City guide: Liverpool
Words: Dan Orley
Friday 25 May 2018
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As always, Liverpool handles itself a bit differently from the rest of the country. Although there may be six new craft beer joints that have opened in the past year, no one is out to destroy the competition. Rather, most of these owners understand there are enough neighborhoods and enough craft beer lovers living in the Northwest and visiting from around the world that there’s no reason to get your hackles up when a new place opens up down the street.
That’s why Craft Minded, Gibberish, H1780, and Black Lodge Brewing can all coexist within a stone’s throw of one another. And it’s why you’ll often spot owners of one bar hanging out at a big event of one of their competitors.
Because this scene isn’t about dominating an entire region or an entire city or even an entire street. There isn’t one particular bar or pub that provides everything to every craft beer lover in the area, and everyone is at peace with that. The average craft beer drinker today tends to focus a fair amount of their energy on variety. And here in Liverpool, if a craft beer lover can’t find a particular beer at one spot, the bartenders are knowledgeable enough about the scene and confident enough that they’ll see this consumer again, that they can direct them to Head of Steam for a Belgian beer or Grove Tap & Grill for a nibble and a bottle of Mad Hatter.
The benefits of this mindset are obvious once you’re here in the city. It helps drinkers find exactly what they want and it helps those who don’t know what they want to open their minds and palettes to new possibilities. An old-school, hardcore, cask drinking CAMRA member who just left The Ship and Mitre may stroll across the street to Dead Crafty and be surprised to see that they can only get 2/3 of a pint, but more often than not, they’ll find a beer they enjoy and have discovered a new brewery or style or, if nothing else, a new kind of atmosphere in which they can enjoy a beer.
Here in the city guide, I’m thrilled to give just a glimpse into the Liverpool craft beer scene and hope that sometime soon you come check it out for yourself. It’s worth the trip.
Although the primary brewing has recently moved from Childwall to Chester, the Top Rope Brewing gang is still brewing its small and experimental batches where the brewery originated: in the rear garden of brewer Ben “Big Tasty” Jackson’s parents’ home. While smaller brews of Line in the Sand, Papa Mango, and Koko Kolada are some of their most highly sought after beers, their core range has never failed to impress. Now with a significantly larger brewery and canning line, expect to see these beers far outside of the Northwest soon.
Across the Mersey River is the Wirral: A magical land of coastal communities and seemingly leisurely lifestyles where things move a little slower than in the hustle and bustle of Liverpool. This is where Glen Affric Brewery set up shop in 2016 and since then they’ve been bringing their beer to the Wirral population and beyond. With a recently opened tap room, Glen Affric Brewery is doing more than ever to help bring craft beer to the other side of the river. Hosting exclusive beers, exciting collaborations, and imports from all over the world, Glen Affric’s tap room is certainly worth the trip across the water.
In the Baltic Triangle is a new brewery and taproom by the name of Gibberish. Started by one of the Mad Hatter founders, Gareth Matthews, Gibberish focuses on brewing batches no larger than 400 litres and spending “silly amounts of money on nice ingredients”. With the Baltic Triangle quickly becoming the up-and-coming neighborhood in Liverpool, opening their brewery and tap room here was a no-brainer. Featuring live music, exclusive brews, and beers from around the continent, Gibberish is the latest and greatest can’t-miss brewery and tap room in Liverpool.
Black Lodge Brewing is also based in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle. Launched in 2015, Black Lodge has in the past provided beer to some great Liverpool restaurants (Clove Hitch) and bars (23 Club), but most recently, they’re providing two exclusive beers (an ale and a lager) to the Baltic Market, an impressive indoor space housing food and booze stalls that resides just around the corner from their brewery and tap room. Black Lodge also has a tap room at their Kitchen Street location pouring exclusive beers.
There’s a real weird building on Smithdown Road. It was first used as a movie theater, which is why the building has an ornate bell-shape to it. In the 70s, the theater shut down and a gentleman bought it to use as his hardware store. The hardware store was called Handyman’s Supermarket and the pub and brewery that now fills this space has kept the name. Brewing collaborations with local brewers and hosting live music and special events most weekends has given those outside of the city centre access to great beer.
When American friends come to visit Liverpool, I always want to take them to an English pub, so I take them to the Ship & Mitre. Here in ‘The Ship’, you can sit in the relative darkness with a craft cask or keg beer, eat a free bowl of scouse on Mondays, and try your ear at the Liverpool accent as locals chat about…well let’s be honest, they mostly only talk about the football. With Joe Murphy at the helm of the The Ship’s brewery, Flagship, you’re sure to find something you love on cask or draught in this Liverpool institution. If you don’t have time to sit down for a pint, you can always head down the street to The Ship’s bottle shop and check out some impressive German, Belgian, and other craft beers from around the world at The Ship in a Bottle.
On Smithdown Road between Penny Lane and City Center lives Craft Taproom who recently celebrated their first birthday with a grip of amazing beers from Mad Hatter Brewing and Tiny Rebel. Along with the likes of Handyman Supermarket and a few Smithdown Road restaurants (Three Piggies, Tribeca) Craft Taproom is integral in expanding the availability of craft beer outside of Liverpool city centre.
Alongside breweries Black Lodge and Gibberish in the Baltic Market and right around the corner from Ghetto Golf (yes, that’s a landmark now) resides newcomer Craft Minded among the ever-growing food and booze scene of The Baltic Triangle. Craft Minded features worldwide beers, regular events, and regularly changing kitchen pop-ups to keep butts in seats (no matter how tempting it may be to check out the places down the street).
Helping to give the people of the Wirral easy access to some of the best beer in the world, Homebrew Bottle Shop & Tap plays host to a massive selection of bottles and cans while the Tap has eight rotating taps. Having just opened the Tap in March of this year, the owners are clearly using their five-plus years of bottle stocking experience to ensure they have an impressive tap list, as well. Being as established as they are on the Wirral, Homebrew Tap will soon become a must visit spot in Birkenhead for people on both sides of the water.
With nine hand pulls, more than a dozen taps, and a wooden-clad bar, The Grapes on Roscoe Street is a pub lover’s pub. Eclectic, fun, and funky as hell, this Liverpool spot is revered by locals and sought out by out-of-towners. With live jazz on Sundays and a selection of cask beer rivalled by few other pubs (ok, just one, really) in the city, this is a must-stop spot for anyone in Liverpool with a craft beer state of mind.
The Londis convenience store down Penny Lane (of…you know…The Beatles fame) has better craft beer hiding on the refrigerated shelves in the back of their shop than most places have sitting out in direct sunlight begging for customers to buy. Their eye for great up-and-coming local breweries as well as their propensity to stock one-off brews from the likes of Magic Rock, Beavertown, and other high-profile craft breweries combined with an unrivalled price point makes this unassuming shop the best hidden gem around.
Tapas. Everyone is in love with them, a lot of new restaurants focus on them, and it’s sometimes difficult to choose which spot you’d like to swing by to try a very small amount of a lot of dishes. Maray’s tapas are inspired by the Middle East, with cocktails inspired by the classics. Although Maray focuses on very clean, smart dishes, there’s something indulgent about eating a heavily spiced plate accompanied by the perfect cocktail. With two locations, you’re never far from a great beer joint to cap off the evening.
Between Liverpool’s two cathedrals on a side street around the corner from micropub Hard Times and Misery is a small Indian & Bangladeshi restaurant with furniture made from reclaimed pallets and bare bulbs hanging from thick ropes. This is the kind of old-school place where you can fill your belly with amazing food and still barely empty your wallet. It’s the perfect spot to binge-eat naan and spicy meat before going out for an all-night session.
Good god almighty. Pattersons is the only place in this entire city at which I eat at least once a month. Yeah, it’s fried chicken and gravy and a bunch of other decadent food that certainly slows my heart and clogs my arteries with each bite, but I don’t give a damn. That’s how good it is. The graffiti on the walls, the 90s themed hip hop on the speakers and usually a late 90s – early 2000s film on the televisions along with the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life (and yes, I’ve spent some time in the American south) and some reasonable craft beer in the fridge makes Pattersons the must-eat spot in Liverpool.
Savoury pies were new to me when I arrived in the UK, but now that I’ve had them, I think about them. A lot. I’d obviously had pot pies in the US, but the pies here are…well…so much better. Pi has great pies of the meat and vegetarian varieties for not much money and for an extra £1 you can get a side dish. Add the fact that they spend a lot of time focusing on their keg, cask and bottles, and you can enjoy your delicious pie with something local or revered worldwide. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself spending more time at Pi than you originally planned. I know I do.
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