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Liverpool - the City that Craft Forgot

Update: As this page still receives so many views, I feel I should direct you to my second, more favourable post on the subject, after you have read this one. 


You should attempt to grow up in Manchester with a Liverpudlian mother and extensive family heralding from the Merseyside city. As sacrilegious as many of my Mancunian friends have found it, Liverpool has long been my favourite city. It has a lot of history and character that Manchester was always lacking in my youth. There were several areas to explore. Everything from the engaging design of the cathedrals to the oddity of the dock area made it a much more fascinating citadel than I was accustomed to. But, in my older years, I have struggled to convince my friends that we should go drinking there, as they hide behind their rather terrace-like prejudices.

It is because of this that I have only been around Liverpool’s pubs on a couple of occasions, the main instance being quite a few years back. It included my first visit to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, instantly presaged as my favourite pub interior of all time and one that has yet to be ousted. Last week I enjoyed the chance to revisit and discover a few pubs here and was excited.

I’d done my research prior to going (mainly looking for nice bars which proved difficult) and listed those pubs named on several blogs as the best bets for decent beer. It was with optimism and eagerness that the couple of days in Liverpool started.

The truth about Liverpool is that Ringo Starr was probably right about the place. It hasn’t really developed into anything. Liverpool still has history and still has character, but what was charming to me in 1996 has now become nostalgia and nothing more. The city on a whole seems to love its past too much to have a future. Yes, the Liverpool One area has been well generated and yes the docks have had their attempt to be turned into a swankier pre-theatre area. But in the main it feels like Steven Gerrard will be viewing the same city as Kitty Wilkinson did. There is a reason London’s aristocracy want a faster train service between Manchester and Leeds and not this city.

The same that can be said of Liverpool’s businesses and shopping areas can apply to its pubs. We started with the chance to go in the Philharmonic Dining Rooms and it is an opportunity I never miss. Don’t get me wrong, internally I don’t enjoy sitting and enjoying a pint more anywhere else. And with eight varied real ales on, for a sadly Nicholson’s owned pub, the beer was good. Nothing to complain about here much, though I’d rather see it in independent hands again.

Just down the road is the Fly inthe Loaf, probably the pub I was most anxious to visit. The reason for this was the phrases I’d seen on various blogs about the place. “Best pub in Liverpool – easy,” “Tucked away gem,” “Outstanding choice of beers.” So when I found the pub on a busy road and discovered that inside it is just a vaxpacked Wetherspoons serving Okell’s beers, I was more than disappointed. Don’t misunderstand me; there was nothing wrong with the pub. The bar staff were great and I did have a decent pint of Rooster’s Wild Mule. But the pub itself and its beer selection were just very ordinary for the “best place in the city.”

Later we made our way down to the Ship & Mitre after the compulsory visit to their sister bottle shop Ship ina Bottle. I very much like both places unquestionably and the German range in both is impressive. But both are noticeably devoid of something, and it is a word I hate to use, but its craft. The so called craft UK and US breweries that dominate everywhere in Manchester and Leeds are nowhere to be seen in the Ship & Mitre. In fact, they seem completely absent from Liverpool as a whole. Sure there is Liverpool Craft brewery, and Liverpool Organic brewery brew beers of those sorts, but they are the only presence within these city walls.

Then again, I didn’t exactly walk into every pub in Merseyside, scanning the bar for a key keg pump so I’m hoping some do-gooder is going to storm this post with a list of hundreds of places I could have gone to be wildly impressed by the beer selection. In fact I would welcome that rather than being terribly misguided into places such as the Shipping Forecast again, only to find myself supping Robinson’s Unicorn with a lot of students in the middle of the world’s easiest and least funny pub quiz. I’m just wondering when this “craft revolution” (eurgh – sorry) is going to arrive here. In point of fact, isn’t it strange that, whilst BrewDog try and open a bar in every city in the UK, I’ve not heard mention of one here?

Liverpool is still brilliant to visit with family or partners. But those Manchester raised friends I couldn’t convince to come drinking with me in Merseyside would eventually get here just to ask, “Is this it? Is that what you’ve tried to coax us into for eight years?”

The trip was rounded off and summarised with a quick pint in the Head of Steam in Liverpool Lime Street station. When I was last here in 2011 it had eight real ales on and was in a nice old station room. Now, though the hand pumps remain, only one of the eight beers was actually on (see right) and it happened to be an avoidable Marston’s Pedigree. You could tell this wasn’t a bad night, rather that they had given up with the idea of real ale. Terrible shame. Plus now there is a truly awful smell.  


UPDATE: I have revisited Liverpool since this post and have a subsequent second post to this regarding Liverpool. 

Comments

Tandleman said…
As someone that lived in Liverpool for nine years and I do go back frequently, I have to say this is tosh.

When was the Phil ever independent? It was either Tetley or Walkers for all my time there and PubCo owned ever since.

The Fly in the Loaf the best pub in Liverpool? Sez who? Nobody in their right mind.

The Ship and Mitre should be judged on what it is, not what you wish it to be. It is always jumping and presumably gets by just fine without craft keg. That doesn't make it out of step. It makes it a pub that sells what its customer like and demand. No doubt if demand exists, then they'll do it. That demand isn't someone who comes in once every two years.

The Head of Steam is a superb venue which, no pun intended, has been off the rails since God was a boy. The only surprise is that it is still open. As for finding eight real ales in 2011, are you sure? I doubt it as it has decreased its range slowly over the years and the owners have all but given up on it seemingly.

As for the demise of the city, you know it still seems to me to be as vibrant as it ever was, but of course if you only look for faults, you'll find them. Choosing badly pub wise won't help you either.

Craft keg exists in Liverpool all right. You could have found some a cockstride away from the Phil and as for the lack of a BrewDog, that is for many, a plus.
Sat In A Pub said…
As someone who has frequented Liverpool many times over the years, I have to echo what TM says. I'm not sure where you did your research, but your choice of pubs seems a little outdated (Ship excepted-what TM says) and rather random. Liverpool did have a dip some years ago, but it's currently better than it ever was. Looking at my last write up reminded me of some of the great places there are. I don't know what Brewdog has got to do with anything but they have scouted a Liverpool location if that's of any help.

I agree it's not awash with "craft keg" but so what? Even London is a relatively latecomer to that party. And there is some about. What it does have is some of the best local breweries around and an excellent stable of pubs to sell not only their wares, but to showcase a wide range of beers. It's certainly one of the best places in the UK for a beer crawl.
Mark Johnson said…
I thank you for your comment. As I don't often get to go drinking in Liverpool, this is where I was looking for some direction rather than criticism. I did my research as best I could before going so saying it's out-dated but offering no alternative won't help me on further visits. I'm quite happy for you, or anyone, to cry "Poppycock, you should have gone to x, y and z instead." Then I will be better guided in future. A lot of blogs recommended the Fly in the Loaf for example, but I feel misguided

I couldn't really care less whether Brewdog have a presence or not, but I'd not heard that they'd even considered scouting a location which I found odd so thanks for the info

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