Thursday, 6 January 2011

Wirral Whisperings

I live in Wirral. There is perception in Liverpool that the peninsula is a leafy oasis inhabited by posh types who look down their noses at the scousers over the water. Well, the well-heeled residents on the Deeside may think like that but the conurbations of Birkenhead, New Ferry and Seacombe on the banks of the Mersey form one of the most deprived areas in the country.

This divide impinges on the beer scene. Conservative West Wirral has numerous country inns and suburban pubs offering real ale, although it is only since the emergence of Brimstage brewery in 2007 that that the market for beers from micros has taken off. Peerless brewery in Birkenhead followed and is expanding its market while breweries from the Liverpool and Chester areas are starting to make their presence felt.

The working class conurbation centered around Birkenhead is a different matter. 10-15 years ago there was a decent real ale crawl to be had in Birkenhead town centre The long term decline of the area has resulted in the sad state of affairs whereby this town of over 80,000 people has no pubs in the 2010 or 2011 GBGs. Hope may be on the horizon with the re-opening of a couple of pubs offering a choice of beers (see Cock & Pullet) but the overall situation is still bad.

Wirral suffers in beer choice for two main reasons. Historically, Wirral pubs were owned a few large players. Birkenhead Brewery was the largest player but was swallowed up by Threlfall’s in the early 60s which was itself already a part of the Whitbread ‘Umbrella’. These keg and tank beer pubs resisted the march of real ale in the late 70’s and early 80s longer than most.

The remaining pubs were mostly former Bent’s and Yates’ houses which eventually became part of the Bass and Allied-Tetley empire. Real ale was hard to track down in these pubs. The only shining light was Higson’s which had a smattering of pubs throughout Wirral, mostly with good beer. Unfortunately, Higson’s were taken over by Boddington’s who themselves were swallowed up by Whitbread, delivering a further portfolio to the bloated behemoth.

Although sales of pubs in the 80’s introduced pockets of exotic beer from Wilson’s and Wolverhampton & Dudley, the dismantling of the big breweries left most of Wirral’s pubs in the hands of the new pub companies. To this day there are few true free houses in Wirral, restricting the choice of real ale.

The lack of good beer in Birkenhead and parts of Wallasey may also be down to the proximity of Liverpool. There are any number of excellent pubs on the other side of the Mersey with superb rangers of beer. A five minute train journey from Birkenhead means that the town is by-passed by drinkers looking for a good pint. Not until critical mass is reached with enough good pubs in a small area for a night out will Birkenhead have reason to be proud of its beer culture.


  1. I enjoyed a quick pint in the Cock & Pullet a few days ago - pleasant refurb (real wood floor & copper bar-top) & beer in top nick, no complaints. I did however speak to a local last night who did have a complaint about higher beer prices - he enjoyed the Tim Taylor's Landlord & 'old man's pub' style of its former incarnation.

    The other bit of good Birko news is of course Gallagher's (former Cain's Dispensary) now a free house, but with a barber's shop attached.
    (I know they've got a website, but I'm buggered if I can find it!)

  2. I'm afraid that the locals are living in the past if they find £2.60 expensive. A group of my friends were discussing how reasonable the prices were this luchtime.
    I intend to write a piece on Gallagher's in the near future.