Thursday, 3 September 2015

A bank holiday to remember

As Summer gives way to Autumn we enter the UK's beer festival season where week after week events of various sizes spring up; each set in an eclectic variety of locations from grand halls to sports halls, rugby clubs to church crypts.

This August bank holiday the Wirral was fortunate to pay host to two such events. Wallasey Cricket Club hosted their Cricket, Beer & Entertainment festival in association with Ship and Mitre and Hoylake Beer Festival returned for it's third successive year. This is my round-up of both festivals.

Beer festival glass and program
Wallasey Cricket Club 

Friday evening saw me catch a bus over to Wallasey where after a short walk up a fairly steep hill and I found myself at Wallasey Cricket Club. Tickets were collected at the gate and entry was quick and easy. Heading towards the boundary I passed a fast food van offering the usual selection of burgers, fish and chips. Next to them was the ever popular local beer festival staple Peninsular Pies.

Strolling over to the beer tent just a short walk from the pavilion my anticipation was rising. I'd enjoyed both of the Ship and Mitre's previous Wirral Beer Festival in Hulme Hall and my expectations were undoubtedly high. Also, in the run up I'd read that this was to be a 100 beer festival, the larger of the bank holiday weekend's two festivals.

Wallasey Cricket Club Pavillion
Beer was exchanged for cash with refreshingly no sign of beer vouchers. Melwood provided a hoppy new cask beer called First Test, alongside Bootleg #2 their new keg beer. Facers provided the appropriately named Howzat and these stood alongside other popular brews from the likes of Brimstage, Liverpool Organic & Liverpool Craft Brewery. Kegged lagers & ciders finished the bar and these were topped up with a selection bottled beers.

Disappointingly, only around 20% of the 100 advertised beers and ciders were available from cask and keg with the other 80% comprising of chilled bottles. Even more disappointingly, very few beers were new, with the majority being similar to those already sold in the Ship and Mitre pub. I was not the only person to comment on this.

Ship and Mitre beer tent at dusk.
That said, with the majority of live sporting events usually offering a relatively small choice of mass produced national beer, it was really refreshing to have a large choice of UK and European beers to sample. I really did not expect was just how nice it was to sit in the sun and watch a game of 20/20 cricket with a good beer. I've always fancied the idea yet somehow never found time to try, but this is something that I would defiantly do again

I caught up with Ben from Ship and Mitre, who commented that the event was never intended to be a beer festival, but a cricket festival with entertainment and a beer tent and this is very much what I had already come to realize. While I probably wouldn't have made a special trip exclusively for the beer on offer, I stayed for the fantastic combination and enjoyed myself immensely.

My evening rounded up with a bottle of Chimay White, a cheese and onion peninsular pastey and a pint of Kaltenberg lager after which I toddled off with a smile on my face to sample the pubs in Liscard.

Nearly all my negative experiences of the day result from one thing, the advertisement. If this (as well as the signage to the toilets) were improved then this could be a superb way to spend your bank holiday. What more do you really want than sun, good beer & live sport!

Outside Hoylake Beer Festival

Hoylake Beer Festival

Saturday afternoon saw me heading over to Hoylake Beer Festival. Sadly neither my vast hat collection or I were working this year however I really wanted to support them from the paying side of the bar.

This year's festival saw a slight decrease in the amount of beer being offered down from last years 80 to a more realistic 65. This freed up space the bar would have used and left the beer hall feeling considerably more open, allowing easier access.

There is a certain charm to smaller beer festivals. The number of tickets often being limited by smaller capacity, quirky locations seems to help them generate a more laid back and welcoming atmosphere, especially when paired with a good selection of beers.

The main hall at Hoylake Beer Festival
Hoylake beer festival is certainly no exception to this rule. Set on Hoylake promenade in the Parade School which after it's closure in 1988 (and a brief period being home to the local pigeons) was transformed into a Community Centre. The beer festival takes over the majority of the ground floor of this two story building. The three main rooms allow for a different ambiance in each. The main hall has plenty of seating and also held the cider and Peerless bar as well as the entertainment. The main bar was in an adjacent room and there was also an third additional quiet room in the centres coffee shop which also doubled as the festivals Wine bar. Additional seating was provided outside next to the hot food which this year was provided by Pen-y-lanPork with vegetarian options also being available (even if they were not advertised in any of the media)

The beer selection was well balanced with plenty on offer for all tastes. I overheard a few people questioning the temperature of the beer however I found the beers to be in good condition and full of favour. There were a couple of last minute changes with Wylem's Angel making an unexpected appearance. Another nice addition was a small selection of unfined beers..

The beers at Hoylake Beer Festival
Beer vouchers came by trading in £12 for 8 halves with smaller denominations also available. Each half a pint of beer or cider cost a single voucher regardless of strength. This is by far one of the easiest approaches to costing as lower ABV beers help cover the cost of higher ones. Wine was also available and cost two tokens per large glass.

The beer selection gave plenty of choice for both beer tickers as well as those who enjoy more recognised brands. There were d├ębuts for two new local breweries Deva (Chester) and Neptune (Maghull, Liverpool)alongside firm festival favourites. Birkenhead's Peerless Brewing Company once again sponsored the event and ran their own bar offering the likes of Peninsula IPA re-brewed specifically for the festival as well as Storr, their recently kegged lager.

One other significant change this year was the lack of a Saturday afternoon session. The decision to open for a longer evening session probably helped stagger the arrival of paying customers with some choosing to come and finish early, while others dance and drank the night away. This year also saw a change in the entertainment with the Wreckless Elbow being replaced with The Oil Chickens. The lack of the metal portable toilets was also a significant improvement, especially for those choosing to sit outside!

As I headed off to some local pubs with the Wirral skyline stained sky pink, I thought back to the previous Hoylake beer festivals and how this years event compared. The layout was spot-on as it allowed easy movement yet still offered plenty of seating. The number of beers were just about right, as was the offered choice. There could have been a little more choice outside including other food vendors. I also can't help but wonder whether there could be room for a small craft keg section as well in the future.....
Hoylake Parade approaching sunset

Needless to say that I will be back again next year and who knows, maybe my hats will make a reappearance, though I do hope next years t-shirts aren't orange!

In summary

I'll admit that I was apprehensive after hearing that Wallasey Cricket Club was hosting an event over the same weekend (and just under 6 miles) from the already established Hoylake Beer Festival that both festivals would be targeting the same patrons. Visiting both I think that it's fair to say that they ultimately would probably appeal to different people.

Though it was really enjoyable to sample some great beers while watching a game of cricket, the Wallasey event simply lacked enough new beer to appeal to the beer tickers that frequent beer festivals. Hoylake on the other hand not only offered a much broader range, but crucially provided clearer advertisement prior to the event. You were also considerably less likely to be injured by an unfortunately placed six!

One thing that is clear, with several large festivals running annually, beer demand appears to be increasing on the Wirral. It's fantastic that these events are well supported and that Charities are able to benefit without resorting to abstinence.

Next up? Ship &Mitre's Wirral Beer Festival in November!


Thanks to @djmccahill for reporting an error with the band.  I had incorrectly stated that the Loose Moose String Band were former headliners, when it was actually Wreckless Elbow


All links and information was correct at the time of publishing. If you notice anything incorrect, please let me know and I'll correct it. All photos included were taken by myself.

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