Rounding up last weekend's trip to Liverpool with some of the better beers encountered, plus a couple of stinkers.
Obviously, a trip to the Baltic Fleet brewpub had to be done -- an odd little ramshackle pub, squeezed between a busy main road and a vast building site near the docks. It looks like it hasn't seen a lick of paint in some time, and there was no sign of the Wapping Brewery, which lurks somewhere in the building. Wapping Stout was the order of the day, and a damn fine pint it was too -- strong, heavy, and brimming with big earthy hops. Just what you want on a chilly November afternoon with the wind whipping in off the Irish Sea (and through the doors into the pub as the greengrocer made his deliveries).
Initially I'd passed over the offer of Blondie at the bar, fearing another dull golden ale, but my interest was piqued when I read it's a wheat beer. I've had some very positive experiences of cask wheat beer (Barney's Brew; Curim), and this turned out to be another. It's quite sharp and citric, tempered by a calming dryness. It was being served a tad warm, but when cool on a summer's day I'd say it's a winner.
The previous evening, as I mentioned, we were in the award-winning Ship & Mitre. The layout is a little irritating in that the handpumps are spread out in groups around the central bar making it difficult to find out what's available when the pub is packed. Two milds were on: Wentworth Maple Mild sounds promising but is actually rather boring, being pale brown with just a hint of unpleasant phenols to break the monotony. Devon Mild was much better: sweeter and with more chocolate than I had expected, but with all the roasted coffee any mild fanatic could ask for.
Séan, meanwhile, veered away from cask ale orthodoxy when the possibility of some Little Creatures Pale Ale opened up. I've heard lots about this Aussie but had never seen it in real life. It's good stuff -- a rock-solid American-style pale ale with a very nice balance between green C-hop bitterness and toffee malts.
Pint of the trip was a beer I've had before, but never on cask. The Fly In The Loaf was pouring Fuller's London Porter from the cask and it is simply stunning. No. Wait. It's complicatedly stunning. There are all manner of things going on here: hot cross buns, licquorice, dates -- the works -- and all on a silky full body that caresses the throat. Gorgeous gorgeous beer. Next to it at the bar there was a Fuller's beer I didn't know: Red Fox. Very poor, this -- super-sweet and cloying, like crappy keg bitter.
One pint left, and it's where we came in, with local regional Cains. This time we were at their flagship boozer, Doctor Duncan's, as recommended by Melissa. It was just gone 4 on Saturday. The pub was busy with a variety of punters, from post-shopping families to watchers of football. We needed some food and I went to the bar to order. "We stop serving food at 3.30". As Séan put it, that's just like saying "No thank you, we don't want to make any more money". So despite the lovely shiny array of Cains pumpclips and some interesting looking guests, we just stayed for the one. It goes without saying that it was the Cains specialty Raisin Beer. This seems to have started life as an ordinary brown bitter without much happening in it, but the raisins definitely make themselves felt. They taste exactly like raisins -- not raisin extract or concentrate -- real, fresh (for a dried fruit, obviously) raisins. The flavour lasts for ages, and when combined with the malt produces a sensation similar to drinking a glass of Bran Flakes. I loved it, though it would have been nicer with a pie. Everything is.
(A more succinct run-down of the Scouse pub scene is also available, courtesy of Mr R. Scooper.)