Cheers! Microbreweries prove they have the recipe for success
Drinking craft beers was once derided as an attempt to be the hippest of hipsters in trendy East London watering holes.
But today the thirst for real ale has spread across the nation as people ignore gassy, mass-produced pints and opt for something more authentic and flavoursome.
With drinkers ditching Heinekens for Hammertons and Budweisers for Brewdogs, Portsmouth’s brewing tradition has been revived thanks to a number of microbreweries.
Oli Kutylowski, 26, has a clear memory of his introduction to microbreweries at the Brewhouse & Kitchen – which, at that point, had just opened on Guildhall Walk in the city centre.
Oli says: ‘My girlfriend had an exam so I had three hours to kill. I walked into the Brewhouse and saw the little brewing set-up in the corner and I thought it was awesome. That was probably when I first started getting into beers and it went from there.’
Oli’s interest in brewing developed into buying home brewing kits during his travels in Australia. But when he returned home to Southsea, he couldn’t resist the idea of doing it professionally.
He explains: ‘Once you go into craft beer you don’t really look back. There are so many different flavours and you’re more open to experiment with them. You still get a lot of people who drink those known brands of lager, but now there’s so much variety, I think a lot of people are becoming converted.’
Oli started out by working behind the Brewhouse’s bar. But pouring the pints couldn’t match his passion for preparing them and within months he was made the pub’s head brewer.
Not only is he responsible for recreating the beers which have become a mainstay of the business, but he is also tasked with keeping customers on their toes with unconventional spices and flavours.
He says: ‘I adhere to the sort of ‘‘classic’’ style of brewing when it comes to producing most of our core beers. But with the Brewer’s Choice beer, if I’ve got an idea or a recipe in my head, I’ll see what happens with it!
‘One which was particularly popular was James Beam. It was a rye wheat aged beer, but I took some oak chips from a barrel of Jim Beam bourbon and threw them into the fermenter and let them sit there for three weeks.
‘It actually turned out very well and it gave the beer a great smoky flavour. I really do think I’ll have to bring it back again some day.’
The Brewhouse & Kitchen brand began in Portsmouth when it took over the White Swan pub in 2013. Once home of the famous but sadly defunct Brickwoods Brewery in the early 1900s, the business had some big barrels to fill, not to mention the student-savvy likes of Wetherspoon and Yates’s just a keg’s throw away. Within three years, Brewhouse & Kitchen has grown to 14 pubs across the country: from Bournemouth to Bristol, Cheltenham to Chester, and even in the heart of London at its Islington branch.
With its shiny pumps, pipes and vats still on display, the maiden branch is determined to keep its roots planted in micro-brewing. Oli believes that the element of selection is what helps the Brewhouse stand head and shoulders above omnipresent chain pubs.
‘I think it’s good being near those bigger pubs, but also being able to do something different’, says Oli.
‘We don’t sell any big branded beers, instead we sell beers that you might not normally try, and that’s as well as all of our own beers.
‘I think we got in there early too. A lot of people like to come and see the beer being made and take part in our masterclasses, and that’s definitely a unique selling point for the Brewhouse.’
From their Mucky Duck session bitter to Oli’s personal favourite, the Black Swan IPA, the success of Brewhouse & Kitchen and its lovingly-crafted brews has built a platform for the growth of microbreweries locally.
At one end of the spectrum, there are institutions such as Irving & Co in Farlington and the fast-rising Southsea Brewing Co, while at the other are promising businesses in their infancy such as the Emsworth Brewhouse or the Staggeringly Good Brewery in Southsea.
Oli says: ‘Some of these guys are home brewers in their spare time and they just went for it. I think the fact that we’re doing pretty well is definitely encouraging. Even though Portsmouth’s not large it’s well-populated and there’s loads of demand for craft beers that are brewed locally.’
Garage-based brewers have also been proving themselves by showcasing their beers at various events throughout the year – from the annual Portsea Island Beer Festival and the British Food Fortnight in Emsworth to summer fun days held in various parks across Hampshire.
For more information on Portsmouth’s Brewhouse & Kitchen, go to brewhouseandkitchen.com/venue/portsmouth
You can also read about Portsmouth’s other microbreweries at portsmouthpubs.org.uk/portsmouth-breweries
David Eastwood left his ‘boring’ office job at a large brewery four years ago and the 31-year-old has applied the skills he learned to create the Southsea Brewing Co.
Set on developing his home brewery with his wife, Lorna, David faced a challenge in finding a hub for the microbrewery beyond the average industrial estate.
David says: ‘I didn’t want to have a brewery where it’s hard to get to and people don’t know where you are. They don’t have any character because they’re just bog-standard buildings.’
David piqued the interest of beer-lovers who happened to be behind the revamp of the Hot Walls in Old Portsmouth and in July, the Southsea Brewing Co found its new permanent home at the Southsea Castle Museum.
David and Lorna embraced the heritage of the castle, which was built by Henry VIII, and named their chocolate milk stout Six Wives as they could ‘imagine Henry VIII drinking it’.
‘The castle has got a great history and being here means that a lot of people come to visit us when they’re going to the castle or they’re just milling around,’ David says.
‘There’s a great passing trade with people coming in and buying a bottle to take home with them.’
Now firmly amongst the most prominent independent brewers in Portsmouth, David and Lorna are spearheading a campaign towards their ultimate goal of ‘pushing lagers off the pumps’.
David explains: ‘The culture of craft beers has made me feel at home with other brewers and it’s very different to other industries.
‘I think the idea of beer having to taste like lager is going out of the window and the resurgence of real ale has got to the point where people have gone crazy with it. They don’t adhere to boundaries of what traditional beer is – that’s what has got people interested in craft beer.’
For more information on the Southsea Brewing Co, go to facebook.com/southseabrewing
You don’t need expensive rigs and massive vats to be able to produce beer in your own home.
Grant Thomas started brewing at his home in Emsworth using the most basic equipment, before he went on to set up the Emsworth Brewhouse 10 months ago.
He says: ‘I’d been home brewing for a couple of years, starting with the kit you buy from a supermarket where you add water to a syrup. I then read up on the process of all-grain brewing and started doing that on the kitchen counter using a converted coolbox. It was much to my family’s dismay because they couldn’t stand the smell of it!’
Grant’s kitchen brews got the attention of pubs in Emsworth so, with feedback and support from some of his peers, Grant upscaled the DIY project and transformed his garage into a home-grown microbrewery.
He brews three different ales – American-style IPA Mainsail, amber ale Flotilla and dark sweet ale Wodehouse, named after the legendary author who once lived in Emsworth – and has a fourth ale in production.
The entire process from brewing to bottling is still done at home, powered by solar panels and distributed in zero-emission electric cars. Grant has even grown some of the hops for the beers in his own garden.
‘‘Craft’ is a word that can be described in a number of ways, but I would describe myself as a craft brewer because everything is done by hand,’ Grant explains.
‘I’d like to be able to sell directly to the public so they can come and buy my beer straight from the fermenter. I’d also like to be able to do brewery experience days where people can come and help out with the brewing and come away with something at the end of the day.’
For more information on the Emsworth Brewhouse, go to facebook.com/EmsworthBrewhouse