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pubs: British Guild of Beer Writers' Best Regional Writer.

Byline: Mike Chapple at the bar...

THE Scratchers have been, seen and conquered. But who or what are the Scratchers?

Well, they are the real ale equivalent of the Twitchers (birdwatchers) and the Anoraks (trainspotters) who invaded Liverpool a fortnight ago for the biggest and best of beer festivals the city's ever staged.

The name is derived from the habit of carrying a small notebook inside their polyester jackets ( uniformly beige - Fashion Ed ) which they whip out to scribble, or scratch, with wetted pencil a description of the brew that they're supping.

There have been some legendary Scratchers, according to Ifan James, head barman of the Augustus John, including Nick the Tick, from Birmingham, who ticks off every beer he's ever tasted in his little black book.

The Augustus staged its own festival to coincide with the main one organised by the Liverpool and Districts branch of CAMRA in the crypt at Paddy's Wigwam nearby. That was, of course, a sell-out but Ifan rightly judged that those without tickets would find adequate compensation in the pub which served up 24 different ales over the four-day period.

The fact that it was the nearest to the crypt listed in the Good Pub Guide ensured that the overspill from the main festival - including a complement of Scratchers - also popped in.

"Actually, the Scratchers aren't that good for business because they don't drink that much and some of them actually put the beer in a bottle to take home and drink later," laughs Ifan, who quickly sold out the three brews named in honour of Valentine's Day whichmarked the start of the festival - Valentine's Kiss, from the George Wright Brewery of Rainford; Lover Boy, from Archers; and the tantalisingly titled Massacre, brewed by Phoenix.

Down in Dale Street, the mighty Ship and Mitre staged a festival of its own in which a whopping 100 firkins of different real ales were on sale. As 90 of these were polished off over the four days and bearing in mind that a firkin holds nine gallons that's a hell of a lot of glugging, as mine host Brian Corrin pointed out.

"It was amazing - the bottom line is that we've never sold so much beer," said Brian, who is planning another festival in April.

The Ship's elegantly restored art deco room upstairs was also unveiled, where a smoking ban was implemented in the pub for the first time - something which Brian said went down very well.

Ah yes, the smoking issue.

Over at the main festival in the crypt, smoking was also banned for the first time. Not only did it contribute to a 20% increase in traditional pub grub sales and, given that the universal ban is scheduled for July anyway, it won a universal seal of approval, even a grudging one from the smokers.

"It wasn't a problem - anyone who wanted a ciggie was allowed a pass-out, although they had to leave their glass in a rack before they went outside," said CAMRA branch chairman Geoff Edwards who confirmed that with 5,000 tickets selling out in a flash to sample the 250 different real ales, this was the greatest Liverpool beer festival so far.

"What was so good about it," added Geoff, "was having so many real ale enthusiasts from around the country saying such great things about Liverpool and its beers."

He believed that this was compounded by the success of the conjoining festivals.

"In fact, for next year, we hope every pub in Liverpool holds their own festival at the same time as us.

"The more the merrier." We're up to scratch, as they say.

CAPTION(S):

Nick Gent, left, landlord of The Swan, in Wood Street, enjoys a pint with chums at this year's Liverpool Beer Festival Picture: NEIL LLOYD
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 3, 2007
Words:630
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