Putting Portsmouth on the craft brewery map
Annie Lewis reports on the bubbling craft brewers who are creating radical recipes, booming businesses and great beer...
‘Every good story starts with a good beer,’ laughs David Eastwood, the founder of Southsea Brewing Company.
And after talking to just two of Portsmouth’s great breweries, it seems that every good brewery starts with a good story.
With radical recipes and trendy hops, David, of Southsea Brewing Company, and Jon Chapman, of Staggeringly Good, have been brewing up a craft beer storm that could halt lager-guzzlers in their tracks.
And, I’m told, this revolution started simply through their love for beer.
‘When I first got into beer, I was drinking all of these different beers from around the world. As I was getting into more flavours, I googled how it was made,’ explains David, from Milton.
‘I had an idea about home brewing as I bought a cheap kit from Wilko while I was at university.’
But he says, as he scours the cupboard for grain and salts, it wasn’t until he read a book on the topic he realised what went into brewing.
He tells me the story of his business while we sit in a steamy, sweet porridge-smelling corner of Southsea Castle – the home of Southsea Brewing Company and workplace to David and his business partner Dan Tonkin.
‘I bought everything you would use in a brewery, just on a smaller scale. That would pretty much take over the kitchen. I would get it all out and quickly clean it up before my wife got home because it makes such a mess,’ he laughs.
David, 33, graduated from the University of Portsmouth in music technology and began working in London. After volunteering at Goldmark Craft Beers in Arundel, near Chichester, David’s dream of starting his own business was spurred on by how much customers were enjoying his own alcoholic creations.
Eventually, his dream became reality in 2015 and Southsea Brewing Company was founded.
I arrive on brewing day – ‘they’re the best days,’ adds Dan – and the duo are creating their popular Casemate India Pale Ale (IPA). This IPA is just one in a wide selection of stouts, porters, black and double IPAs created at Southsea Brewing Company.
‘Brewing is more than a hobby – it’s a vocation,’ says David, as he pulls out a bag of hops, which I learn act as a flavouring agent to beer. Hops are the flowers of the hop plant humulus lupulus.
‘If you didn’t add hops to beer, you would end up with a really sweet beer. The hops act as a counterpart to the sugar you get from the grain. Brewing good beer is all about balance.
‘Most flavours have been tested before. There’s a huge community of brewers who are willing to share their experiences,’ adds David.
And just a few miles away, Staggeringly Good Brewery – in the shadow of Fratton Park – is brewing up their own craft.
Once known as the ‘Banksy of Beer’ in Portsmouth, founders Jon Chapman, Joe Ross and Russ Cox established their business following a stag do.
‘Five years ago, my brother was getting married. His best man and I wanted to take our own beer to the stag, so we went to the Brewhouse and Kitchen at Guildhall Walk and brewed our own,’ says Jon, 38, from Worthing.
The well-known dinosaur branding and popular Staggersaurus IPA took its name from the stag do on the Isle of Wight, the dinosaur capital of Britain.
‘Everyone kept saying “this is staggeringly good beer” and the name just stuck,’ adds Jon.
In just three years, Staggeringly Good Brewery was named one of England’s top 20 breweries. The brewery, in Rodney Road, brews everything from IPAs called Little Arms Big Ambitions, Staggersaurus and Thairannocitrus to saisons, porters and stouts.
‘We have a very loyal following and we’re grateful for that. We are constantly striving to make our beer better,’ says Jon. ‘We never compromise on the quality of our ingredients or make a style of beer that we wouldn't want to drink ourselves.’
I quickly learn that brewing isn’t a quick process – ‘there is no speed in brewing beer, just drinking it,’ laughs David.
‘From one day of brewing, you haven’t really produced beer but it’s sweet wort which is the sweet liquid from the grain.
‘Only four days in to fermentation would you call the liquid green beer, because of how fresh it is. It will transform into bright beer which is when it’s nearly ready to drink,’ explains David.
‘One thing they say about brewers is that we don’t make beer, we make wort. It’s only the yeast and weeks of fermentation that makes beer.’
Head brewer at Staggeringly Good, Jordan Fancey, says that although the brewing shifts can be ‘relentless’, he loves his job.
‘I have always had a love for beer, its socialising aspect, and it’s great to make something special,’ says the 24-year-old from Portsmouth.
‘Every day you have a spring in your step. Working in a brewery is such good fun. It is a dream job and very rewarding.’
It’s safe to say the so-called craft beer revolution has hit Portsmouth – and it’s only just beginning.
Southsea Brewing Company is opening its own exciting tap room in Eastney Road, Milton, at the beginning of March, with the aim of selling not only their own beers, but their favourites from around the world.
And Staggeringly Good Brewery will be holding its beer and cheese festival Retox Cheesebox at the newHouse of Rapture bar on February 1, while also crowdfunding for their second Portsmouth brewhouse.
‘We, along with others, are putting Portsmouth on the map for craft brewing,’ smiles Jon.
We can all drink to that.
Back to basics…
Hops: A flower added to boiling wort or fermenting beer to add an aroma or flavour
Wort: The liquid from the grain strained from the mash tun. At this stage, the liquid is regarded as sweet wort, later as brewed wort, fermenting wort and finally beer.
Liquor: A brewer's name for water during the brewing process.
Hot Liquor Tank: A container where the brewing water is heated to mash temperature.
Mash Tun: A vessel used in the mashing process to convert the starches in the grain into sugars for fermentation.
Brew Kettle: The vessel in which wort from the mash is boiled with hops.
Fermentation: The process where the sugars from the mash are converted by yeast to alcohol.
Where can I get craft beer?
Fallen Acorn Brewing Company: Mumby Road, Gosport. (023) 9307 9927.
Southwick Brewhouse: High Street, Southwick, Fareham. (023) 9220 1133.
Irving & Company Brewers Ltd: Walton Road, Portsmouth. (023) 9238 9988.
Urban Island Brewing Company: Limberline Spur, Portsmouth. (023) 9266 8726.
The Emsworth Brewery: West Street, Emsworth. 01243 376403.
Suthwyk Ales: Offwell Farm Bungalow, Southwick. (023) 9232 5252.
Newtown Brewery: Victoria Street, Gosport. 01234 567890.
The Emsworth Brewhouse: Scratchface Lane, Havant. 05603 863 539.
The Sussex Brewery: Main Road, Emsworth. 01243 371533.
The Botley Brewery Ltd: Botley Mills, Southampton. 07909 337 212.
CrackleRock Brewing Company: High Street, Botley. 07733 232 806.
The Hornet Alehouse: The Hornet, Chichester. 01243 696387.
Brewhouse and Kitchen: Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth. (023) 9289 1340.
Southsea Brewing Company: Southsea Castle, Portsmouth. 07939 063 970.
The Brewers Tap: 177 Eastney Road, Milton. Opening beginning of March 2019.
Staggeringly Good Brewery: Rodney Road, Portsmouth. (023) 9229 7033.
The Wave Maiden: Osborne Road, Southsea. (023) 9217 8878.
The Four-Ale Taproom: Stoke Road, Gosport: (023) 9258 4455.
The Beer Musketeer: Albert Road, Southsea.