Luckily, the last two Bank Holiday weekends in May of 2013 have been gloriously bright affairs. That type of weather definitely lends itself to sitting out with friends in a Beer garden, having a picnic and a few cold drinks in the park with the family or even better, attending a beer festival. There have been a few of late and there are a few more to come in Liverpool over the next few months.
I spent the first May bank holiday at the Eagle and Child beer festival in Bispham Green (near Parbold/Mawdelsey). Typically, this festival experiences excellent dry weather and is generally superbly run and friendly affair. The addition of hand pumps to a few of the cask ales on offer this year is a definite improvement and a step upward from the usual high standards in the grounds of the pub owned by the Ainscoughs (of Racquet Club fame).
The most recent Bank Holiday weekend was also spent investigating a slightly smaller scale beer festival, this time by the banks of the River Mersey in Otterspool at the Otter’s Café at Active Adventures.
Having ventured down on the Saturday and Sunday, the clientele was mixed to say the least, with a market having brought some people out and the remainder either those wandering along the promenade for a walk and an ice cream or those specifically for the beer festival. There was even room for a Hen do oddly enough! Rather than a pub or association running this event, the crowds were treated to some local brews organised by the Mad Hatter Brewing Company.
The Mad Hatters Brewing Company is the newest addition to Liverpool’s ever-increasing craft beer and real ale scene with Head Brewer Gaz and partner in crime Sue, initially taking things a little more seriously in 2007. With the burgeoning interest in Liverpool (as with the rest of the UK) in food and more pertinently, drink, driving the demand for fashionable food and beers with character, there is certainly room. The latter of these demanded items is something that the Mad Hatter is able to provide in abundance. This is more than evident, with some 16 different styles of beer lined up at the brewery, perhaps more once confidence has grown – and a range of brewing techniques not generally used in the UK. Some departure from academia up in Lancaster, I am sure most would agree, but a brave and highly welcome decision for a lot of us.
The undoubted stars of the show at this festival were the beers on offer from the Mad Hatter Brewery. The unusually potent ales conceived by the Mad Hatter himself were present in fridges, which were stocked full as to be curiouser and curiouser; leporine artwork by Emily Warren of Stealthy Rabbit adorning a variety of exciting bottles promising much. Emily's thoughts are given in a bit more detail than I can divulge right now over on: [http://thestealthyrabbit.blogspot.co.uk/].
Over the course of the weekend, I made it my duty to try and characterise as much of the wonderland made real by the brewery as possible. However, with an ABV of usually over 7%, care must be taken – an easy task it was not!! The brewery was keen to provide something as an alternative to the usual session beers on the market, offering viable alternatives for food pairings to the usual fallback of a bottle of wine.
Here are a few of the tasting notes I made whilst I was able to stave off falling down the rabbit hole:
1. Burly Blonde:
This Belgian style beer was remarkably fruity, in a similar vein to some German Weissbiers; banana aromas are prevalent above a rather smokey base and a surprising length. The tartness of the beer, viscosity (just watch those bubbles try to force their way out at the top of the beer!) and hints of cloves provide a rather interesting package. Just be careful about mentioning the artwork, there was some mild consternation on Twitter before it’s release!
2. Imperial IPA:
Using Simcoe hops, the pine notes in this beer are deeply embedded and very obvious, at 7.3% it packs quite a punch and has quite a sharp edge with some good acidity. Very, very hoppy!
4. Imperial Porter:
A scarily powerful 11% is not the norm for English beers, although rather more commonplace in Belgium. The Imperial Porter is a remarkably complex and deep brew, imparting chocolate and coffee flavours over a slight but nonetheless robust smokiness. There is a heavy chewiness in this porter, the body is excellent and should be savoured with care (i.e. don’t try to drink 5 bottles in one sitting….).
5. Drink Me Weizenbock
Given to me upon the insistence of Sue as one of her favourites, Weizenbock and Dunkel beers are not in my usual field of preference. I was definitely glad I gave this one a chance though. Liquorice, dried fruit and caramel flavours with a top end sherbet-sweet taste and light effervescence pervade through this beer of substance. The length was good and the body wasn’t too strong. I think this might work with some sticky toffee pudding maybe?
7. Rhubarb and Rosehip Wit
A lighter brew in the context of its brothers and sisters, this beer was very interesting. Deeply fruity and slightly sweet by comparison, but still with a pleasant and clean fresh-sourness and acidic punch, the floral aromas of roses and rhubarb are reminiscent of an English garden without being twee or attacked by insects! The colour is a light blonde with a slight cloudiness and pleasant white head adding texture.
That’s your lot for what magnificence I tried on offer at the Beer Festival, but your extra reading after this blog is to go and check out the Mad Hatter Brewing Company website (conveniently located here: [http://madhatbrew.co.uk/] and for more up to date information, search facebook for Mad Hatter Brewing Company, or follow them on twitter, @MadHatBrew] with a run down of their beers and details should you need to contact them. Their beers will be available from the following outlets:
Beers are available in Liverpool from:
Stamps Too, (CAMRA pub of the year, Liverpool)
The Dispensary, Renshaw St
The Ship and Mitre
And also soon from:
23 Club, below the Clove Hitch
Pod, Allerton Road
Pie & Ale, Northern Quarter,
The Port St Beer House, Northern Quarter
And also soon from:
Joshua Brooks, Oxford Road
The Magnet, Stockport (CAMRA pub of the year, Greater Manchester)
Unfortunately, you can’t buy from the Brewery direct at the moment, so you’ll have to go hunt down these bad boys from one of the outlets above if you’re feeling impatient!!
A tip of the (mad) hat should also go to the guys down at the Otters Café for putting on the mini market and beer festival. They have an aerial assault course in the vein of Go Ape! there alongside a maze and the café and lovely riverside views. The coffee and cakes is pretty good there too! Full details of the venue are just a click away: [http://www.activeadventuresliverpool.co.uk/].
Until next time guys, I’ll see you through the looking glass!