Real ale (also called
cask ale or cask-conditioned ale) is young beer with some residual
sugar and active yeast cells that is placed in sealed metal
casks. The typical cask has a volume of 10.8 U.S. gallons and is
called a “firkin.” In the sealed firkin the beer undergoes a
special conditioning process whereby the yeast produces a soft
carbonation and complex flavor components and then settles to the
bottom of the cask with the help of finings such as isinglass (made
from fish swim bladders). After a time, excess carbonation is vented
and a serving tap is hammered through a spout on the cask. The beer is
served without pasteurization or additions of artificial carbon dioxide
or other gasses.
Regular kegged beer is usually filtered, pasteurized and “pushed” out
of the keg during serving by adding artificial carbon dioxide to
increase internal keg pressure. Real ale goes from firkin to pint
glass by a simple gravity tap or a handpump beer engine that uses power
from a bartender’s arm muscles to suck the beer from the cask in the
cellar up through tubing to the pub’s bar. Cellars with firkins
are usually kept at 50-55 degrees F. As the beer is dispensed,
cellar air is drawn into the firkin through an open bung at the top of
the cask called a shive. This means that the cask-conditioned
contents of a firkin must usually be consumed over a couple of days to
avoid excessive off-flavors from oxidation. Strong ales like
barleywines can withstand a much longer serving time and usually
experience some very interesting and pleasing flavor and aroma changes
over several days of dispensation. Cask-conditioned ale is truly
a beautiful, “living” beverage that continues to evolve and change over
its entire life from mash to mouth.
These soft, malty, complex beers are served at 50-55 degrees F (cool,
but warm enough to fully experience the flavors) with a low to moderate
level of carbonation that does not numb or prickle the tongue.
Real ales should never be sour, phenolic, excessively cloudy, flat, or
filled with suspended yeast or “floaty bits” – if so, send back the
pint and order a different selection.
The main beer styles typically encountered in good U.K. pubs include
mild, golden ale, bitter, old ale, porter, stout and barleywine.
Milds are lower alcohol, light-bodied brown ales that are gently hopped
and have delicate flavors of malt, nuts, chocolate and fruity
esters. Bitters are medium gold to medium copper in color and
mostly have a moderate hop bitterness backed by pleasant esters and
elegant English malt notes. There are very light-bodied bitters
(designated standard or ordinary) that have an alcohol range of 3.2 to
3.8% alcohol by volume (abv), special or best bitters with 3.8 to 4.6%
abv, and finally extra special or strong bitters with 4.6 to 6.2%
alcohol ranges. Refreshing golden ales have become popular in the
summer and offer a lighter color and less caramel malt flavors than
bitters. Old ales and barleywines are high alcohol beers with a
rich mouthfeel and sweet malt finish. Unfortunately, porters and
stouts (with their dark cocoa and roasted barley character) are
becoming a little difficult to find in England’s pubs in recent years
(especially in the warmer months).
Kerri "The Beer Wench" Allen and I visited Liverpool in April of
2007. We were extremely impressed with the city's new economic
boom and the pride that seemed to be shared by the natives.
Liverpool also has a great deal to offer its visitors -- a multitude of
parks, museums, and diverse architecture awaits. Liverpool's most
popular tourist spot is Albert Dock on the Mersey River
waterfront. The Dock
has the largest group of Grade I historical buildings in the UK, along
Beatles Story exhibition, museums, shops and restaurants. Be sure
visit the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (the UK's largest and most
impressive). Beatles fans will also be interested in the Casbah
Coffee Club (the only original Beatles venue to remain unchanged over
the years) and Cavern Club (where the Beatles played many of their
early sets). But for Kerri and I, the highlight of the city is
the exciting range of pubs that serve authentic, cask-conditioned, real
No lover of great beer should visit the UK without a copy of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. CAMRA
(Campaign for Real Ale) is
a beer drinkers' organization devoted to the promotion of real ale, and
guidebook highlights the best pubs in the UK in which to find the
prized beverage. The Liverpool
branch of CAMRA produces an
impressive free, full color, monthly magazine that highlights the best
of the city's beer scene -- copies are available in many Liverpool
pubs. The group has also compiled a book entitled The Liverpool HIstoric Pub Guide (a
handy Liverpool pub map is included inside the front cover) that is
also available from the CAMRA website.
Liverpool is a very
walkable city, so
secure a hotel room in the downtown area, put on your comfortable
shoes and prepare yourself for visits to some historic, beautiful,
memorable pubs. If you
will be hitting many pubs in one day, I suggest that you order half
pints at each stop (even though most real ales have low alcohol
content, pacing is still important). Following
is a photo album and guide to Liverpool's best real ale pubs within
easy foot distance from the city center. At the bottom of this
page there is also information regarding tours and the brewery taproom
of Liverpool's Robert Cain Brewery.
The Baltic Fleet is
located near the Albert Dock area and is Liverpool's only
brewpub. Despite being surrounded by construction of new
high-rises and condos, The Baltic has held on to its history, rustic
nautical atmosphere and well-made house ales. The brewhouse is
called The Wapping Brewery, and there are always a couple of guest real
ales on tap as well. The dining room is downstairs.
Refurbished in May of
2006, this attractive pub features six real ales and a friendly
staff. The building has sat completely abandoned and empty for
many years, but the beautiful restoration effort of the current owners
has been superb. Food and sleeping rooms are available.
Located several blocks southeast of the city center, this neighborhood
pub is very much worth the walk.
The Crown is situated
just one block from St. John's Shopping Center in the city
center. The exterior and interior of this pub are both
magnificent with dark oak beams and bar construction and lovely stained
glass. The photo above shows the ornate glass dome above the main
staircase. Food items (including some veggie offerings) are
available most of the day at very affordable prices. The range of
real ales is a bit small, but all were fresh and well-maintained during
This neighborhood pub is
owned by the Cains Brewery and features most of the range of the Cains
real ales. There are also some appealing guest beers and ciders
that show up on the tap menu from time to time. This pub was
originally called the Grapes (look for the old sign above the main bar)
and was purchased by Cains a few years ago and turned into this small,
award-winning pub that is popular with locals today.
John's House, St. John's Lane
This Cains pub is an
absolute masterpiece. Named for a famous Liverpool physician from
the mid-1800s, Doctor Duncan's has multiple rooms that are decorated in
glorious fashion. Medical and pharmaceutical themed documents,
paintings and memorabilia line the walls, and the bar offers the full
range of Cains regular and seasonal beers as hand-pulled real ales and
Hope Street (in the lower floor of Everyman Theatre)
More of a large, upscale,
attractive diner than a pub, this delightful restaurant offers unique
and delectable food items and a decent selection of real ale and import
beers. Everyman can be very busy on theatre nights, and a signal
is sounded at the end of each intermission. The main room
contains the bar and taps, and the room to the left offers delicious
food selections that are served cafeteria style.
Fly in the Loaf
The Fly is owned by the
Okells Brewery and serves up most of their real ales along with a big
selection of guest ales and imported bottled beers. The place
used to be a bakery whose motto was "no flies in the loaf" (no wonder
they went out of business). The food is very nice, and the pub is
famous for its roasted meats offered each Sunday. In the evenings
there is a loud jukebox that can sometimes hinder polite conversation.
The Globe Hotel
The floors of this pub
have a wicked upwards slope from the front door to the back of the
establishment. There is lots of room in the back, so if the front
happens to be a bit crowded, just work your way uphill to one of the
rear areas for more breathing space. The Globe is located near the city center
and has carried its current name since the mid-1800s. The plaque
pictured above can be found on a wall near the back of the pub -- it
commemorates the first meeting of the Liverpool branch of CAMRA on
January 18, 1974.
This old pub has seen many changes over the
years, but is still a highlight of any Liverpool pub crawl. A
nice selection of regional real ales are served through attractive
serving hatches to thirsty regulars. Specialty cheeses and
sandwiches are offered Monday through Friday, and the pork pies are a
local favorite. The interior is covered with soothing green tiles
The purple tile front
makes for an attractive greeting to visitors of this personable pub
that is located in the southeast of Liverpool near the Anglican
Cathedral. The interior is just as impressive, with colorful, old
wall paintings, beautiful antiques and unique round tables with drain
areas to catch spillage (these tables were sometimes used on ocean
liners). Peter Kavanagh owned the pub for 53 years in the latter
part of the 1800s and build most of the pub's current features and
decor. 4-5 interesting real ales are available.
The photo above
illustrates how ladies will often head into the men's toilet at the
Philharmonic (after checking to be sure the facilities are unoccupied)
to admire the stunning marble urinals. The Phil is widely
regarding as one of the "most ornate pubs in Britain" because of its
stained glass, stonework and carpentry. Located just across the
street from Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall, this must-see pub was once a
favorite of Beatle John Lennon who later lamented that he had become so
famous that he could no longer drink there. The real ales here
are fresh and delicious.
Some of the interesting
exterior decor of Thomas Rigby's is shown in the photo above. The
pub is named after a wholesale wine and spirit dealer who lived during
the nineteenth century and owned several pubs in Liverpool. Today
the pub offers a wide selection of bottled beers (including many
Belgian ales) and usually four rotating taps. Okell's bought the
pub in 2003 and carried out a nice renovation that has resulted in the
attractive establishment that sits here today. Great food is
served until 7 PM each day.
There are four small
rooms at this quaint pub named for William Roscoe (a Liverpool poet and
historian). This is one of the few Merseyside pubs that has been
featured in every single edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide (as of
2007). It has been family-owned now for several years and offers
weekday meals and a small range of good real ales.
The Ship and Mitre
No beer lover should miss
this pub on a visit to Liverpool. In contrast to its relatively
spartan interior, the beer selection is quite impressive. You'll
find a dozen real ales, two ciders and 100+ imported bottled beers from
Germany, Belgium, the United States, etc. The pub was once the
Bent's Brewery Tap until Bent's was bought out by Bass in the late
1960s. The servers will be happy to provide sips of the different
real ales to help you make up your mind.
Located among the
touristy establishments of Mathew Street, the White Star offers a more
down-to-earth pub atmosphere. The place is filled with Liverpool
history and memorabilia from the White Star ocean liners (of Titanic fame). The pub is
also a fine place to watch a televised football (soccer) match and grab
a pint of real ale.
|Cains Brewery Tour
/ Brewery Tap
Robert Cains Brewery is several blocks south of the city center in what
used to be the old Higson's Brewery. The Brewery Tap was once
known as The Grapes Inn and is now the place to enjoy a pint of Cains
real ale and meet for the daily brewery tours. The Robert Cains
brewery is now owned by brothers Sudarghara and Ajmail Dunsanj from
India who have done a phenomenal job in making the brewery beautiful
and extremely successful once again. The picture above and to the
left shows the group in front of the Brewery Tap at the start of the
tour. The picture to the right is of the restored hop and grain
storage room that is now sometimes used for small meetings. Click
here for information on booking a Cains brewery tour.
The Cains brewery
tour takes visitors through all areas of the old and new
facility. The photo above and to the left provides a peek into a
fermenter filled with what will soon become Cains Dark Mild ale (what a
fantastic aroma), and the impressive canning line is shown to the
right. Cains brews a wide range of beers that includes Liverpool
Lager, Dark Mild, FA, IPA, Bock, Creamy Stout, Triple Hop and Raisin
|Other Liverpool pubs of note...
- The Belvedere Arms, 8
Sugnall Street. This pub is owned and refurbished by the same
who brought the Blackburn Arms to Liverpool. Reopened since April
2006, there are six interesting real ales available here, and a variety
from local artists adorns the walls.
- Carnarvon Castle, 5 Tarleton
Street. Very homey pub with an attractive front on an otherwise
- Cracke, 13 Rice Street.
- Poste House, 23 Cumberland Street.
- Richard John Blacker, Lime Street
between The Crown and The Vines. Large Wetherspoon's pub with
good food all day and evening. Wetherspoon pubs serve
food late into the evening after the kitchens in most other pubs have
long shut down.
- Swan Inn, 86 Wood Street.
- The Vines, Lime Street.
Gorgeous old pub with one real ale tap.
- Welkin, 7 Whitechapel. Another
Wetherspoon's pub -- this one looks like it has been housed in what
used to be a large cafeteria. A no-frills place to go for a pint
of real and filling, very reasonably priced food.