of the beers counted towards Beer for the Year but luckily I have stashed away an extra bottle of each of the beers that I really wanted to try, the Weird Beard and Fyne Ales beers. My top beer of the night was Mariana Trench by Weird Beard. So full of hops and tropical fruit goodness. Amazing. I am really looking forward to having a bottle of this all to myself.

Overall I would say the evening was a resounding success (feel free participants to say otherwise, be kind). All the beers were drunk and everyone enthusiastically filled in the scoring sheets. I think I provided a good selection of beers for all to try from pale ales to hoppy pale ales to IPAs to brown ales to porters and stouts. Something for everyone, favourite styles were drunk and new styles and beers were tried. I think, no, I know, that we will be having another beer tasting evening again. One bonus, the non-beer drinking friend now likes beers, albeit fruity beers, but then you have to start somewhere.