Meet the creative brewery from Liverpool
Saturday 28 August 2021
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Ones to Watch
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Liverpool has always been one of my favourite uk cities – it has such a strong sense of itself and its values and, of course, one of the country’s most vibrant arts scenes. That’s why i was so excited when i first hear of carnival, a brewery that had grown seemingly organically out of the city’s wider arts community, with deep roots in music, visual arts and local food.
Carnival’s development has been driven by founders ade burke and dominic hope-smith, two home brewers and music aficionados, who came together over a shared love of beer at a fundraising even at the 2017 clearview carnival. The pair went from brewing in neil’s kitchen in south liverpool, on to his garage and a 50-litre braumeister. They iterated their recipes, tested them on friends and eventually took the leap to a full-scale commercial brewery in december 2019, where they now have a growing team of like-minded souls.
Go to the brewery’s website, and you’ll find its story told through a playlist, from the fall’s industrial estate, through collaborations don’t work by ffs (ade and neil heartily disagree) and through to can the can by suzi quatro (yes, they were excited about going into small pack). This isn’t just window dressing though; one could be forgiven for suspecting that the pair’s main reason for opening a brewery was to work with some of their favourite musicians.
“Yeah, we've got music tie ups going all the time,” says dom. “Just tomorrow we're going to release some cans and kegs from a collaboration we did with the london record label rocket recordings. Cool label. They’ve got goats, pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs pigs, the utopia strong, pharaoh overlord, steve davis’s band…”
Wait, what? Steve davis, as in… steve davis?
“Yeah the snooker player. He’s in a band now – swapped his snooker cue for an 808. If you go to one of his dj sets it’s absolutely punishing techno. Brilliant stuff. We really wanted him to come along and to a trick shot for the beer launch, but chris who runs the label said he couldn’t. Apparently he sold his snooker table years ago to make room for his music studio.”
Working with musicians is such a great inspiration for us
The beer itself, lest we should forget about that, is a lovely little 5% mosaic/citra number in 330ml cans, each adorned with metallic recreations of the bands’ best-selling albums.
Carnival’s first foray into such territory brought together two of their personal heroes. After a chance festival encounter, dom and ade bonded with lucas wiacek (of berlin’s fuerst wiacek brewery) over their shared love of san franciscan rockers the oh sees, and decided it would be fun to collaborate on a beer for the band. After surprisingly little mucking about, they managed to make contact with the long-time front man john dwyer, who loved the idea.
“We just love working with musicians – it’s such a great inspiration for us,” continues dom. “The way it tends to work is that we’ll basically say, because you've allowed us to use your name, and get access to your membership base and your fans, we’ll give a percentage of profits from the beer and the merchandise to a charity. And that’s always gone over really well.”
This also reflects how deeply embedded carnival is in merseyside’s wider community, in terms of putting the money from its collaborations into local organisations doing important work, often with vulnerable people, and often using the arts to help them in some way.
And it’s not just music that inspires carnival. As a brewery that’s done most of its growing during lockdown, the team is acutely aware of how hard the cultural industries as a whole have been hit, and has tried to get involved wherever it can.
Generally it’s designers rather than artists who get commissioned for beer
“We've got lots of mates who are in the arts, so we're very passionate about that,” continues dom. “We're fortunate to know some very cool, very nice people who are also extremely talented artists, who we’ve worked with on developing unique label designs.
“And particularly where we are, it'd be a real shame not to, right? We have all these amazing independent art studios here, we've got we have the biennial, loads of smaller independent festivals, a fantastic art school. And so to not celebrate that would be a real shame. Generally it’s designers rather than artists who get commissioned for beer. There are a few exceptions, for example i admire the stuff that verdant do, so we really wanted to take that route of collaborating very closely with real artists on our designs. For example, both the beers we’ve brewed for beer52 have labels by a local artist called sam garoche”.
Dom is so passionate about promoting other people’s art that it’s quite hard to steer the conversation back around to his own. Which is a shame, as carnival’s beer is really excellent, particularly for an old curmudgeon like me who likes his beer without unfermented fruit and edible glitter.
“I guess our main philosophy is that we never use anything that shouldn't be in a beer,” says dom. “I mean, we're not we're not going all the way down the german purity route. But we don't have flavourings, we don't do additives, we don't do isinglass or anything like that. So it's very traditional in that sense; pale malt, wheat, oats. Where we experiment is within that structure of a traditional beer. So yeast, for example; in a beer we’re working on at the moment, we’re using a kolsch ale yeast and fermenting at ale temperatures but then giving it a long condition at lager temperature.”
The important thing to dom and ade is that they find their own way, with authenticity. They actively reject any kind of pressure to become “yet another hazy brewery” – not out of snobbery, but because “they’re difficult to make, and the market is saturated with them, some very good but most often quite bad”.
At the end of the day though, it’s what customers think that really determines the direction of travel – not surprising for a brewery that has built itself on collaboration and community.
Dom concludes: “customer feedback is the most important tool we have. We brew a beer, test out in the marketplace, listen to what people are telling us and then determine what we do with it next. We might rebrew it straight off, we might iterate it slightly, or we might just say it was an interesting experiment. The crucial thing is though that we never let a beer out the door that we don’t believe in. If it’s not right, it never leaves the building. And i think that’s where music, art and brewing come together for us – something might not be to everyone’s tastes, but we stand by every beer we put out.”
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