What will Hampshire’s newest brewery give to Southampton’s craft beer scene? I went along to the pre-launch preview night to find out about the brewery and sample the beers.
If you like good beer, Southampton’s never been short of decent places to drink.
And, in the last few years the Southampton craft beer scene has exploded with six micropubs, numerous beer bars and international chain Brewdog opening in the city.
It’s strange then that there are only two breweries – both brewpubs – in Southampton, out of a total of more than 35 spread throughout the rest of Hampshire.
Unity Brewing Co is the city’s third brewery. It’s the brainchild of wine expert turned brewer, Jimmy Hatherley.
After he first discovered Belgian beer on a trip with his dad as a teenager, Jimmy gradually swapped grapes for barley and hops by first working in sales and marketing for a London brewer and then running a couple of craft beer bars in the capital.
A keen homebrewer, Jimmy then honed his skills in a commercial environment at Earls Brewery in Angel, north London before moving back to his home county of Hampshire to work at Flack Manor Brewery in Romsey and Red Cat Brewing in Winchester.
The focus at Unity is on key-keg and bottled beer, rather than cask. There’s three core beers – “Congregate”, “Conflux” and “Coalescence” – plus special edition and one-off brews.
Jimmy also plans on a “wild” range that uses foraged ingredients as well as wood and wild yeast.
The brewery, which will initially produce about 1,600 pints of beer a week, also has an informal tap room where you can sample the beers and pick up draught ale to take away. There are plans to host community events at the brewery too.
Ahead of the launch at The Rockstone pub on 2 December, I headed to a preview night at Unity last week to sample the beers and check out the tap room.
The brewery is a relatively short walk from St Denys train station, just north of Portswood.
Like many modern breweries, it’s on a trading estate. But don’t let that put you off – inside it’s surprisingly comfortable with simple tables and benches providing the seating and the bar nestled cosily under a mezzanine floor.
Meanwhile, the stainless steel fermenters lurk in the shadows of the main part of the unit.
Tonight, the area behind the bar was stuffed with bottles and kegs awaiting delivery to the bars, pubs and off-licences that will soon be stocking Unity’s beers.
It’s certainly much different to the empty unit I visited just a couple of months ago when Jimmy was kind enough to share his beer testing tips with me.
I started off with “Conflux” (4.8%) – Unity’s pale ale offering. This refreshing beer pairs English yeast and barley with tasty American hops. Modern-tasting, I can see this becoming a lot of people’s go-to beer in the coming months.
I followed that with “Congregate” (4.2%). This is styled as a table beer, which is traditionally drunk at mealtimes in Belgium.
Unity’s take isn’t as low in alcohol as the traditional version, which was apparently served to schoolchildren in Belgium as recently as the 1980s. But it is as interesting and quaffable as you’d expect from the beers available in the little bars you find down the alleys in places like Brussels and Bruges.
The Belgian theme continued with the other beers on tap this evening – “Primum” (6%) and “Coalescence” (5.4%). Like Congregate, these both use Belgian yeast to give them their distinctive flavour.
Primum is a dubbel, which like Belgian table beer was probably first brewed as a low-alcohol beer suitable for rehydration rather than getting drunk.
Over the years dubbels have evolved into darker, higher ABV beers. Unity’s version is 6% and deliciously rich compared to the lighter beers I’d had already tonight.
Coalescence is styled as a saison (“season”) beer. Belgian farm workers would brew saison in the quieter winter months so they have something handy to quench their thirsts when the warmer weather came around.
I’ve never been a fan of saisons in the past, finding them fizzy and acidic. So I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Coalescence. But I did. It too was refreshing, with a mild spice and nut flavour. Dare I say, it’s an ideal drink to accompany some mince pies or even your turkey this festive season.
Living the dream
I was supposed to be taking it easy tonight. But couldn’t help but order another glass of Congregate as the room went quiet so Jimmy could say a few words.
“Brewing beer that people love is my dream” he concluded.
Judging by the contented smiles on people’s faces as they sipped the distinctive and interesting range of beers tonight, I’d say that dream is already a reality.
Info: Unity Brewing Co’s launch party is on Friday 2 December 2016 from 5pm at the Rockstone pub (023 8063 7256) at 3 Onslow Rd, Southampton, SO14 0JL. There will be four Unity beers available and a special Belgian-inspired menu to tickle your taste buds.
Unity’s tap room (02380 677070) opens on Saturday 3 December at 12pm. Opening times are: Saturdays 12-9pm, Thursdays 4-9pm and Fridays 4-9pm.
Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for any of my beers at this event. Don’t worry, I was sober when I wrote this.