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LIVERPOOL - the City that Craft Beer Forgot Part II (and found...)

After visiting Liverpool, one of my favourite cities, in February this year, and not impressing people with my rather hasty but honest verdict on the city’s lack of craft beer, I jumped at the chance to return last week and hoped to come out with a more attractive judgement.

A couple of friends and I visited on a day out, with neither of them having been drinking in the city before. It was left to me – or rather, I volunteered – to plan the day’s itinerary and places to visit. I had a couple of new or unvisited places in mind myself, but knew it would be unfair to miss out on some of the city’s famous gems. With around 10-12 hours in which to fit in an entire city, I opted to concentrate on the famous Georgian Quarter and see if we had time for the Dale Street end later on.  

We planned to arrive in the city for around 11a.m. just in time to walk up Mount Pleasant to the new-on-me, though I believe it has been opened three years, Clove Hitch on Hope Street for breakfast. Nestled and blended into the Georgian Terraces this lovely bar come dining room come club come gallery did not disappoint . In fact, the day peaked at it’s very beginning for me. This was the kind of bar I felt was sorely lacking from the city visit earlier in the year. Three Casks were accompanied by eight Kegs – four of which housed beers from the renowned Brewfist brewery of Italy. Being the first of the day, I stayed sensible and plumped for a Liverpool Craft Hop Beast at 4%. It turned out to be a lovely accompaniment to the Pancakes with bacon I opted to have for breakfast. The service, clean décor, interesting instrumental decorations and sign in the toilets about the bucket all made for a lovely experience I was reluctant to end. After much deliberation, we grudgingly decided it best to take in somewhere else.

We’d noticed that just behind Clove Hitch on Arrad Street there was Liverpool’s The Font Bar. There are three Font Bars in the Manchester area and all are now serving a very impressive beer selection. The city centre one near Oxford Road has certainly cleaned up its student image in the last year. With this in mind, I was keen to try the Liverpool one. Unfortunately, this is very much still a student bar. There were three cask ales, no guest kegs and nothing interesting in the fridges. Cask included Slater’s much maligned Top Totty, though my Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale was well kept. The ex-student’s in us rather enjoyed the ambience, though we were disappointed the SNES hooked up to Street Fighter II was not working. Though it felt like a Font Bar, the beer selection feels thirty miles away from its Manchester counterparts.

The day picked up with a visit to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms; a first visit for my mates. They were suitably impressed by the ornate surroundings and I can never tire of the interior either. My Liverpool Organic 24 Carat was still kept well. We then moved on to our furthest spot – Peter Kavanagh’s. Found once more amongst the rows of Georgian terraces, this is a pub filled with more character than a Beano issue. A pub filled with snugs, steps and as many old wireless’ attached to the ceiling as they can find, daylight seems to struggle to penetrate the windows. This would be my kind of pub… if we hadn’t been asked to move as soon as we sat down as the area we had entered “wasn’t open.” Why isn’t it open? “I haven’t turned the lights on yet.” We didn’t complain that it was light enough or just ask the more obvious question as to why the lights weren’t on. We just moved away wondering if our attire, accents or friendly attitude has caused this brashness to us. A very good pub ruined.

Our next three stops were all in close proximity. The Caledonia was a bit of a let down. A soulless feeling pub, despite two pianos, two adorable dogs and a few casks. My Melwood Knowsley Blonde was a bit insipid which matched the pub décor nicely. I liked the Belvedere Arms, with its snugs, glass panels and packed bar area. Modern beers from Liverpool Organic, of which my Pale Ale was very good, gave a good contrast to a very old school feeling local. Finally in this trio, the famous Ye Cracke, which was another revisit for me. The pub hasn’t changed but on this occasion felt like more of a novelty. We were the only patrons under the age of 60 and were treated so by the bar staff. We managed to get into the always pleasant War Office room, though I find sitting anywhere else in the pub trying. My George Wright Green Bullet also tasted much different to how I’m sure the brewer intended. Three OK stop-offs on a tour of Liverpool but none felt like “must visits.”

After some lunch come dinner, we walked past the Pilgrim and Fly in the Loaf, down Hardman Street looking for the Roscoe Head. We accidentally passed it and ended at the Dispensary, another pub on my list. This pub was fairly busy and the drink’s choices extensive. I opted for a delicious Oakham Citra, whilst both my friends had a guest Keg from the Rat Brewery (the name eludes me but it was delicious.) We enjoyed our brief stay, the interior and the drinks. I was therefore rather shocked to read the comments on TripAdvisor after coming home about the irate landlord. It seems we got lucky last Friday because this was one of my favourite places of the day and has one of the best beer ranges in the city.

We walked from here back to the Roscoe Head which was a rather forgettable experience. I thought this pub was one of the more famous in the city? This would have fitted in neatly with my last blog post about Liverpool. And my Weetwood Ales Cheshire Cat wasn’t exciting.

At this point we were surprised to find we had visited all nine pubs I’d listed in the Georgian Quarter and it had only just gone 6pm. With plenty of time we began walking towards the city centre. On the way we passed a small and near empty bar that had the BrewDog logo outside the window and the word BEER sprawled across. It turns out this is a comfortable little bar known as the Inn Beer Emporium. The place serves eight kegs as well as a few bottles. None of them are overly exciting at present, but my Punk IPA was in good condition, as was the Point Brewery’s Black. It had cosy sofas, booths and a screen for sports. Hopefully this will turn into something good.

After passing by the Ship in a Bottle and finding it sadly shut (what kind of beer shop shuts at 6pm on a Friday?) we moved onto pubs around Dale Street. This is where my memory of the evening starts to become a little hazed and, unfortunately, I stopped checking into Untappd, my usual source for forgotten memories. I can remember finding the Vernon Arms interesting with decent locals and a pint of Boggart’s Rum porter. Thomas Rigby’s has waded a little into keg beer with a decent Shipyard IPA amongst it’s other selections. Do not even ask me what the Lion Tavern is like as I couldn’t tell you. We finished in the Ship & Mitre which was busy but lovely as always. The boat styled bar had a good pint of First Chop’s TEA on and had the most diverse clientele of anywhere throughout the day, which is an interesting point about Liverpool.

Whether I still think this is “the city that craft forgot” is near irrelevant now. Clearly there is a movement in the right direction. But the pubs themselves still retain a very retro and nostalgic feel. I wrote in my last post about the city "The city on a whole seems to love its past too much to have a future" and there is still some truth in this. Many pubs seem to have survived the 70’s and 80’s destruction of snugs and glass panels. Interiors are of varnished wood and coloured glass windows.  The drinkers are all above 40. They are pubs that I love; full of character and history. But where are the new breed of drinkers going? Where are the hipsters, the beardos, the Fedora wearers that prop up every beer bar in Manchester? Where are they drinking? They’re not in the Clove Hitch. They’re not in the Dispensary. Some are in the Ship & Mitre. But despite as much research as possible, I STILL don’t know where the new breed bars are in Liverpool. Do they exist? I'm not saying I need them to exist, I'm just now wondering whether they do. 

It’s a marvellous city with a brilliant drinking scene. I found the craft beer I was searching for and hope I can return again and again. It was worth the visit just to discover the Clove Hitch. I hope the pubs and bars retain their charm and personality whilst embracing the innumerable of beer available. Well worth a visit any time.


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