History (1)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012 12:43

History of Liverpool Beer Festival

Written by
EverymanBistroThe First Liverpool Beer Exhibition 1974
The 2010 Liverpool Beer Festival was the 30th Festival to be held in the city. The first was on Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th September 1974 and was called a Beer Exhibition not a Beer Festival. It was held in the Everyman Theatre with the casks set up in the stalls, a very bohemian setting for what in 1974 was a revolutionary event. Real Ale beer exhibitions/festivals were then a new concept developed by the recently formed CAMRA to raise people's awareness of real ale and the very real threat to its continued existence.
A case of the Bland leading the Bland. The big brewers had become the Big Six and were on the march across the land. They were buying up smaller family brewers in order to obtain their pubs and then closing down the brewery. They then trucked in their national brand keg beers which were heavily advertised and promoted. Remember the Watney's Red Revolution with their Red Barrel, the Tetley Bittermen and the equally appaling Whitbread Trophy Bitter - the Pint that thinks it's a Quart? Many people were fooled by the advertising and did not realise that family brewers were disappearing along with their real ales. Real Ale was under Real Threat!
GlobeCAMRA had been set up in 1971 with the Merseyside CAMRA Branch being formed in the Globe, Cases Street, on 18th January 1974. An intrepid group of Merseyside Branch CAMRA members resolved to do something about the threat to real ale, and organised the first Liverpool Beer Exhibition. They wanted local drinkers to realise what real ale was all about and that there were different real ales available on Merseyside brewed by a range of breweries. By exhibiting that range of beer choice the aim was to encourage drinkers to be more adventurous and to actively ask for real ale rather than just accepting the new keg beers. Another aim was to showcase the different breweries that offered real ale on Merseyside and to encourage people not just to stick with one familiar brew. A range of beers was bought from the local brewers such as Walkers, Higsons, Boddingtons, Lees, Thwaites, Wilsons, plus an interesting selection of beers obtained from the Yorkshire Clubs brewery. This was one of the last times the Clubs beers featured at a festival as the brewery closed soon afterwards, another victim of the keg tide. The first Liverpool Beer Exhibition proudly featured eleven real ales. It sold out on the Thursday night in just 15 minutes! The doors opened at 7.30 pm and by 7.45 the Everyman Theatre was full!
The famous national cartoonist Bill Tidy, who had recently started drawing the Keg Buster strip in What's Brewing, opened the Exhibition, something of a coup for the Branch. Entertainment included a fire-eater and a Flash Harry Show. Who was Flash and who was Harry is not recorded! The fire-eater must have been competent as there is no record of the theatre burning down! So successful was the first Beer Exhibition that a Second was soon organised, this time in the Catholic Chaplaincy adjacent to the Cathedral.

Beer Exhibition 2, The Sequel
For the second Festival the CAMRA group took to the road as white van man and woman, heading around the country collecting casks of real ale from the leading family brewers. No wholesale beer distributors in those days! The family brewers' real ales were gaining a cult status through Richard Boston's beer column in The Guardian. Names such as Ruddles, Theakstons, Batemans, Youngs, Hook Norton and yes Boddingtons, were becoming known as the leading lights of real ale. However in those tied pub days it was a case of tracking these beers down in their local lairs. Hence the white van.

The Times They are a Changin'
How times have changed since 1974 in the brewing and pub industries! Many of the brewers mentioned above were subsequently taken over by bigger players, who may have retained the brand name but radically altered the beers and the quality. The tied pub brewery structure has gone, with many companies now having withdrawn from brewing, leaving the pubs to be run by separate Pub Companies. Real Ale has survived and has prospered, but has then faced renewed threat from keg lager and smooth flow beers served with nitrogen and requiring no care or skill from the licensee.

Today at the Liverpool Beer Festivalp2160217
So as you now enjoy exploring 250 different beers and over 30 real ciders and perries in the majestic setting of Lutyen's Cathedral Crypt, give thanks to the 1974 members of Merseyside CAMRA and their spirit of endeavour in organising the first Liverpool Beer Exhibition and helping to Save Real Ale. Without them we would not be here today.

Jean Powcenby, Founder Member CAMRA Liverpool and District Branch
First Published in MerseyAle Jan/ March 2010

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