Last Updated : 20/04/10
et another jaunt to the South coast was on the agenda, this time Portsmouth, which I must confess I don’t know a great deal about beer-wise and had last visited during 1996 when the extremely dodgy Raven and only slightly less dodgy Spikes were (allegedly) brewing… with only a short time to acquire some solid gen as to the whereabouts of any decent pubs in the city I decided to ask Headmixer for gen yet again in the hope he’d know something about the city’s beer scene, and he came up trumps with a comprehensive list generously donated by a work colleague from Portsmouth – well, if anyone would have the gen then someone living there should do, I reasoned!
New beer gen is here!
Tuesday 13th March.
Off to the customary poor start.
I had been hoping to get out of work relatively early in order to give myself the maximum time possible to work my way around the comprehensive list of hostelries I’d been given but, predictably, I didn’t get away from my job at Arundel until 16:30 and then had to seethe in stop-start traffic all the way along the A27 to Portsmouth; a journey of a mere 30 miles took well over an hour to complete and when I eventually arrived at my carefully-chosen hotel on Southsea’s seafront I wasn’t best pleased, although bagging the very last car parking space just ahead of some Tory wanker in a penis-extension car provided a modicum of compensation!
I was checked in, changed and out of the door again within twenty minutes as, with the time already 18:45, I was in a hurry to check out some of my recommended pubs and the extremely sapping journey I’d just driven had instilled a thirst in me for some good real ale – and not just winners, this was a thirst which would accept anything half-decent which wasn’t on my admittedly extensive “Boycott” list…
I trudged along Clarendon road, past the Istanbul Grill 2 kebab house (what happened to No.1, I asked myself?), and had a quick look into the Coastguard Tavern and then the Strand Bar although my time was wasted as neither seemed to have any proper beer on sale – or none that I could see, and if the handpumps were so hidden I couldn’t see them then the turnover of ale mustn’t be particularly high. Onwards I stomped, past the Osborne on Clarendon Road (closed) and then the Townhouse on Portland Road which was not only closed but boarded up too for good measure, but it wasn't such a great loss by the looks of things as the faded signs still draped all over the exterior proclaimed such delights as “happy hour”, “shooters”, “DJ’s” and other such crap which have no place in a proper pub.
Turning left past the Havana café bar - no thanks! – and with my lurking patience already growing decidedly thin I cast an eye through the windows of the strangely-named Wheelbarrow ale house on Castle Road. Predictably for an establishment with such a fuckwit name the sum total of the “ale” on offer was Courage Best! I’m being a tad facetious here as, technically, I require the pub’s sole offering for it’s move to Wells but this requirement is overridden by my ethical boycott of all products from said brewery, so I actually required nothing after all… if you follow me.
Passing what is presumably either an ex-pub or ex-off license with a Long's ales sign above the windows I looked at my watch: I’d been walking for almost half an hour, had looked in quite a few pubs to no avail, and was getting decidedly thirsty and tired by this stage in the proceedings and so, when one of my “try also” pubs – the Barley Mow - appeared I was straight through the door like a ferret into a hole. Unfortunately, I found myself in the pub’s pool room which gave off the strange aura of an illicit drinking den about it so I quickly shifted my complaining legs into reverse and located the correct door for the lounge.
This portal opened into a large lounge where the buzz of conversation, sociable atmosphere and wood-panelled walls gave a far better impression than I’d had through the other door – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen two rooms in the same pub so different for quite a while! Examining the bar I saw a right old mix of brews; Ballards mild, Hogsback TEA, Sheps Shitfire, Fullers “Gales” HSB and London Pride with the star of the show being a beer I’d not seen, let along sampled, for quite a few years - Goddards Fuggle-de-dum – and a quick check of the Mini-Aston revealed I’d first scooped it 12 years previous!
The beer was copper in colour, sociably full-bodied, with a resinous, bitter and strangely leafy hop flavour which tasted resolutely English and reminded me of some of the older micro beers before Brendan Dobbin introduced the country to the delights of “foreign” hops. Feeling fortified by this swift half of pure Englishness I bade my farewells and continued along Castle Street towards my primary destination of the Eldon Arms whilst stopping for a quick glance through the windows of the King Street Tavern, a posh-looking place, which had three Wadworth beers on handpump although, as you’ve probably realised if you’ve read any of my recent tirades against crap southern towns, I'm not their biggest fan so despite the pub having a lovely tiled exterior I decided to give it a miss and press on.
Got any Dorchester Crystal Ales, mate?
Only a few steps later I was inside the Eldon, a quiet, long, dimly-lit, beige-painted and relaxed pub which reminded me of several Edinburgh bars in a vague way which I couldn’t quite pin down to any one thing. Eight beers were available from the imposing bank of pumps; Hopback Summer Lightning and GFB, two Ringworm ales, Sharp’s Doombar and Wadworth Bishop’s Tipple along with some other dross which I’ve since forgotten owing to it not being that exciting. There were no winners available – apart from the Wadworth, which I had decided to ignore for the reasons explained previously – so I indulged in a glass of the Sharps, it being my pick of the beers on offer.
The beer wasn’t in the best condition and the reason why soon became obvious – the next person to order a pint was kept waiting for five minutes as the beer burst mid-way through the pull! I decided against asking for a replacement as my glass was merely a bit tired and not off in any way and within a short time it had vanished down my throat. With nothing else I wanted to sample it was time to head back into the centre from this, the furthest point of my evening’s wander.
Back along Eldon Street I stomped and I was soon passing the King Street Tavern again. Stopping for a moment to admire the building’s handsome tiled exterior I chanced a quick peek in through one of the windows and saw a pumpclip I didn’t recognize and – reasoning that I had plenty of time and the pub looked sociable enough – in I went to see what beery delights would await me, but not before admiring the old Dorchester crystal ales window; shame there wouldn’t be any of that available!
Three cask ales were available but it was only when I was inside that I realized that – to paraphrase Ms Spiers - Ooops I’d done it again and wandered into a Wadworth’s pub; this is becoming a habit for me and I really must try and kick it… by the time I’d realized my folly, however, I’d reached the bar and was ready to order and so I went for the best option available – Wadworth’s Bishop’s Tipple which I’d flagged ten minutes previously in the Eldon Arms but, I reasoned, surely it would taste better in a Wadworth tied house?
I bagged a little table in the corner of the pub and ferried my brim-full half pint over to it, spilling on the way as much as I dared without seeming clumsy. Whilst I summoned up the necessary courage to try the beer from one of my least favourite brewers I cast my eyes around the building and had to admit that it was a nice enough bar for a few drinks; I say “bar” not pub as it resembled a very civilized and quiet café bar in style, and I say “drinks” as somehow pints of bitter just didn’t seem to be the market they were aiming at! This said, however, the beer was well-kept and, as much as I hate to admit these things, it was the second passable Wadworth beer I’d had in the last few months!
Admittedly the beer had little in common with the sickly-sweet Gibbs Mew beer I remember of old and also didn’t have that hideous “pear drop” earthy malt character most Wadworth beers possess; I presume this is due to a special yeast being used as this quote from the Refresh website indicates “The beer was fermented at low temperature with a special yeast, carefully chosen to avoid the fruity ester flavours often associated with higher alcohol beers”. Whatever the reason, it was a decent bitterish, malty and actually quite likeable brew and a lot better than I’d expected.
Heading for home.
As I supped my beer I gazed alternately through the gaps in the floorboards into the cellar, around the pub at the posh visitors sipping wine and at the tealights incongruously sat in Belgian beer glasses; this wasn’t the kind of pub I’d expected to find in Portsmouth, but it takes all sorts, I suppose… my beer finished, off I went to the main event of the evening, the Hole in the Wall, where I’d been promised the best selection of “scoopable” beers in town.
The walk to my next visit, via some rather grim flats, took only five minutes and I was soon inside the pub where I immediately liked what I saw; numerous handpumps graced the bar and the surroundings were cosy and multi-levelled with a decent enough complement of customers enjoying the beers and some very nice looking plates of sausage and mash. Sadly I’d missed the food my 15 minutes, but that wasn’t what I’d come for (although it would have been nice…) so I made my way to the bar to see what was flowing from the pumps.
Two scoops were available, both Rugby beers (brewed at Purity), although I also wanted to try the Hole Hearted from Blakes which was originally a house beer for the pub and, as a bonus, is brewed with 100% Cascades, one of my favourite hops. The landlord was chatty and sociable, the beer was in good condition, and I passed an enjoyable 45 minutes stood by the bar while discussing beer from near and far; the landlord was particularly surprised when he found out how many beers I’d scooped although I’m not sure he didn’t think I was “bigging myself up” or simply talking shite…
My scoops drunk - and an additional half of Hole hearted, too - I finally wrenched myself away from my place by the bar and headed back towards my hotel on the seafront. I’d planned to go via the Apsley House on Auckland Rd West but, as you won’t be surprised to learn if you’re a regular reader of my reports, I misread the map and found myself on the completely wrong road from where I’d intended to be… after the customary swearing and loudly proclaiming the wrongs my useless left-hand brain had dealt me yet again I decided I just couldn’t be arsed to walk the five minutes back to the pub and so set my sails for the hotel (well, I thought I’d be topical and throw in a maritime reference seeing as this is about Portsmouth, but reading it again it seems particularly cheesy… I might delete that later, so if you read this gibberish then I haven’t!).
Before I’d left Worcester I had done some half-hearted internet research on Portsmouth real ale pubs and had unearthed a decent selection of standbys. One of these was vaguely en-route and so, as I trudged down Clarendon Road, I saw the lights of the Florence Arms twinkling an invitation to me not a couple of minutes off route; how could I resist one more beer before bed, I thought, as I quickly changed tack (there you go, yet another cheesy ship allusion!) and noticed how my pace was quickening as the pub’s door got closer and closer…
The Florence – or the Flo as it seemed to be called - was a large corner pub with two distinct sides to it and exuded a busy, friendly feel; it was certainly the busiest pub I’d been in that evening and I was glad I’d made the slight diversion to scoop it in; after all, what’s the point of getting back to the hotel at half past nine with nowt but keg there? I couldn’t see the pumpclips of the beers around in the front bar but I soon found out that – unbelievably – a winner was on sale in the form of Hogsback HBB (3.7%), a brand-new beer; this was a huge bonus and completely unexpected, but was I complaining? Okay, I wasn’t complaining about the scoop, but I was still moaning to myself about my map reading and having passed so many pubs which sold shite… but I always do that so I suppose the answer is technically no.
I was soon in possession of a glass of Hogsback and supped it contentedly; the landlord soon wandered around the bar, asked me if I was enjoying it, and told me the next beer on would be Goddard Golden. Okay, so if I’m totally frank the beer wasn't the best tasting brew I’ve ever had (it was a touch bland, to be honest) but the pub takes it’s beer seriously judging by this one brief visit and I’d certainly have a look in if and when I ever get to Portsmouth again! My glass was soon empty and, resisting the temptation to have another on the grounds of being totally knackered by a combination of walking miles and an early start that morning, I continued my trudge along Clarence road and thus back to the Royal Beach hotel.
Wednesday 15th March 2007.
An evening wander.
The following evening soon arrived and I headed out in the opposite direction towards the suburb of Eastney with the aim of visiting the four pubs remaining unvisited on my list from the previous evening, as well as any others I might pass which looked interesting. The evening was distinctly spring-like as I passed the boating lake and I think I even whistled to myself as I strolled along – spring fever indeed – although I don’t think Mortiis translates that well into whistling to be honest…
The first pub was soon reached, the Eastney tavern, which billed itself as a “restaurant pub” (rarely a good omen) and thus, predictably, only had London Pride and Henry's IPA on the two handpulls – needless to say I didn’t stop! A short distance along Cromwell road was the imposingly-named Royal Marine Artillery Tavern which I’d have probably enjoyed a glass or two of beer in had it not been a Fuller’s pub – oh sorry, it was Gales, but that’s the same thing these days…
Passing the pub by, sad that my ethics were preventing me from soaking up the traditional-looking atmosphere inside, I had a quick peek into the Cellars at Eastney opposite and saw yet another very sociable-looking locals pub with plenty of flat capped old blokes propping up the bar; the sounds of a lively pub resonated from the doorway but, tragically, the beer range of Tanglefoot, Hobgoblin and Ringworm Best wasn’t going to tempt me over the threshold and so on I went, slightly gutted that two decent-looking pubs had been rejected, but I’d definitely have a look into the Cellars if around the area again.
After a long walk, punctuated by a stop at a chip shop for some much-needed sustenance, I arrived at the Artillery Arms on Hester Road. This pub looked just as I imagine a traditional street corner local should having organically growth into adjacent properties and possessing a dark timber interior with restrained lighting. I finished my fish and chips as quickly as possible (they were still roasting hot after a five-minute walk and the cod was the star of the show) before pushing open the doors of the public bar and entering into an oasis of calm – not that it was noisy outside, but that sort of calm you only get in public bars before the “loud” locals have arrived and the only sound is discreet murmuring and swishing handpumps.
Four beers were available; the seemingly omnipotent London Pride, Archers Golden (not seen that for years!), Ringworm 49’er and Downton Elderquad. I was momentarily tempted by the Archers but settled for a glass of the Downton on the premise that I’d been more impressed with their beers recently and wanted to see if the upwards spiral of quality their beers seemed to be on was maintained by this example. The beer was in good condition and had a mid-Atlantic taste of grapefruit and citrus which confirmed to me that Downton beers – regardless of whether they are just a division of Hopback or not – are improving and my opinion on them has altered for the better in the last six months!
The punk hotel.
Politely refusing the Archers I headed off back into the centre along the busy Eastney Road passing en-route the impressive-looking Fort Cumberland Arms. Sadly no real ale was available, but I gazed for a few seconds at the lovely old Long's windows, wishing that I’d visited forty years previously to scoop these massive winners, before continuing my perambulation homewards.
My main target pubwise was the Sirloin of Beef on Highland road but, having plenty of time in hand, I decided to take a slight detour via the amusingly-named (it is if you like Birmingham punk bands!) Eastfield Hotel situated, surprisingly enough, on Eastfield road. I certainly didn’t expect to find a gloriously tiled street-corner boozer sat in some quiet suburban streets in place of my vision of a tatty B&B and, on closer inspection, I certainly didn’t expect it to sell three real ales! Greede Kerching OSH, Ringworm BB and Ventnor Golden were on the pumps and so I risked a half of the only beer I’d drink out of the three – and it wasn't in too bad condition either!
With nothing else to detain me it was a swift “gulp and go” (maybe I should copyright that phrase?) and I was soon at the Sirloin of Beef. Another street-corner boozer, this one is apparently run by an ex-submariner and can apparently have a strange atmosphere… well maybe some nights it can, I’m not disputing that, but on my visit it was a typical locals’ pub albeit with a very good range of beers – sadly not including the new local brewery I’d been hoping for – including Summer Lightning, Hopback stout, Triple fff Stairway to Heaven, Hogsback Hair of the Hog, Downton Chimera IPA and some other dross I instantly forgot.
The choice was obvious – given the quality of my last beer – and so I was soon in possession of a half pint of Chimera IPA. This is an attempt at a “proper” IPA in that it’s around 7% and very hoppy, although Downton have chosen to use traditionally British hops as opposed to almost everyone these days who uses American hops for the style. The beer was a good, bitter, fruity and hoppy brew with a resinous, bitter and quite malty finish although I think they chickened out and used too few hops in order not to kill normal drinkers with excessive bitterness!
As I supped the beer I looked around the pub; it was a rather ordinary two-sided place adorned with models of submarines and suchlike but what interested me was the range of Belgian bottled beers; not the usual shite such as Leffe and Duvel, oh no, here there was quality in the shape of Verhaege Kriek and Vichtenaar, Dolle Oerbier, Bornem Dubbel and other passable brews such as Westmalle Tripel – small but perfectly formed, I think this Belgian list could safely be described!
With nothing else on my pub list I elected to head back to the hotel in the hope of arriving back before the evening meal service had finished – well, work were paying – so resisting the Verhaege beers somehow I trudged down Highland Road having a quick peek into any pubs I passed on the way. First up was the Three Marines – no real ale there, so on I went and soon came across the Gravediggers where I wasn’t tempted by the lacklustre offerings of Adnams bitter, Sheps Shitfire and Greede Kerching IPA. The final pub I passed was a huge old pile with an ornate and rather hellfire leaded glass Brickwoods porch but, sadly, nothing so rare was on sale as the Festing – as the place was called, being on Festing Road – was a Greede Kerching pub.
Obviously, I didn’t stop and was soon back at the hotel with plenty of time to replace all those calories lost by my mammoth march around Eastney with a rather large portion of steak and chips followed by a chocolate and orange cheesecake… as I said, work were paying…
My abiding memories of Portsmouth from my admittedly infrequent visits during the 1990’s were those of dodgy brewpubs and little else… how things change! The brewpubs have gone, sadly, but there seems to be many more pubs selling good beer than there used to be ten years or so ago; the Hole in the Wall deserves a special mention as it seemed the most likely place to get a scoop (although I didn’t) of the micro variety with most of the other pubs seemingly sticking to the safer local micros and regionals.
There’s a pretty decent crawl possible if you follow what I did and to be honest if you start early enough you could probably do the lot in an evening with little trouble – I had two days and so strung them out appropriately but with little scoop-wise in most of the pubs I doubt you’d be stuck anywhere with a dozen huge winners to consume! Obviously, being the UK, there are no trams to ease the strain on the feet but the bus service locally seems to be reasonably comprehensive and runs until fairly late although I didn’t avail myself of it’s services so can’t comment.
Overall, my yomp around the city’s better pubs was fairly enjoyable, despite only scooping a couple of beers in two days, and it was nice to see another side to the dodgy brewpubs which I remember it for in the old days. I did miss out a couple of places, one notable one being the ex-Spike’s wine vaults (now owned by Fullers, that's why I didn’t bother) but I was in solidarity with the more militant locals in boycotting anything being masqueraded as Gales and so have no regrets about that! Yes there are better cities to trudge around looking for beers, quite a lot more thinking about it, but as long as you can read a map at least as well as me – which isn’t that well – you won’t go thirsty and you might even score a few, but what seems to be certain is that you’ll get some decent locally-brewed micro beers and that’s good enough for me in these non-desperate days!
The Pubs. (Updated 20/04/10)
See all these pubs on my Google map here... This site is also well worth a look.
Hole in the Wall, 36 Great Southsea Street, Southsea.
Small but sociable bar with five guest beers from far and wide plus Oakleaf Hole Hearted semi-permanently. Your best chance of a scoop in Pompey.
Sirloin of Beef, 152 Highland Road, Eastney.
Quirky place with a good range of cask beer, up to eight including some unusual finds, although the interesting Belgian bottles seem to have gone.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 2 Guildhall Walk, Southsea.
Big McSpoons close to the city hall and Southsea rail station, plus the White Swan (nice pub, also McSpoons) is just down the road at No.26; a very interesting comparison of clientele and pubs can be done if you visit both!
Leopold Tavern, 154 Albert Road, Southsea
Recently refurbished pub retaining "United IPA" signage and now selling six guest beers with a chance of a scoop.
Barley Mow, 39 Castle Road, Southsea.
A large pub with two contrasting sides – the "illicit drinking den" pool room and the laid-back, sociable bar with six real ales available but only two are guests. Just down the road from the Hole.
Dolphin, 41 High Street, Old Portsmouth
Fairly expensive and foody place near the old harbour and old town with up to six cask ales, usually including some Irving.
Eldon Arms, 11-17 Eldon Street, Southsea.
Deceptively large and rambling pub with up to six beers on cask although nothing really scooptastic. Regularly has Bowman beers, the new landlord is making an effort.
Florence Arms, 20 Florence Road, Southsea.
Lively locals pub with several cask ales including a "guest of the month", usually local. Plenty of battery acid for those who like such things.
Artillery Arms, Hester Road, Eastney.
Everything a local’s pub should be if you read the locals’ pub text book. Up to six ales available although nothing really rare.
Eastfield Hotel, 124 Prince Albert Road (corner of Eastfield Road), Eastney.
Not really a scooping pub but this gorgeously tiled corner house does have real ale and is named after a punk band… okay, it isn't named after one, but three beers make it a decent stop between the Artillery and Sirloin.
If you like Fullers (!) then there's a few more options for you including the old Spike's brewpub, the Wine Vaults, at 47 Albert Road plus the Royal Marine Artillery Tavern in Eastney looks a great old pub and the RMA Tavern on Cromwell road must have been great when it had locally-brewed beer on sale.
The best beer and pub of the visit 2007.
I’d dearly have loved a Goddards beer to get this award as I have a bit of a soft spot for them, but with the cold light of day comes the realisation that the best beer I had was Downton Chimera IPA (6.8%) in the Sirloin of Beef; a slightly hazy pale brew with a hoppy, hedgerow-like bitterness and lots of traditional English hoppiness leading to a well-balanced malty, bitter, hoppy aftertaste which in my opinion could have done with a final blast of hops to crown it off… but it still scored a respectable three so just pips Wadworth Bishop’s Tipple to the beer award – and that’s a brewer I never thought I’d congratulate!
As for the best pub, I really enjoyed the Florence Arms for it’s excellent local’s atmosphere, the King Street Tavern surprisingly worked as a posh café-bar, and the Artillery Arms was everything a locals’ pub should be… but I think the Hole in the Wall just edges them out by a nose with it’s overall sociability and beer range – although I’d visit most of the pubs again any day of the week, which isn’t always something I say afterwards!
The best beer and pub of the visit 2010.
The city is really looking up cask ale-wise with lots more pubs selling the stuff in the three years since I was last there. The Hole in the Wall is still my favourite and your best chance of a scoop, but then you've got the laid-back Leopold with it's six pumps, the Sirloin of Beef seems to have replaced good bottles with rare cask ales, and McSpoon's new pub, the White Swan, is extremely well presented and forms an interesting comparison with the raucous IKB a short distance away! The Eastfield and Artillery Arms are still top pubs although a scoop is unlikely, similarly the Dolphin and Barley Mow which did have, annoyingly, a scoop on the taunting board all the time I was there although I had to settle for Arundel!
Beer-wise, Irving of Portsmouth tastes far too Gales-ish for me (bland) although Bowman are solidly tasty and well worth a pint or two. My favourite beers, once again, were in the superb Hole in the Wall where Great Oakley supplied three classically English yet effortlessly flavoursome and characterful brews with the Welland Valley Mild being the overall favourite. Hammerpot Bottle Wreck Porter was another cracker and Dark Star Saison a very brave attempt at a style which I foresee totally confusing 99% of UK cask drinkers with it's clovey, cobwebby, wheaty flavours. Overall, though, I think that Welland Valley Mild was my favourite beer of the fortnight!
© Gazza 20/04/10 V2.0.
|Eastfield Hotel, Portsmouth||Longs Ales sign in Portsmouth||King Street Tavern, Portsmouth|