Last night, Smudger and I made a relatively impromtu visit to the Southampton Beer Festival at the Guildhall (or “O2 Guildhall Southampton” to give it its proper name).
Last year, we went to the Saturday daytime session and ended up doing a pub crawl back to Bitterne Triangle where we finished the day in style in the curry house. This time, with a christening to go to on Sunday, I persuaded Smudge that we should do the Friday night session. Tickets were £10.
I came straight from work and met Smudge at Southampton Central rail station, where we straightaway made a beeline for the shop to get a couple of big bottles of water to guzzle down – I’m convinced this tactic has saved me a couple of bad hangovers recently.
It was only about 5.30 so we had some time to kill until the opening time at 6.30. So we headed to the Giddy Bridge Wetherspoons pub on London Road for some grub and to reminisce over the time we spent here as poor students when I lived across the road. We both went for a “gourmet burger” with a pint of Flack’s Double Drop as our free drink. Wetherspoons pubs sometimes have a bad reputation but you’re always guaranteed a quality, well-kept beer and this evening was no exception.
We scoffed our food and quaffed our drinks and took the short walk through the park to the Guildhall. There was a sizeable queue extending out onto the Guildhall Square but we didn’t have to wait long to get inside, where we picked up our commemorative half-pint glass and programme and bought £15 of beer tokens each. As with most CAMRA beer festivals, you get a sheet of tokens and tear them off as you need them. Each token was worth 20p.
With so many different beers (plus ciders and perrys) on offer, I had decided that I was going to stick to Hampshire-only breweries. That plan went out of the window straight away when, desperate to get going, I chose a half of Hop Back Hop Medley as my first drink forgetting that the Hop Back Brewery is in Wiltshire, not Hants.
I found my bearings after that first drink. All Hampshire beers and ales were in the bars at the back and right-hand side of the hall. Ciders and perrys were available at a small bar on the right near the entrance, while the main bar in the centre of the room hosted the non-Hants beers. Most beers were priced from 7-9 token per half pint (or about £2.80-£3.60 a pint).
There was also a large stand selling chocolates and olives next to the Tombola on the left-hand side of the hall. Hot food including burgers, pork pies and sausage rolls was available in one of the smaller rooms to the right. (Smudge couldn’t resist a pork pie.)
Before I started regularly going to beer festivals, I always thought they’d be full of old men with beer bellies discussing the best type of soil for growing hops. However, while you do get the odd archetypal ale drinker at these events, the crowd is often a mix of young and old, male and female. Tonight, older gentlemen were drinking beer alongside students and couples.
After I’d drunk my first half-pint, I headed for the back bar to sample a Bowman Ales Meon Valley Bitter and then stuck to other Hampshire beers for the rest of the night as per the plan, taking care to prioritise ones I’d never tried before. Somehow, with the help of my phone’s camera, I kept track of everything I drank.
Around 8.30 we were treated to some entertainment in the form of “Red Jackson”, a rhythm and blues band. Then there was an awards presentation, but I couldn’t hear much coming through the PA system so I have no idea what it was for. Finally, after a 10-minute warning for last orders and we filed out of the Guildhall into the warm evening, suitably merry.
- Hop Back “Hop Medley” – 3.9%
- Bowman Ales “Meon Valley Bitter” – 3.9%
- Dancing Cows “Pony” – 4.0%
- Havant “Decided” – 3.8%
- Flower Pots “IPA” – 6.0%
- Itchen Valley “Watercress Best” – 4.2%
- Havant “Stopped Dancing” – 4.4%
- Itchen Valley “QED” – 4.1%
- Flack Manor “TPA” – 5.3%
The most memorable was the Watercress Best because it did smell and taste of local watercress. It was also good to try the Flower Pots IPA – one that I’ve avoided in the past because of its strength. However, I wouldn’t say that I’ll be going out of my way to find any of the beers that I tried as none of them really stood out for me. That said, it was nice to see what else was on offer locally, in addition to the favourites from breweries like Flack’s, Flower Pots and Bowman Ales that I usually drink when I’m visiting pubs in the area.
Roll on next year!