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Beer festival puts fizz into Harland and Wolff offices


Success brewing: The historic Harland and Wolff HQ which is staging a major beer festival

Success brewing: The historic Harland and Wolff HQ which is staging a major beer festival

Beer festival organiser Matthew Dick

Beer festival organiser Matthew Dick

Success brewing: The historic Harland and Wolff HQ which is staging a major beer festival

The historic surroundings of the former Harland & Wolff headquarters and drawing offices are set to play host to a major new beer festival, it can be revealed. Hundreds are expected to flock to the ABV15 event in May - which will attract dozens of the UK and Ireland's top brewing talents, as well as those from as far afield as Denmark.

While it was once the epicentre of global ship design, where the first sketches of the infamous Titanic were pulled together, it's now beer which will be at the helm.

And it will be the last event held at the venue, before a £27m boutique hotel project gets under way.

One of the founders of the event, Matthew Dick (30), said Northern Ireland was ready for something new, showcasing the talents of brewers right across Ireland, the UK and further afield.

He said a festival in the north of England had inspired Belfast's brewers to pick an unusual venue.

"We chose the location after our experience at the Indy Man festival in Manchester which is hosted in the amazing surroundings of the Victoria Baths.

"The old headquarters are big and it's an interesting place. We aren't just interested in putting on a festival that's just about a room with beer - we wanted a space with character, history and a story.

"There aren't many left like it in Belfast, so it's great opportunity and gives us a lot of space to play around with."

The event - which runs between May 22 and 23 - is also set to attract a host of varied beer styles from breweries at home - with the tide firmly turning towards increasingly diverse palates and tastes.

Left virtually untouched and vacant since 1989, the grade B listed building will now entertain around 1,200 visitors for the first time in decades.

The building once played host to thousands of staff, and was formerly the control centre for the largest shipyard in the world.

A number of the world's best known ships were designed there - including the Titanic, as well as naval warships such as HMS Belfast.

It was also where Lord Pirrie, Thomas Andrews and Alexander Carlisle sketched out their dream for the biggest liner ever built.

The new festival is the brainchild of four keen individuals, including Belfast's latest beer maker Matthew Dick - co-founder of Boundary Brewing - Co Tyrone brewer Darren Nugent, photographer Michael Kerr and distributor Felicia Matheson.

Each had mulled over the idea of a new kind of beer festival for the city for some time, with the concept finally realised when all four finally came together.

"We each had this idea for a great beer festival in Belfast, showing off some of the huge variety of stunning beers, including big IPA (India Pale Ales), stouts and sour varieties," Matthew said.

"So now, it's two brewers, a beer geek and a distributor who have come together to realise that idea - it's something that we hope will really interest people."

Mr Dick will also be showing off his own beers, after raising £100,000 in just eight days to start the co-operative Boundary Brewing.

ABV15 will run across three sessions, kicking-off on Friday evening before continuing on Saturday.

The organisers are hoping for a diverse mixture of brewing boffins, traditional beer drinkers and those interested in trying something new.

And given the expanse they have to work with, Mr Dick has said it will be a comfortable and relaxed environment.

"I think we will get a wide spectrum, from those enamoured with beer, traditional festival goers and those who are just inquisitive," he said.

It's also not a chance to gulp as many pints as possible - the focus instead on trying as many different and varied beers as possible.

"There will be 1,200 people across three sessions, and it is a token system. We are focusing on breweries sending us their best beers - pushing boundaries.

"We will be doing third and half-pint pours - over-indulgence is not our goal. There will be a wide selection of beers of styles, strengths, colours and influences."

Among the dozens of names confirmed includes Denmark's To ol, as well as London breweries Kernel, Partizan and Beavertown - the latter founded by the son of Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant.

And it will also be a chance to showcase some of Northern Ireland and the Republic's own brewing talents, including Co Tyrone's Pokertree and the Galway Bay brewery.

"Everyone we have asked to get involved has said yes, which is brilliant," Mr Dick said.

"The brewers are also encouraged to come and pour, getting them to connect with their customers ."

The event is expected to be the last held at the former Harland & Wolff headquarters and drawing offices, before work gets under way on a new hotel project.

And as many as 250 additional jobs could also be created through the 84-bedroom hotel's construction. It comes as planning permission has also been granted for three further hotels in the vicinity of the city's flagship waterside tourist attraction.

The largest is for a 244-bedroom location, while the other successful applications also include 155 and 120-room hotels - both in the vicinity of Titanic Belfast.

For more information on the ABV15 beer festival visit the website www.abvfest.com

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Belfast Telegraph