Find out how I got on exploring six of Portsmouth and Southsea’s craft beer bars and real ale pubs on a mini Portsmouth pub crawl.
I’ve been raving about Southampton’s craft beer and real ale scene for a while. And with good reason.
What about it’s south-coast neighbour, Portsmouth? Its football club has faced a decline in recent years – has Southampton left it behind in the beer stakes too?
To find out, I popped down to Portsmouth on Saturday with my old school chums Col, Olly and Hench to check out a few of Portsmouth and Southsea’s real ale pubs and craft beer bars.
We got to six real ale pubs and craft beer bars in all. Here’s what we found.
Portsmouth and Southsea mini pub crawl
(Click or tap the star icon in the bar at the top of the map below to save it to your Google Maps account.)
Pub 1 – Brewhouse and Kitchen
Our first stop was the Brewhouse and Kitchen on Guildhall Walk, a few minutes’ walk from Portsmouth and Southsea train station.
Portsmouth’s Brewhouse and Kitchen is one of a chain of 17 pubs throughout the south and the midlands. As the name suggests, the focus at each venue is on food and beer brewed onsite.
Here at Portsmouth, the microbrewery is in the pub itself, right by the main entrance of this beautiful mock-Tudor building. When we arrived, the pub’s brewer was mashing in the latest beer and chatting to customers who were drinking the previous weeks’ creations.
Each Brewhouse and Kitchen brews its own variation of the company’s shared recipes, covering many popular and rarer beer styles. These are mostly available as cask beers.
There’s also a decent variety of craft beers and lagers available from national and international brewers on keg and in cans and bottles. Plus, traditional guest ciders on rotation.
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The names of the beers in each Brewhouse and Kitchen often have a local connection. For instance, the amber ale here is called “Matcham’s Glory” after the architect of the adjacent New Theatre Royal. There’s also a traditional called “Mucky Duck”, which was the colloquial name locals gave the pub in its previous guise as the White Swan.
I chose one of the new seasonal beers, “Summit Else” (5.1%), as my first drink of the day. Made with only one type of malt and one type of hop (Summit hops, naturally), this was a refreshing beer to start the day with.
It tasted even better when we headed to the pub’s sheltered rooftop garden to soak up both the rays that were trying to break through the clouds and the small patches of water left on the seating following the morning’s heavy showers.
With food and so many beers styles on offer, the Brewhouse and Kitchen is the type of place you could easily spend an afternoon. Today though, there were a few pubs on our list. So we only stayed for one drink this time.
Pub 2 – The Hole in the Wall
For our next pub, we walked the 10-or-so minutes into Southsea proper to the Hole in the Wall on Great Southsea Street.
The Hole in the Wall is a multiple winner of local Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) pub of the year awards. But it’s not just real ale at this traditional backstreet pub – there are several craft beers available on keg beside the hand pumps and in front of the casks perched at the back of the bar.
Outside, the weather was hotting up a bit. So, I continued on a lighter tip with a pint of “Hole in Time” (4.3%), a hoppy, pale beer brewed exclusively for the Hole in the Wall by the nearby Staggeringly Good brewery.
Space at the pub is quite limited, but it wasn’t too busy this Saturday afternoon. So we managed to find a seat near the welcome draught of the open front door where we admired the vast collection of pump clips hanging on the ceiling while we chatted. Tankards and dried hops hanging over the archways, books dotted on the shelves and a mixture of old photos on the walls complete the traditional feel.
Again, we could have spent most of the afternoon in the Hole in the Wall. And the Border Collie that was napping next to his owner opposite us looked surprised we were leaving so soon when we got up to leave for our next pub.
Pub 3 – The Wave Maiden
We were planning on going to the Barley Mow next, which is just round the corner from the Hole in the Wall. However, it was closed for some reason. So we skirted down the edge of Southsea Common and made our way to The Wave Maiden on Osborne Road near the heart of Southsea.
This is a narrow, quirkily decorated two-floored bar specialising in good beer, proper cider and cheese-based dishes.
Still reasonably full from the veggie “fry up” I cooked up before we left home, we didn’t go for any of the food. Instead, we headed for the chalk board to see what beers were on offer.
There are several casks on stillage behind the bar, but only one was on this afternoon. So it was that or a choice of four craft keg beers, mostly from local breweries like Staggeringly Good and Fallen Acorn.
I the end I opted for the cask beer – session IPA “Scaramanga” (3.9%) from Sussex’s Gun Brewery.
Pub 4 – The Belle Isle
A stroll across the road brought us to the Belle Isle next, which had a decent Saturday evening buzz about it as we arrived.
This is a light and airy cafe-style bar on the corner of Osborne Road and Elphinstone Road that features a varied selection of craft beer and real ale as well as cocktails, hot drinks, main meals and snacks.
The Belle Isle was the busiest place we’d been to so far today, but it didn’t take long to get served. I opted again for a local cask beer – a Fallen Acorn “Hole Hearted” (4.7%), a golden beer named after the aforementioned Hole in the Wall pub.
One of our party (I won’t mention names) went out on a limb and ordered a cider in a fancy tall glass. He then managed to clip the top of the glass and spill the whole lot over himself, leading to a large queue at the hand drier in the toilets. We made a sharp exit after that.
Pub 5 – Southsea Village
Our original plan was to make our way from the city centre down to Southsea Brewing Co, which at weekends sells fresh beer to take away from the brewery situated in Southsea Castle.
Unfortunately, we just missed the closing time of 4pm. So, our next destination being the newly opened Southsea Village a few moments away from the Belle Isle on Palmerston Road.
Previously a pub called Owens, the Southsea Village has recently had a makeover to turn it into a modern and airy open-plan bar.
Beer wise, there are several cask and keg lines serving mostly beer from local breweries plus a massive selection of canned and bottled beers.
I wasn’t really enamoured by the bottles and cans, as what was available looked similar to what you might get in a mainstream supermarket.
Fortunately, there was a better selection of local cask beers on the bar. Again, I plumped for a Fallen Acorn beer with “Twisted Oak” (4%), a copper ale. I’m seeing the Fallen Acorn logo on more and more pump clips around Portsmouth and Southampton these days and they always come up trumps.
The Southsea Village also specialises in burgers and pizzas, prepared in the open-plan kitchen. Based on the crowd there this early evening, it looks a good choice for those with young families – especially as there’s table tennis out the back. We didn’t feel out of place though.
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As tempting as the pizzas looked, we’d earlier decided to head to a curry house around the corner. The problem was, I was navigating and I didn’t realise how close our destination had been until we had walked 15 minutes back towards the city centre.
Pub 6 – Huis
While we took stock of our options, we stumbled upon Belgian-themed bar Huis on Elm Grove, which was packed with Saturday night revellers.
As well as Belgian food like waffles, moules frites and carbonade flamande, Huis serves a massive range of bottled Belgian beers and several keg beers, including three of its own range – a wheat beer, a pilsner and a blonde beer.
The space itself is quite narrow, not unlike the bars you find tucked away in side streets in Bruges and Brussels; the decor, quite kitsch.
If I’d been more sober and had my wits about me, I might have ordered a rare Belgian beer from the vast selection on offer.
Instead I ordered a half of the bar’s own “Whit” (wheat) beer (4.8%). It topped off my afternoon’s drinking perfectly as I leant against the bar.
The night was just getting started at Huis, which is open until 2am, when we left. Our aging bodies had had enough though. So we headed out of town to find a curry house on more familiar ground, back home in Botley.
Pompey v Saints
I’ve been living in and around Southampton for nigh on 16 years. So, I’ll always be a bit biased when it comes to Southampton v Portsmouth pubs.
I was impressed with what I found in Pompey though. Not only are there beers from a nucleus of Portsmouth breweries like Fallen Acorn and and Staggeringly Good available on the pumps and taps, but there’s a good choice of excellent beers from Hampshire, Sussex and further afield.
Southsea, with its quiet side streets, colourful cottages, quirky shops and sea breeze, is also a nice place for a wander on a weekend.
There’s so much more on offer on the beer front too. After all, we’d only been to six real ale pubs and craft beer bars today and hadn’t made it to any of he island’s breweries.
There’s always next time. Maybe we’ll find that curry house, too?
What are your favourite real ale pubs and craft beer bars in Portsmouth and Southsea? How do you think Portsmouth’s craft beer scene compares to other cities?