Find out how we got on visiting Southampton’s newest craft beer brewery, Tap It Brewing Co for beer tastings and a short brewery tour, on our first South Hants Hop Social meet up.
With only one small brewery until 2015, the explosion in new breweries in Hampshire in the late noughties and early 2010s seemed to pass by Southampton.
Now the city’s finally catching up with the rest of the county – five of Hampshire’s 30+ breweries are based here.
The latest brewery to open in Southampton is Tap It Brewing Co, located in Northam near St Mary’s Stadium.
Like many of the new breed of breweries, Tap It has an onsite tap room, which is open on Tuesday and Friday nights and from 3pm on a Saturday (11am when Saints are playing at home).
We visited the tap room last Saturday for our first South Hants Hop Social meet up, where head brewer Rob Colmer agreed to open up early to give us a little tour of the brewery.
With help from business partner Russell Clarke and assistant brewer James Barber, Rob set up the brewery after honing his skills on a 48-litre kit in his garage in Sarisbury Green on the edge of the city.
He was initially inspired to start brewing after he struggled to find UK beers that tasted as good as those he’d sampled on trips to the US.
The brewery – capable of brewing more than 2,000 pints at a time – has only been open since February. And with no previous commercial brewery experience to fall back on, it’s been a steep learning curve for Rob and the team.
Not that this is reflected in the quality of the beers, all of which are superb.
I started off with a “Hot Rod” (5.1%), which is Tap It’s red IPA. Meanwhile, Rob gave us a brief tour of the brewing equipment and explained the brewing process here, which has more in common with US breweries than a traditional British ones.
For instance, Rob and James use hop pellets rather than hop leaves in their beers, meaning they separate the spent hops from the wort after the boil using a whirlpool. This is because traditional methods of hop separation – like using a brewing kettle with a false bottom – don’t tend to work well with hop pellets.
Then, after the beer has finished fermenting in one of the brewery’s four tanks, Rob and James transfer it to the brite tanks.
Here, in another nod to US brewing methods, they carbonate it and transfer it to kegs rather than the more traditional casks. This allows them to achieve a more consistent level of carbonation and means the beer in ready to drink in a few days rather than a few weeks.
This doesn’t meet the Campaign for Real Ale’s definition of real ale. But it does mean that Tap It can distribute beer to venues like restaurants and cafes that don’t have the turnover of beer drinkers or the cellaring skills to sell cask beer (we’ve all had one of those vinegary cask beers that’s been on the bar too long, right?).
They don’t add finings to clear the beer either. So it’s suitable for veggies and vegans.
Initially, Tap It experimented with packing beer in KeyKegs, which are essentially a one-use bag in a box system and favoured by brewers who want to export draught beer or not have to worry about collecting empties from further afield.
Now Rob and James package most of the beer in reusable kegs that they rent from a company that also collects the empty kegs and washes them. This saves on space in the brewery and is more environmentally friendly (KeyKegs can be recycled, but many apparently end up in landfill). Tap It has plans to bottle its beers, too.
As we shuffled around the brewery equipment, we’d made occasional beelines to the bar to top up our glasses. I’d already had an “Interstellar” (5.2%), which is a dry and fruity IPA and one of the brewery’s first brews when it moved here from Rob’s garage. Next I tried Tap It’s other launch brew, the American pale ale “Rogue” (5.2%).
We also got to sample a half-finished “Interstellar”, drawn straight from the fermenter. This was… interesting.
After our tour, I headed to the bar for a chat with Russell, Rob’s business partner. An experienced property investor, Russell helps with business support and marketing. In the meantime, I tried two of the brewery’s dark beers – “Mad Cow” (4.5%) and “Butler” (4.3%).
“Mad Cow” is a rich, sweet and velvety milk stout and probably my favourite of the beers I sampled today. “Butler” is a London-style porter, with a slight coffee/chocolate flavour.
Russell filled Alex and me in on some of the brewery’s plans for the future, including its bar on nearby Oxford Street. The bar, which will offer pre-mixed cocktails from the taps as well as beer, is due to open in the next month or so.
After we left Tap It, we headed to Oxford Street for a couple of beers at Caskaway, where there’s always a Tap It beer available on draught. I had a beer from Portsmouth’s Staggeringly Good Brewery as we foolishly sat outside as it started raining.
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We then finished off the afternoon in the Dancing Man Brewery at Town Quay. Here, Ross impressed us all with his ability to down a glass of salt, which was leftover from his “pint o pretzels”. With no tequila in sight either.
There was lime though, in the form of Dancing Man and Eight Arch’s collaboration brew, “Lime and Coconut” (5.1%) IPA – a delicious and quaffable beer. A dessert beer, if you like. And the perfect beer to end the day with.
Info: Tap It Brewing Co is at 6, Muira Industrial Estate, William Street, Southampton, SO14 5QH. Open Tuesdays and Fridays 5-8pm and Saturdays 3-8pm (11am-8pm on Southampton FC home matches). It also opens on other days if Southampton are playing at home. As well as the tap room, you can find their beer in various venues in Southampton and beyond including the Bugle in Hamble, the Boathouse Cafe in Chichester, Kuti’s in Fair Oak, Max’s Brasserie in Southampton, Cove in Southampton and Artisan in Eastleigh.
Join us on our next meet up
If you fancy joining us on future events, pub crawls and the like, join our South Hants Hop Social Facebook group or sign up to the mailing list. Whether you’re a seasoned hophead or new to beer, everyone’s welcome.