I went to the Liverpool Beer Festival the other day, a curious gem in the city’s cultural diary and one that particularly appeals to me.
Attendance by men who are not pot-bellied is rare, but as my particular group were mostly well on the way or already there, that didn’t pose too much of a problem.
For the beer festival virgin, activity revolves around staring at a booklet detailing the hundreds of beers available and making appreciative noises of the latest candidate.
A beer festival is the only place you’ll attempt to eat an entire pork pie that would feed five; the only place where men queue for the toilet; and, in this case, the only place where you get steaming drunk in a church.
The crypt is a particularly versatile venue – I’ve attended exhibitions, piss-ups and exams there – and it’s a stunning one too, when the likely alternative for an event of its size is an awful exhibition centre.
It’s also fitting for a group of people that take their devotion to ale with something approaching religious zealotry. The idea of smooth flow or even lager would not go down well ere, you feel.
If I have a complaint it’s that the four-hour windows are too short. While this may prevent the whole thing descending into drunken lunacy, it does rather encourage very rapid consumption of beer, as does the vertical drinking that most are forced into by the lack of seating.
I got through ten half pints in about three hours, about four of which were rather chugged down in the last 30 minutes.
It’s always wise to approach a beer festival with a plan, even if it’s as simple as starting with the lighter stuff before moving onto the heavier porters and stouts. I had meant to keep a log of my thoughts on the day, but this soon descended into some near-illegible scribbles.
From what I can make out, this is what I though of the beers at the time:
• Great Heck YPA – summery with a pleasing sharpness
• Dark Star Brewing Hophead – generic summer ale
• Umbel ale – herby
• Mordue Millennium Bridge – innocuous
• Orkney Red MacGregor – Strongarm
• Penpont St Nonna’s – malty
• Purity Pure Ubu – nice red bitterness
• Potton Village Bike – decent red bitter
• Dark Star Espresso – good malty deep porter
• Hambleton Nightmare Stout – good deep stout
What this tells us, more than anything else, is that a career as an ale correspondent may have to wait. The truth is I rarely come across a real ale I don’t like and after the first two or three it’s increasingly difficult to discern the subtleties between one and the next, especially after scarfing down half a pork pie.
What’s also evident, even from the small range I tried on the day, is that naming a beer is a rare skill. In fact scanning the brochures for the more amusing names is one the key activities of a beer festival.
My favourites from this year include: Abbeydale’s Black Mass, Allendale’s Curlew’s Return, Bank Top’s Flat Cap, Best Mate’s Vicar’s Daughter, Grindleton’s Farley’s Dusk, Kelham Island’s pale Rider, Mordue’s The Ponytail, Sadler’s Stumbling Badger, Salamander’s Waxing Gibbous, Saltaire’s Rye Smile, Three B’s Doff Cocker and Whalebone’s Neck Oil.
Some beers give you a clue as to what they’re likely to taste like (Ginger Marble), what they’re likely to do to you (Giggle Juice) and what you’re likely to smell like afterwards (Old Tom). If you can’t take your ale it’s usually a good idea to steer clear of any beer whose name suggest some kind of threat, state of advanced intoxication or otherwise nightmarish imagery.
After the festival, and some beer chat with the Baltic Fleet’s brewers and a man with an enormous beard – something that should be on every beer festival’s things-to-see –we went to old haunt the Augustus John’s. The service was so useless and rude, however, that we retired to the Oxford – a pub that’s more like someone’s front room.
The night continued for some time for me, ensuring that the after-effects lasted long into the following day.
I urge you to go to a beer festival, and support your local brewer. You’ll find it hard to drink the mass-produced piss that turns up in most pubs ever again.