Sunday, 20 January 2008

Higsons of Liverpool

I lived in Liverpool for nine years or so and still have huge affection for this city which has seen both ups and downs. I was there in the "Militant" and Derek Hatton years and am pleased to see it seems now firmly headed into a bright future. One blot remains on my Liverpool reflections. My beloved Higsons Brewery is gone. Well more precisely, my beloved Higsons Bitter has gone, though the magnificent red brick brewery still brews at Stanhope Street, now the home of Cains who once owned it many moons ago. It is a complicated story.

Higsons, local legend and the cask beer I cut my teeth on, was taken over by Boddingtons, who sold their breweries to Whitbread, who sold Higsons to some Danes, who sold it to the Dusani Brothers, who now run it very successfully as the Robert Cain Brewery. But what of Higgies Bitter? It was moved round various Whitbread breweries, bastardised and ruined, before being de-listed. Complete shits were Whitbread. Latterly they couldn't run a piss up in a brewery and rightly they got out of it. They are not missed.

I knew that there had been an attempt to revive the beers and the recipes and though I'd tried a fairly revolting test brew at the Liverpool Beer Festival a couple of years ago, I'd heard little more until recently. Higson's Brewery has now moved back to Liverpool and are brewing there. I'm told the outfit is run by an ex Higson's Head Brewer who has both the original recipe and, more importantly, he has the yeast. While performing my duties at the NWAF, I came across two casks which made my heart leap. They are pictured above. As soon as the beer was available, I shot over to try it. I was amazed. It wasn't quite there, but it was recognisable. This taste was imprinted in my mind and there it was. I hadn't tasted it since they stopped brewing it in Liverpool in 1989. It was Higgies. Perhaps a little more subdued, but very much on its way to being my lost pint. I am enthralled. Good luck to these lads. I know there are those who say once a brewery has gone, its gone. It's a point of view, but isn't there something exciting about recreating something from the past? This was a classic beer. Uncompromisingly bitter and very, very drinkable. Something as good as Higson's Bitter didn't deserve to be lost in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, it is found again.

The sign above is from my own collection. Each Higson's Pub had one outside the door. Sorry about the grainy picture quality.


spud said...

That takes me back to my early years in Liverpool. As a precocius youth, my local pub was a Higsons, called The Cat's Whiskers. Looking back, it was a 1960s, concrete monstrosity; but it was also an off-limits, adults only establishment to which all of us teenagers were desperate to gain entry. Apparently, it's still going, but not serving Higsons of course. I never did get a pint in there!

I can go back even further than that with the Top House in Walton. This pub was central to the local community when I was a neonate and is still going strong; but, like the Cat's Whiskers, has not served Higsons for many years.

Talking of old Liverpool pubs, have you seen this website Tandleman?

Tandleman said...

I used to work in Belle Vale, so visited the Cat's Whiskers many a time. More often the Seventh Vale though as it was nearer, though always keg until Boddies took them over. Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

Higgies Bitter brings back three memories for me: The Oakfield on Townsend Lane, a taste of grape pips and the bad heads that even a pint brought on. I was surprised to see the signs at the Winter Ales Festival - I wish I'd tried it now.

Rednev said...

Higsons was the first real ale I knowingly drank in the early '70s. I tried the revived Higsons a year or so ago, but found it bland. Perhaps the taste matching has improved; I hope so, as I have never found a beer even remotely like Higsons.

Andy Holmes said...

I can't say much about the beers of Liverpool, I was brought up in Tadcaster, so it's a wonder I ever gained an appreciation of Real Ale, we spent years hoping one of the 3 breweries would get round to breweing something drinkable (late 70's/early 80's). With the exception of Magnet it hasn't happened yet!

The Southport Drinker said...

This is great news. Being of a certain age, I never was able to try Higsons, but have heard it spoke of as one of the greatest local brews ever. Any more details of where It can be found?

Tandleman said...

According to their web site:
Thomas Rigby's, 23 - 25 Dale Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2EZ
Blackburne Arms, 24 Catharine St, Liverpool, L8 7NL
Ma Boyles, Tower Gardens, Liverpool, L3 1LG
Royal Oak, 111-113 Standishgate, Northern Quarter, Wigan, Lancashire, WN1 1XL
Ship and Mitre, 113 Dale Street, Liverpool
Stamps Wine Bar, Moor Lane, Crosby, Liverpool 23
Swan Inn, 86 Wood St, Liverpool, L1 4DQ
The Augustus John, University of Liverpool, Peach Street, University of Liverpool Campus
The Fly in the Loaf, 35 Hardman Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 9AS