From the first daunting moment of Thursday evening stepping into a transformed Constellations on Greenland Street of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, there was almost a sensory overload of what to go looking for and a slight panic adjusting to the layout; much more like a rabbit warren compared to the open nature of the previous events at Camp and Furnace. This took a little adjustment, but the event seemed much better for it. A kid in a sweet shop analogy really doesn’t quite cut it, when considering that feeling of getting started at a festival and there are so many new breweries’ beers to try.
As Thursday’s trade session departed for the evening’s formal proceedings, I arrived and managed to grab tickets and a quick Brew By Numbers IPA before I was grabbed by the guys from newcomers Red Star Brewery (who you will be hearing about in a upcoming article later this summer) whose enthusiasm for the event and having one of their beers on was highly infectious. A few drinks later, including their own excellent English strong ale, Partisan, and I found myself being introduced by Glen and Ian to some other Festival newcomers in Wylam Brewery from Newcastle. Sadly, their beers haven’t seemed to have made it this far south and west to date; having been in operation for 15 years, this family brewery has some serious brewing talent and a repertoire of some note. A conversation with Dave Stone garners me with the information that following a 4.5-barrel expansion to 9 in 2002, the brewery having two pubs and Golden Tankard being a best-seller for them, they are now looking in 2015 to expand up to a 30-barrel operation, meaning their beer will be seen further afield in the future.
Here’s a pretty proud moment for me… Siam Legend was also present at this Festival and those who follow me or follow Liverpool Craft Brewery on social media may have seen a bit of fuss made about this beer. In the weeks running up to the Expo, I was kindly invited into the brewery to work with Terry and Joe Murphy to devise a small batch brew specifically for the event. After a bit of thinking (admittedly, this isn’t the first time I have been invited to work on a collaboration beer, thus have stored up a few ideas!) I decided to plump for something pretty close to my culinary heart by drawing from Thai aromatic ingredients. I’ve seen on Uptappd (for those who’ve not heard of it, it is a mobile phone application for beerspotters) a few guesses at what was in the beer by way of adjuncts, but they are all pretty much incorrect. This heat-building Thai-PA was created using some basic British ingredients and a bit of ingenuity on Joe’s part for getting the aromatic side boosted. I am massively glad for it being kegged too, as the carbonation lifted the beer that little bit more and allowed the acidity to punch a little harder. It worked for me, but I think some people weren’t quite into the combination as others, though I was very pleased with the enthusiastic responses.
The event may have seen a few of the organisers, stewards and the odd volunteer looking a bit foxed or bewildered and rushing around, but generally it seemed very well organised; relatively low queuing times, enough room to move around between the bars and well versed volunteering team able to keep a constant supply of the beers going. The session lengths were also probably just about right; five and a half hours is plenty of time to pick up enough from each bar without feeling rushed or like you really must stay for another couple of drinks.
Much has been made about the pricing of certain beer festivals around the UK, with some complaining about the cost of drinks and others about the door tax to attend these events. The pricing at the Expo was actually pretty fair, with £10 vouchers stretching to a few drinks and each priced between 3 and 8 (though 7 and 8 beers were rare) and the door tax also coming it at £10. Broken down, this translates into 3 tokens (enough for one of a few lower abv session beers), festival glass (these tulips are usually a few quid, between £3 and £4 for one), covering paid staff, paying for various insurances and events fees and also for the venue hire. It's not a bad deal all in all.
Not everything was perfect though, but you're not going to please everyone with an event like this; for me there could have been a bit more indoor seating (though this really wasn't possible due to space restrictions) and the Expo programme was far less informative than the previous year's giant effort. An attempt to list the beers would have been welcome, though understandably difficult as not all the beers are available simultaneously throughout the weekend. As it was, people were restricted to wandering to a bar to check if a beer was available or checking the giant lists in the foyer to see what had been dispatched by festival punters.
1. Dent De Lion – Kubla Brewery
A superb dandelion (which translates into French as Lion’s Tooth) saison from newcomers, Kubla, based in Somerset. This sold out pretty quickly from keg bar number 3 and it was easy to see why. Flavoursome, refreshing, light and balanced, Dent De Lion is pretty much the whole package.
2. Yellowbelly – Buxton Brewery
An enigma of a beer, which at 10% is potent, dark as the night, oily and incredibly heady on the nose. Available from the cask bar, it ran dry very quickly at the festival. The depth of aroma and flavour is quite something to behold, not least because it imparts an incredible peanut butter character without using any peanuts, so I am told.
3. Jakehead IPA – Wylam Brewery
Apparently this is an invigorating tonic, maybe, but it certainly is a superb IPA and has picked up awards at SIBA to boot. The edge to this IPA was just a bit different to a lot of other IPAs tried lately, though I am not entirely able to pinpoint why. There is a lot going on in this beer, lots of fruit, caramel, pine and other stalwart notes from an IPA base, but the complete package stands out somehow.
4. Hoptart – Fourpure Brewing Company
Another saison and Hoptart is something of a move away from the fairly safe path usually seen with Fourpure (pales/stouts/brown ales). They really need to push in this direction more often, the gently acerbic nature along with an overtly fruity and sour finish makes a great sorbet of a beer which is very drinkable.
5. Orange Crush – Amager Bryghus
An American IPA brewed in collaboration with Cigar City, this has tonnes of juicy hop character and a bit more depth provided by the late addition of citrus (probably orange?) peel to the brew. Only very slightly chewy, gently resinous and just a bit different from a lot of IPAs going around. I even wrote this without wedging an REM joke, although I was out of time. Dammit.
6. Earl Phantom – Beavertown
A serious sour ale with a lemon and bergamot hit. A very acidic beer, which works, like the hoptart as a brilliant sorbet beer and palate cleanser. Very drinkable and almost scarily like traditional lemonade making this a summer beer in the extreme.
7. Les Saisonnier – Wylam Brewery
A lemon balm and rosemary saison, which I happily recommended to a few people at the festival. There was something very special about this saison, the depth of flavour, the aromatics and the balance of acidic and fruit made it a stand out performer; although others enjoyed it, they weren’t quite as gripped as I was. Lemon drizzle with a delightful finish. More please.
8. Cascade – Wylam Brewery
A superb Cascade hopped ale and at 4.1% something that isn’t too strong to drink a little more. Working brilliantly out of keg, there was a great amount of flavour present from such a simple beer; delicate brush strokes throughout of pine, fruit both tropical and citrus, crisp dry finish and a bit of the floral. Solid, drinkable and moreish.
9. Liquorice Lady w/ Raspberry infusion – Ad Hop Brewing Company
A beer with deep liquorice character (I wrote about its release last year) now with the added punch of raspberries, meaning a silky, oily mouthfeel and a lot of red berry character thrown into the mix for your palate. This one is very rounded and very complex, the raspberries were a clever yet also straightforward twist on this porter.
10. Sin City IPA – Summer Wine Brewery
Another great IPA from Summer Wine, who have a habit of producing very good bottled and kegged IPAs. This is no different, though at 7.2% there’s a bit more punch than with their other IPA repertoire; oily, chocolate orange, spice and some bitter pine in there make it a slightly different proposition. The mouthfeel was also very rich and backed up that this is a beer not to be enjoy too quickly.
I could provide a rundown of up to 20 beers, but the line has to be drawn and this makes things manageable! There were a few brews that were not quite up to scratch along some of the lines, but in the main, there was nothing particularly awful, it’s very hard not to see how good the beer was and how well it was generally kept (the only reservations came from some of the cask beers possibly feeling a bit sorry for themselves towards the end of the festival). An eye catching fact from the top ten above is the inclusion of 3 different beers from the Wylam Brewery, but credit where it is due, they really do deserve to be there.
Thankyous must go to Terry and Paul from Liverpool Craft Brewery and especially to Joe Murphy for allowing me to brew with him before the event and also everyone who volunteered or organised the event and those who supported and provided feedback on the collaboration brew. A truly memorable event all round!