28 August 2017

Liverpool by daylight

I spent a busy couple of days at a work gig in Liverpool last month. Staying in the docks area I just had time to sneak out for a handful of bevvies in the nearby hostelries. I've been to most of the places mentioned here previously, though in several cases not since my first visit back in 2009. However, there was one brand new pub to take a look at.

I suspect that The Dead Crafty Beer Company is a direct result of the BrewDogification of British pubs. It's a small corner bar, high ceilinged and brightly illuminated through tall plate-glass windows. The interior décor runs big on bare brick and stripped wood, for that vaguely shabby Brooklyn speakeasy effect. It all felt very familiar. From a sizeable all-keg offering of beers I'd never heard of there was much to explore.

I began with Berried Alive, from Glen Affric Brewery, just across the Mersey in Birkenhead. I probably should have heeded the warning in the description: "mixed berry lager". There's lots of sticky jam about this, and it really detracts from what I'd say is a perfectly decent 4% ABV pils underneath. It's just about refreshing, but doesn't offer enough to justify the £6/pint (pro rata) asking price.

Just time for one more, so an audition was necessary. How about Tired Eyes by Chapter Brewing? A 5.3% ABV witbier with honey and chamomile sounded intriguing, but a taster revealed it to taste of cinnamon mouthwash. Nope.

So instead I went with Reverberate, by Danish brewer Alefarm, though produced at the Warpigs brewpub in Copenhagen. The beige custard appearance revealed it to be in the New England style, as did the creamy texture. But there's an unpleasant yeast bite in the flavour, coupled with a big alcohol burn (it's only 6.8% ABV) that covers up the good bits of the Citra and Mosaic hops, leaving only the pith. It's a sharp, angular beer that feels rough and unfinished, which this style, despite the emphasis on freshness, should not. There was an extra kick in the teeth when it warmed up a little and began tasting of Camembert as well. I'm no murk-dodger, but this ain't good murk.

Dead Crafty seems to have a fairly high churn on the beer lines, so maybe I just got unlucky with my choices on that particular day. I felt I'd done with the kegged fancy stuff for the evening, however.

Right across the street is the legendary Liverpool boozer The Ship & Mitre, a roomy and busy pub donutted around a central bar bristling with taps of all sorts. The addition of an onsite brewery is new since I was last here, so I needed to try what that had to offer.

To begin, Sublime: a 3.8% ABV golden ale, £1.45 for the half. My pennies counted out and the beer taken back to my seat, I found it a surprisingly heavy offering, a pale gold with the golden syrup weight and sweetness of a medium strong middle-European lager. By way of complexity there's a husky dry sackcloth thing, and some white pepper spice, but it's crying out for some proper hopping. Introduce a wallop of Saaz and it could be a real winner.

I moved up next to the 4.2% ABV bitter Level. I was not expecting the wholesome oaty biscuit flavour from this dark copper job, but I really enjoyed it. It's not at all bitter, but is instead smooth and relaxing, with no loud noises or sharp edges. I had been eyeing up a mild on the bar for later, but this delivered a lot of what good mild does, right down to a light dusting of chocolate. It was all a little disconcerting to begin with, but very comfortable drinking thereafter.

A stout comes next, middle-of-the-road at 4.5% ABV but Silhouette is very distinctive in its flavour, piling in wintery herbs and liquorice. There's a huge roasted bitterness as well, which combines with the greenness to create a roasted courgette or green pepper flavour. It does begin to unravel later on, when the cleanness gets swamped by a marmite-ish autolytic note, one which leaves a lingering savoury film in the mouth. I don't know if that's deliberate or a brewing flaw, but I could have done without it. Still an impressively complex session stout, and a definite step sideways from the usual.

Top of the line is Radiant, another golden ale, this time at 5% ABV, and here's that quality lager effect. The golden syrup is back, with a floral honey complexity and a proper green blast of noble hops. The density, and even some alcohol heat, does make it less drinkable than I'd ideally like, but it's certainly no boring British attempt at aping continental lager in Real Ale form, as too many golden ales tend to be: this one has real character.

And so back to that mild I mentioned. It's Shefford Plum Mild, from sturdy Bedfordshire ale-maker Banks & Taylor. It's a perfect black colour, just turning to ruby at the edges and topped by a thick tan head. The first sip was a shock, and I thought for a moment it was off or infected, but that's just the strongly tannic bitterness of real plums. Yes, the fruit is part of the design but I felt it spoiled my enjoyment of the classic softly-spoken mild underneath. That level of fruiting requires a much bigger beer to carry it, I think.

Just one quickie from the keg selection before I go: Penny Lane pale ale by Mad Hatter Brewery, situated a few blocks north of the pub. The distance is relevant because there's a lot of fresh hop action going on in this: citrus sherbet in the aroma and a flavour which combines lime, fried onion and a proper resinous dankness. Most amazingly of all, it's achieved at just 3.9% ABV but is still well balanced, the texture big and soft, with a gentle effervescence in place of fizz. This is real assertive refreshment and I wished I had the time for a full pint.

The following afternoon's excursion brought me to the Lady of Mann, its sunny courtyard quiet a few minutes after opening time. I opted first for another 3.9%-er, Exit 33's Hopkiss, on cask. It's a clear and bright golden colour, beginning with a mild sweet floral perfume before turning angrily bitter. The sudden clash only happens when it's cold, however, and the two sides melt into each other as it warms, with more soft lavender infusing the whole, while the bitterness confines itself to giving each mouthful a pleasantly sharp sendoff. It took me a moment to twig that this is a classic Yorkshire bitter, and it makes a lot more sense when thought of this way.

Next to it on keg was Thornbridge Lukas, their much-vaunted helles. Half of that then please. It's a very pale yellow with a very slight misting in the glass. I was taken aback by the amount of fruit character: blackberry in particular, right in the foretaste. It calms down after that, showing a classically clean base with a soft and quenching texture, but I think the sweet and bready malt depth that I like in a helles is absent. The paleness should have been a clue, as should the oddly low ABV of 4.2%. It's a good beer, a very decent lager, but not as good as I had been expecting. That's probably my fault.

My final pub dash was down the riverfront to The Baltic Fleet. I was hoping to catch some of their own brews but production is currently on hiatus. As a next-best-thing they only stock draught beers from local breweries, and that inevitably meant something Beatles-themed. So here's Fab Four by Rock the Boat, a 4.4% ABV golden ale using four different UK hops. It's a bit too sweet for my liking, all fruit chews and bubblegum. Although it's smooth, it's not easy drinking and even before I'd finished a half the sickly flavour had beaten me. I needed something with a bit more zip next.

That came in the form of Big Sur from Neptune Brewery. This is an orange-amber pale ale of 4.5% ABV and once again fruity, but more realistically so, showing fresh and juicy peach with melon. There's a rising dryness as well, bringing a deliciously thirst-killing tannic quality to the finish. This is really good English brown bitter given an attractive New World trim and it all works pleasingly well together.

Pubs are of course the best place to go in search of beer, and I had that lesson very much rammed home by the three I consumed in alternative venues. One was at an otherwise lovely steak restaurant in Albert Dock, a Spanish lager called Palax. It looked innocent enough: a very pale yellow with a slight haze. However there's a downright evil plastic taste, riding around on the nasty cooked-corn flavour I associate most with Cruzcampo. It seems to be some sort of "artisan" effort at making bad holiday lager and they've only succeeded in turning it worse. Hard pass.

When I walked up to my hotel I was greeted by the JW Lees truck and hoped the Manchester brewer was dropping off something nice for me. Inside I was massively disappointed to discover that nitrokegged JW Lees Smooth was the full extent of it. Arse. I didn't mean to drink any of it, but one evening's post-dinner socialising led to an inevitable pint of the gloopy muck. In its favour, there was a slight lemony tang which suggests a hop has been allowed near it, but that could equally have been a carelessly discarded scented hand wipe.

And at the airport, where Heineken UK seems to have most of the taps sewn up, Caledonian Coast to Coast. I should have known better; I really should. This kegged pale ale looks a nice bright orange colour. It tastes, however, of musty dust and damp, sickly butterscotch candy and dry chalk. Despite the cheery modern styling it's every inch a bad trad Caledonian beer, laying on marmaladey UK hops but without an ounce of zing or freshness. A travesty, although a fully expected one, in fairness.

A mixed bag, then. Although the general jolliness of the Liverpool pubs does go some way to mitigate the dodgier beers.


  1. Quare Swally12:28 pm

    Was in Liverpool last May and also ventured to Lady of Mann/Thomas Rigby's and Ship and Mitre. I enjoyed Silhouette, different from what I expected. The experience made even better by beating the locals at darts.

    1. Yeah, they still talk about you. Scousers have long memories.

    2. Long memories until they're pissed, then can't remember their own name.