Date visited: August 2018
We’ve been decidedly slack at Beer Voyage in 2019, so I’m hoping this entry will give us a kick up the proverbial and result in more regular content.
Last August, following an evening at Warriorfest (y’know, that beer festival aboard a ship we wrote about once), we decided to make the short trip from Portsmouth to Southampton to check out what The Gateway to the World (not my words Michael, the words of Wikipedia) had to offer us beery boys.
(Sidenote: Warriorfest was great but there’s no point reviewing it when it was largely a repeat of 2017. And I think I mentioned we’re lazy, right? Suffice to say, your boy kept to his brand and started the evening with a 13.3% barrel-aged absinthe stout. Pretty much all downhill from there. Anyway, back to Southampton…)
Southampton’s a city that I’d never really done a great deal of proper drinking in. Despite spending eight years living in Portsmouth, the only times I had visited Southampton was for gigs and so I didn’t venture much further than pubs in and around its two popular music venues, the Guildhall or The Joiners. Returning to the city with my beer hat on (don’t worry, it’s not a real hat because I am not that much of a tosser) meant we would be journeying all over this fair city in order to take in the best bars/pubs/breweries/bottleshops we could seek out. A little bit of me should probably hate Southampton due to being an adopted Pompey lad but life’s too short for hate. Let’s all be mates.
With the customary Google Map packed full of enticing watering holes, we made the short train ride over to Soton to blast away the cobwebs from the night before. We decided the best route would be to start at the places we’d earmarked furthest away from the train station and then work our way back to where we came from. What follows is a chronological list of all of the places we frequented during our day-trip. Southampton - you’re alright.
Unity Brewing Co.
The first (and last) brewery of the day in the shape of the Belgian inspired hop slingers, Unity Brewing Co. On your typical trading estate, we rounded the corner to this beery delight. This place was surprisingly small considering how far afield their beers manage to reach. Saying that, since our visit, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, I believe the brewery have expanded the brewery and taproom offering which is only a good thing.
We got here as rain began to fall so took refuge in the modest industrial unit. Unity are well known for brewing both well made pale beers as well as Belgian inspired seasonal styles such as saisons and tripels. I had the Collision South Coast IPA and Été. Collision was a super soft and juicy IPA and Été was an elderflower saison both showcasing exactly what Unity do and why they are regarded as one of the best South Coast breweries in craft beer. Our stomachs were a-rumbling so we made the sensible decision to eat and headed for the much heralded 7Bone Burger Co.
7Bone Burger Co.
Not much in the way of beer to talk about (I think it had a reasonable list of beers) but when the food is as good and plentiful as this, who cares? 7Bone now boast seven locations but I think this may have been the first (again, too lazy to verify this). They had recently opened a Portsmouth location and so some of our group had been and raved about it. I have to admit they were right. It’s basically the perfect food to devour after a couple of beers. Beef burgers, chicken burgers, hot dogs, wings and all the usual sides were on offer here and we ate them with abandon. I even had a pickleback because, why the hell not?
Anyway, this isn’t a food blog, so back to your regularly scheduled programme.
I made sure we headed to the next set of drinking establishments via Bitter Virtue as I’d heard so many good things about this beer institution, I had to tick it off the list. Bitter Virtue has been open since 1997 - long before I discovered my love for all things beer - and is still going strong over twenty years later.
For a fairly small shop, it is packed to the rafters with beer ranging from the latest craft offerings to beers from all over the world - just go to their website and scroooooll if you don’t believe me. The owner behind the counter was probably the friendliest person we encountered that day and had actually spotted us at Unity earlier on and gathered we were on a beer crawl. He gave us a few places to check out, we picked up a few beers to takeaway and were on our merry way.
I’d kill for a shop like this in my corner of West London but the cost of opening such a place in such a location makes it a non-starter. I’ll just have to live with my infrequent visits to establishments such as this. Long live Bitter Virtue!
Mr. Bitter Virtue suggested we check out the Bookshop Alehouse as it wasn’t too far a walk and was a bit different from your usual pub. A pub! In a book shop! It’d be quite easy to mistake this place as just a bookshop as other than sticking a bar in the back, I imagine it’s remained unchanged from it’s bookshop days.
Winner of the CAMRA Southern Hampshire Pub of the Year award back in 2017 and runner-up in 2018, this micropub was very chilled out place and was reasonably quiet for an early Saturday evening. Other than a few old boys dotted along the bar and a few tables of people, we were pretty much the only other customers.
They still sell books here and there are a number of well-thumbed tomes for you to peruse over a pint. Speaking of which, The Bookshop Alehouse offers 4 cask beers and 4 beers on keg as well as cider-in-a-box for any apple enthusiasts. As the pub was a little quiet and we were looking for somewhere with a little more atmosphere we were soon voyaging onto our next watering hole. A good place for a quiet pint, for sure, although the chap behind the bar seemed annoyed that I was ordering beers. Some of the online reviews have similar/worse experiences. Hmm.
Situated between two busy roads sits The Rockstone. Billing itself as ‘a country pub in the centre of town’, it definitely proved to be that. Horseshoe shaped bar, well-trodden carpeted floors, 9 cask beers, 15 keg options. It’s a shame we sat outside really.
Truth be told, this wasn’t on the top of my list of places to check out but it helped break up the journey to the train station a bit so was more of a happy accident. We perched on one of the many wooden benches in the front beer garden and chilled out with a swift beer. It was certainly a popular pub with the outside space more or less full and from what I could see, most of the inside too. The weather was starting to turn so we shivered our way through our beers and made tracks before the train took hold.
(I forgot to take anymore pictures by this point.)
The heavens opened but luckily we were close to BrewDog, which ended up being our last stop of the day due to wanting to dodge the rain.
I think I’ve spoke about BrewDog being ubiquitous before so I was pleasantly surprised to walk in one with a bit of its own style. It has the BrewDog faux-industrial vibe. Except it isn’t faux. The building is actually quite run-down so they didn’t have to make it look that way.
It’s fairly small compared to most of the ther BrewDog’s I’ve visited (a bonus) with the upstairs circling the main space below with the classic BrewDog booths and high tables dotted across both floors. It doesn’t feel quite as identikit as most of the London branches do now which was a huge plus. It felt very much like a place that has a dedicated group of locals that have built up great rapport with the staff. It wasn’t crazily busy for a Saturday night but the bar staff were full of chat and it felt less like a chain and more like a proper local. A pleasant surprise.
We stayed for a few beers here before realising we were going to miss the last train so had to grab a taxi and make haste to the train station.
Pretty, pretty good then. Two things stood out from this trip: (1) Southampton is a lot more sprawling than its rival city of Portsmouth and it felt like we had definitely done our fair share of walking by the end of the day, (2) the beer situation in Southampton is surprisingly decent and varied. We took in some traditional pubs, a brewery, a bottleshop, a micro-pub, a BrewDog and still didn’t manage to fit in everything (I’m looking at you Dancing Man Brewery and Belgium and Blues). Definitely a city I’d happily return to for round 2.