In the run up to the event, there were murmurings circulating that there may be some beer festival fatigue setting in amongst the populous and that the beer list didn't quite look as exciting as it could have been. The murmurings were ushered away some weeks before the event with the announcement of some excellent and very solid breweries joining the bill at the Constellation's held festival. There were some pretty big talking points and notable things about this Expo; I will get to each of them individually, because I know how much people love a list, this will go neatly alongside a second list of my top ten (I struggled to keep it down to only ten...) beers from the event too.
Suffice to say, at the end of the event, I personally (along with the rest of the Collective bar members and especially our hosts in the Expo Team) was exhausted and couldn't even contemplate putting the thoughts and feelings into an article for your consumption... not even a week later, so perhaps there is a bit of lag time here, but it's often better to ruminate than to make snap decisions on things which benefit from reflection. So, those notable things...
It was announced relatively shortly before the Expo that they would be releasing an extra 100 or so tickets for the Saturday sessions to cope with demand and the expansion of the Expo site was set. Spilling out onto the top end of Greenland Street (the northern end is already blocked off by bollards and pavement from the rest of the road network), this gave extra space for row of another set of bars, taken for a ten-tap rotational and by Brewdog, Northern Monk, Lines and Gipsy Hill (along with Wild Beer, as covered below).
This expansion added some more space to allow Expo-goers some elbow room, places to sit and stretch their legs and given the weather (again, below) this was exceedingly welcome. However, there was the feeling that this possibly detracted from the bars inside experiencing some additional attention and atmosphere. Hopefully next year, this expansion will be retained or perhaps event added to again!
2. Wild Beer Company's Massive Container
Having spent a couple of hours working with Andy, Theo, Theresa and a lovely energetic volunteer called Anna, the Wild Beer Container was a bit of a feature for the Expo. Piecing together various conversations with people, it wasn't particularly cheap to get it to Liverpool from their Somerset base, but it was truly welcomed.
Slinging out beers left, right and centre was the order of the day, not to mention how many Gin and Tonics were shifted in the sunshine (using Wild Beer's own Sleeping Lemons Gin), it was good fun, if a little exhausting. One minor criticism (from a servers point of view) was the fobbing (for the uninitiated, foaming from the tap) of the beers, which made serving a bit of a slow process from time to time with certain beers.
I really hope to see the container present again next Expo.
3. The presence of a large number of New England/East Coast Murky IPAs
Rather than dredge up an argument that has been fermenting across the Atlantic in the United States (no pub intended) over whether East Coast/New England IPA is actually a style or not, the fact that so many brewers are now aping what (apparently) Alchemist started with their Heady Topper is not surprising given the amount of fruit and ease of drinking that these beers impart. There were a number of beers brewed to this style at the Expo this year, with the likes of Ad Hop, Lervig, Wild Beer, Top Rope and Black Lodge all putting these beers out over the course of the event.
The best thing about it was that they were all discernibly different from one another, some more savoury in the finish, some juicier, some cleaner as less residual. It was good to see a number of beers based around one 'style' given so many levels to enjoy and not just make a beer based on throwing in as many aroma hops as physically possible.
4. The continuing dominance of Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts
Judging by the enthusiasm with which some of the higher abv beers were received over the course of the Expo (admittedly, including by myself), there is still an appreciation for the style even when the weather is hotting up and the beers themselves offer huge leaps in quality and complexity to the enthusiast.
AB22, 3 Bean Stout, Parabola and the Lord Smog Almighty all made some of the people I chatted to very, very excited about what was in their glass. Barrel aging of bigger, darker beers has been around for a few years now, but the push to get more complexity, smoother textures and more subtle structured beers is continuing judging by the reception and indeed, the number of these 'bigger beers' that were tapped. Anecdotally (and yes, I accept this is not the be all and end all for a study!), it seems most people's top 5 beers from the Expo this year would probably contain one if not two to three of this style.
5. The need for more food...
A bit of an issue judging by the grumbling from both Expo-goers and volunteers; two food stalls wasn't really enough given the queues and minor chaos around the stalls from Friday to Saturday evening. Though the food in the main was good, there were insufficient outlets to enable people to eat without disruptive queuing (especially for volunteers) taking anywhere between 15 and 40 minutes in some cases.
One big loss this year was the absence of any beer snacks (Kumar... and your Karkli where were you?!), which hopefully is something that can be remedied in time for future iterations of the Expo.
6. The weather played its part
It was hot, it was sunny (aside from really weird 30 second shower on the Friday) and it helped the beers fly out to people; thirst quenchers went out when the Expo sessions kicked off, with people becoming more adventurous as they wore on. Nearly perfect weather (I prefer it to be a little cooler, plus helps keep the beers cooler for serving).
The Expo always throws a curveball or two my way in terms of new breweries that I haven't heard of and beers I am yet to try. Last year, London Beer Factory rocked up at the Expo with their dispensing taxi, which was fun - their beers were actually pretty handy too. This year, the presence of Mondo Brewing and Lines was a nice addition and gave me a chance to try out some gear from breweries I had yet to read about, try their beers and have a chat with. Sadly, I didn't get round to having much interaction with Lines, but the presence of Battersea's Mondo Brewing Company was most welcome and they had some excellent brews, not least their session IPA, Little Victories, their DIPA (Sitting Bull) and the Blueberry Wit beer.
Other first timers that attended, albeit more established ones, in North Brewing and Gipsy Hill provided a few talking points over the weekend too, with the latter covered a bit further down in my top ten!
Lastly on this point, I would be remiss to leave out the growth of the local scene in Liverpool, with more local breweries represented than ever before at the Expo. Neptune and Chapter added to things with their own bars, along with established Expo mainstays like Black Lodge, Ad Hop and Liverpool Craft (Love Lane), whilst some other local breweries banded together under the Liverpool Beer Collective to host a bar stocked full with local brews. Great work from 3 Potts, Connoisseur Ales, Glen Affric, Melwood Beer and Top Rope over the course of the weekend! I think we can all expect things to push on a fair bit in the next twelve months from these local brewers.
8. Beery Afterparties
Two main bars took the party on into the wee hours. Black Lodge Brewery was the official after party location, with Tap Takeovers on each night from Thursday to Saturday (one each from Beavertown, Firestone Walker and Kernel) at the brewery and tap - brewers from the Expo were even spotted getting behind the turntables and inciting dance riots (Dave from Wylam, I am looking at you).
Dead Crafty also hosted a number of people, as they did last year, taking many Expo goers later on into the night with a number of beers from their week's festivities (hosting launches of Fourpure Juicebox and quiz, a Hawkshead Tap Takeover and a Founders loves Left Hand event). A surprise tap takeover was dropped on the premises from Sierra Nevada on the Friday, with a keg of Hoptimum (triple IPA) making its way out of the taps very, very quickly!
Next year has a lot to live up to for post-expo exploits.
I did actually speak to a few people and try to see what their impressions of the Craft Beer Expo were after a period of reflection, luckily I did get some words back from a few people and this is what they thought;
Richard Gormley, Liverpool Round Table:
"The atmosphere and the unique venue and location. A bit different than the norm. I think the good weather helped too. It would have been a different experience if it was raining! There was a great selection of beers and other drinks to try out. We all tried something different and were spoilt for choice. The pricing isn’t too bad either. Not sure what could be improved. Would live music go down well? Different styles of music playing?
I must admit I am terrible at remembering the names of the beers especially after the number we consumed but the lads did enjoy visiting the Love Lane bar and the Liverpool Beer Collective bar in the outdoor area. I did enjoy the 3 Potts Short Circuit kiwi beer and the Melwood Marmalade Skies; I seem to be going through a fruity beer phase at the moment!
I thought the event was ran really well. There was a relaxed feel to the whole event with everyone enjoying themselves. I will be back for more next time!"
Emma C'Ailceta and Andrew Crawford, Expo goers:
"We had quite few beers from the outside area, as the weather was amazing. There was so much choice, we just didn't get round to trying as much as we would have liked, but had a few from Brewdog and from Love Lane, there was also a mango beer which totally blew us away!
A few notes on the programme would have possibly been helpful in making our selections and navigating the Expo, but the atmosphere was brilliant and good natured for our session on Saturday day."
Joe Rimmer, Liverpool Echo and Londis Penny Lane:
"The Liverpool Craft Beer Expo was probably at its very best this year. Aided by the weather, the Saturday evening slot was great fun. As always, time seems to fly by so quickly, but isn't that the way when you're having fun. It was great to see the Expo extended further into the street, and I can only hope that it creeps further and further.. Some beer highlights were Chapter's collab with Fourpure,a celery sour. Couldn't quite get enough of that one. Fantastic to see Lervig there, a personal favourite of mine and Top Rope continue to make some cracking beers too.
In terms of what could be better, maybe some more food options at better prices, wouldn't go amiss. Perhaps a little more music. Oh and less of the Prosecco. It's a Beer Expo!"
10. Mondo Brewing - Global Heresy v2
A blood orange saison, brewed in collaboration with Heretic Brewing from California. This was one of the first beers I managed to get my tastebuds around at the Expo and it stuck in my mind, so much so that a repeat taster was needed. Another refreshing saison that made its mark with grassy herbal notes, a lightly peppery finish and quite a bit of rich citrus along with sour and refreshing hints at the edges. There was something very satisfying about this beer, again, like many of the other top ten, there was possibly a sense of place for it at this year's Expo.
9. Beavertown - Kneadless Violence
A 1.9% strength Kvass brewed from a sourdough culture yeast and infused with fennel, caraway and lemon zest, this remarkably refreshing brew is part of the Tempus Project (in collaboration with 35 bakery for wasted London). Loads of citrus on the nose, a quite complex background in the finish and a sour edge make something which raised quite a few eyebrows at the Expo. A 200 year old sourdough culture is not to be messed with lightly!
8. Blackjack Brewery - Bretted Full House DIPA
A highly unusual beer here in the flavour, having tasted it initially blind (I wasn't told what it was before the sniff and taste) I thought it might have been a cider or perry, given how much character was similar to a wine (though in my defence, I did have rather a lot else to drink too beforehand!). The aromas and flavours are very citrus driven, but the mouthfeel was pretty heavy and residual along with a very wine-esque dry finish. Complex and really rewarding. Clever stuff and great use of a brettanomyces yeast, aging in red wine barrels and generous hopping.
7. Wylam - Sticky Bud DIPA
Back in the Expo top ten again, Wylam make a habit of making some brilliant beers that make their way onto the taps once at a year at Constellations. This hefty double IPA is brewed using similar materials as the Magic Rock tall boys that have been doing the rounds recently, using the T90 Lupulin powder blend, but with having the back bone malt bill to stand up and make this beer really work in balance. There's loads of fruit and loads of depth and it's all a bit too easy to drink in the sunshine despite the 8.7% strength.
Another big and juicy 6.3% New England IPA, brewed with Azacca, Mosaic and Simcoe, Perler for Svin is a cloudy orange brew with loads of tropical fruit present in the aroma and the taste. As with many of the other pales in this top ten, it was almost perfect for the conditions at the Expo; fruity, light and only lightly residual, it was a great refreshing hop-loaded IPA without too much of a coating character.
5. Wild Beer Company - Fixer
An infinitely drinkable New England IPA from Wild Beer; loads of fruit, heady tropical and juicy aromas and a lovely mouthfeel to give something which was again, perfect for the weather and the occasion and a lovely balance. I found myself drawn to the tap on a few occasions, especially when giving Wild Beer a hand on their bar. With a strength of 4.5%, it meant that it wasn't wiping you out in one or two drinks either! Solid and enjoyable work once again from the Somerset outfit.
4. Chapter Brewing vs. Fourpure - Roadside Picnic
A 4.3% celery sour beer, which on the face of it sounds like quite a few people's worst nightmare. Bare with me though; this was probably the biggest surprise of the weekend, since the premise sounds quirky enough and despite the talent for such a new brewery and the unquestionable quality from Fourpure, this really was an excellent collaboration brew (as for me, around 7/10 are usually below expectation). Refreshing, tart and with a delightful savoury tang, this was absolutely spot on for the weather and the event. Bravo guys, bravo. When are the cans coming out?
3. Lervig - 3 Bean Stout
A big, big stout with unbelievable depth and structure, the 3 bean stout is brewed with cocoa, Tonka bean and vanilla present and it tells, especially when used in tandem with a very competent malt bill. Expect massive amounts of chocolate, spice and coffee in the aroma, leading through to a silky and hefty body with a very pleasing finish. Incredible and a beer revisited by many, despite the strength (13%), the hefty token tax and the warm weather.
A thick and very rewarding 8% Double IPA collaboration brew laced with oats and loads of late addition stateside grown hops gives something of one is frequently called a 'juicy banger' by many. What I experienced was something remarkably enjoyable to drink, having covered many bases of refreshment, good structure and complexity. The tidings that this beer is available in bottles fills me with glee if I am totally honest!
1. Firestone Walker - Parabola
A beast (14.5% - wow) of a Russian Imperial stout full of coffee, chocolate, vanilla and many other elements, Parabola is an impossibly dark proposition and frequently rated amongst the best beers on the planet. It's easy to see why with the 2017 edition; aged for 12 months in Heaven Hill barrels it has a depth that is often unmatched and despite the big alcohol content and sharper notes in the stout the body remains tempered by silk and satin, it has a superb all round character from the aroma, right through the structure of the beer. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
In summation, it was great fun once again, with some things to perhaps rectify, but a lot to enjoy and therefore a lot to probably look forward to for the sixth edition of the Expo next year.
Until next time,