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.

Beer number fifty is thrifty

Whenever we go to Tescos for the bi-weekly food shop, I inevitably visit the best aisle that they have, the beer aisle (the biscuit and chocolate aisles coming a close second!). There are actually two aisles for beer. One has lagers from the UK and around the world (they have a pretty good selection of world lagers and beers) and the other aisle is the one I always frequent, the ale (beer) aisle. They always have a good choice of many different beers from around the UK, both local and  further afield. ????????????On this particular occasion, a couple of weeks ago whilst perusing the beer aisle for a few ales, but deciding that because there was no offer on the beers (they can be 3 for £5) I would not be buying any this week (phew!), I found this little gem for £1, Harvest Pale from Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham. I do like this beer, alot. I have had it before in both bottled form and on draught. I can see why it won CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain 2010. This beer had a really nice pale golden yellow colour and a full white head, even when poured out of a bottle. The taste is very fresh with a hoppy, floral, citrus flavour. Overall it is very light and has a well balanced and refreshing after taste. I could easily drink a few of these in one sitting but unfortunately not at the moment, unless I want to drink a lot more beers than the 365 target. I was pretty happy to find this wonderful beer at such a low price. And even better, I could try it as beer number 50.

Rich beer pickings

Beer festivals, the favourite friend, the indispensable companion, the partner in crime, the brilliant ally, the undisputed best mate of 365 beer challenges. You get the point. Where better to sample many different kinds of beer, all in one place, to help increase the beer count in the 365 beer challenge. The first beer festival of 2013 (the first of many, I hope) was attended by myself and Conchi on Friday night. The festival in question was the Winter/Dark Ale Festival at the Turf Tavern. The choice was good, 12 porters, stouts, milds and dark ales to choose from. Now, I am not really keen on dark ales, at least not the real dark ones like porters and stouts but I thought I would give them a go (my friends Carol and Andy would be proud, my parents? not so much). I am partial to a good mild though and this festival had a few. Thanks to rule 6 (the rules I made up for this challenge), I was able to try five beers without producing a hangover on Saturday morning i.e. by having 1/2 pints! I get a hangover fairly easy these days and 5 pints would definitely push me over the edge.

Minotaur DSC06621 Lurcher DSC06623 DSC06626

Favourite beer of the night: Lurcher: I know, a stout! But it was a bit fruity,  a bit chocolaty, well-balanced with hoppy flavour and nice and smooth.

Best Mild of the night: Burton Bridge Mild: Very nice flavour, nice and mild, not too bitter, slight taste of chocolate.

After this first proper foray into the world of dark beers, maybe I am coming round to the thought of sampling and drinking a few more of them. Maybe the next time that I am at a beer festival, I may be more easily persuaded to try a bit more of the dark stuff (Carol and Andy make a note of this info). There is no doubt that a few more beer festivals will be visited this year. I will be frequently keeping an eye on the Oxford CAMRA festival diary for the next one that I can attend.