Although I live close by, I’ve never really had much of a reason to go to Gosport.
In fact, apart from a trip to the submarine museum in my schooldays and skirting the town on a walk along the Solent Way last year, I’m struggling to think of another time I’ve visited.
That’s why I was feeling a little disorientated when I disembarked the Gosport Ferry at dusk after the five-minute crossing from Portsmouth. As with many of my adventures these days, I was in here in search of beer – specifically the ales produced by the town’s new Fallen Acorn Brewing Co.
Scratch that – Fallen Acorn isn’t completely new. Instead it’s the new guise of the former Oakleaf Brewery, which stopped trading after 16 years last summer.
It’s now owned by IT-turned-investment company Just Develop It.
That might not sit well with hardcore craft beer fans who prefer their breweries truly independent. But it’s worth noting that not only is the company based in nearby Fareham but it also has interests in quite a few other local businesses. These include the Mutiny Festival and Astoria nightclub, both based over the water in Portsmouth.
The brewery is also a member of Hampshire Fare, a non-profit organisation that promotes and supports Hampshire food and drink producers.
Actually, apart from the change of name and new ownership, not much else has changed at the brewery.
Award-winning head brewer Ed Anderson continues in the same role he’s held for the past 15 years. Several other former Oakleaf employees have also stayed in the ranks.
One thing that has changed is the tap room. Formerly in The Brewpot shop in nearby North Cross Street, the tap room is now onsite at the brewery. Tonight was the official opening. But the brewery has been operating in its new guise since November.
Like many modern breweries, Fallen Acorn is on a small trading estate, a few units down from a Halford’s garage. It’s only a short walk up the A32 from the ferry terminal if you fancy popping over from Pompey.
I arrived only around 15 minutes after the ribbon was cut, as it were. And the little tap room was already heaving.
The bar, which doubles up as an office, is on the right-hand side of the room as you enter. There’s a couple of soft stools at the counter and along the back wall. Or you can sit around the table – a wooden cable drum – on customised beer kegs.
Bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling provide the lighting. And there’s some simple scaffold shelving showing off some brewery merch including its takeaway growlers and mini kegs.
It’s modern yet traditional – much like the brewery itself, which promises some new contemporary beer styles alongside the classic ales produced by Oakleaf.
I was planning on working my way up the ABV scale tonight. So I started off with a half of “Twisted Oak” (4%) for the agreeable price of £1.50 and perched myself on the bar counter. Twisted Oak is a sweet session ale, based on Oakleaf’s “Quercus Folium” beer.
I then plumped for a half of “Hole Hearted” (4.7%). Oakleaf originally brewed this beer for the legendary Hole in the Wall pub in Southsea. The brewery and the pub relaunched it there a few weeks ago.
Hole Hearted won several awards back in the Oakleaf days and there’s been no change to the recipe. Made with cascade hops – a variety favoured by many US craft brewers – it’s fruity, perfectly bitter, aromatic and easy to drink. I can see why it’s so popular.
Meanwhile, I stole a quick chat with new manager Matt Curd. Matt outlined some of the plans for the brewery including events such as brewing days where amateurs like me can have a go at brewing their own beer.
By now, the ever-growing crowd in the tap room had spilled out onto the brewery’s new flooring. Standing among the casks, pallets, kettles and fermenters, I had a chinwag with a few of the punters including long-time fans of the brewery, Trish and Vic.
As the three of us swapped notes on the best places to drink in Gosport and Southampton, I supped on one of the brewery’s new creations, “Black Hearted” (4.7%). This one, as the name suggests, is a dark version of the aforementioned Hole Hearted.
I’ve only recently developed a taste for dark beers and this one was rather lovely – rich, malty and not too thick. And a quick visual poll of the brewery staff returning again and again to Black Hearted cask suggested I wasn’t the only one enjoying it.
Black Hearted is just one of a handful of experimental beers the brewery is conjuring up this year to complement its core range of four beers. There’s also a South African rye beer made with tea and a fruity pale ale on the way.
However, there’s also some experimentation with the core range – “Pot Kettle” (4.4%), the brewery’s coffee-infused porter, is the result of a collaboration with Solent Coffee Roasters.
With a train to catch at Portsmouth and the off-peak ferry timetable to negotiate first, I just had time for another quick half of Black Hearted before I made my way through the shutters into what had slipped into a chilly evening.
I’d had some great beers tonight at Fallen Acorn’s tap room – I definitely now have a reason to visit Gosport. I’ll be back.
Info: Fallen Acorn Brewing Co is at Unit 7, Clarence Wharf Industrial Estate, Mumby Road, Gosport PO12 1AJ. The tap room and shop is open most days including late opening on Fridays and some other days. Phone 02393 07992. You can buy their beers directly from the brewery and at a growing number of local pubs and bars such as The Hall in the Wall in Portsmouth, the Clarence Tavern in Gosport and Belgium and Blues in Southampton.