I don’t really enjoy bottled beer, so I’m quite lucky to have a few breweries close by that do public sales such as the Botley Brewery down in the Botley Mills and the Bowman Ales brewery near Droxford. Then there’s the Bitter Virtue off-licence in Portswood, which has guest ales on tap to take away.
I’d only recently learnt of Cracklerock when I went to the Southampton Beer Festival a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t get to try their beer there. But I made a mental note to seek out the brewery when I got the chance.
When I checked out the Cracklerock website, I was delighted to see that it brewery also has its own small “tap room” bar attached selling the breweries ales as well as a few other alcoholic and soft drinks. Unfortunately though, it looked as though it had closed after its opening weekend back in May. Naturally, I was keen to find out what was happening with the bar as it looked like a nice place to pop down of an evening for some quality ales.
I arranged to meet one of the brewery’s owners, Paul Whitfield, at the brewery on Saturday morning to check out the place and pick up a few pints. I hadn’t recalled ever noticing any signs for the brewery when I’d passed through Botley High Street but it was actually easy to locate – it’s up a narrow street-cum-track on the Market Hall side of the street next to the picture framing shop. It turns out that it is signed from the street so you can’t really miss it.
I waited outside for a few moments thinking I might meet Paul at the entrance, but then I decided to try the door in case we was already inside. He was, and the first thing he did after introducing himself was to offer me a sample. I leant on the bar while he poured me a pint of “Goldrush”, the brewery’s 4.5% golden summer ale. Soon another gentleman, also after some beer to take away, joined me while Paul gave us a potted history of the business.
Paul has a long association with beer in Botley and the surrounding area – he used to be the landlord of the Bugle Inn just down the High Street and the White Horse pub over at Droxford. He was also one of the founders of the Botley Brewery, which he started in the same building we were in. Paul and his partner Andy started up Cracklerock in 2014 and had turned the space were in now into a bar a couple of months ago. Unfortunately though, after a successful launch weekend, they had to close temporarily.
Hopefully, it will re-open again soon as it’s a great little bar, with a few tables and chairs, sawdust on the floor and a viewing window into the brewery itself. The bar sells the three Cracklerock ales – “Crackerjack” (3.8%), “Barleycorn” (4.2%) and “Goldrush”(4.5%) – as well as one type of lager, a variety of soft drinks, spirits and wines, and bar snacks. Paul explained that drinks will be priced to attract people who enjoy good real ale, rather than those who want to drink a lot on the cheap. They also plan to sell some local Hampshire cider.
As we supped our samples, Paul poured me six pints of Goldrush to take away. Then he opened a bottle of the brewery’s 4.9% porter for us to try, menacingly named “Dark Destroyer”. I’m not overly keen on porters and stouts (nor was Paul as it happened), especially on a warm summer’s day. But it was nice to have a taster and it wasn’t at all bad – I quite enjoyed it actually.
I was also keen to sample the brewery’s two other staple ales – “Barleycorn” and “Crackerjack” – which unfortunately weren’t quite ready for serving from the taps on the bar. So I also bought a couple of bottles of Barleycorn and was lucky in that Paul also threw in a free bottle of Crackerjack. I left suitably weighed down with beer in various strengths and containers. (I should add that the beer went down a treat at the barbecue!)
I’ll definitely be back soon for more Cracklerock beer. Let’s also hope that the tap room re-opens again soon. Botley High Street always seems a bit dead, even on weekends. So it needs ventures like this to inject a bit more life to the village. For Tiff and me, it will be a handy place to pop down to for a couple of pints of a lunchtime or evening, especially as the pubs in Botley aren’t the best in the area.