Five unusual places to drink craft beer and real ale in Hampshire

Read on to discover five weird and wonderful places to drink real ale and craft beer in Hampshire. Then add your own suggestions in the comments at the bottom of the post.

A few weeks ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I popped along to the Bursledon Brickworks Museum near Southampton.

It was no normal day at the museum – today was its first beer festival, and it wasn’t long until I was browsing the museum’s collection of vintage arcade games with a real ale in hand.

The Bursledon Brickworks Museum beer festival

Later, after a few more beers by the kilns in the shade of one of the brickworks’ tall chimneys, I got thinking about other quirky and unusual places to drink beer locally.

With a little help from Twitter, here are five more weird and wonderful places to drink real ale and craft beer in Hampshire.

Unusual places to drink craft beer and real ale in Hampshire

1. A steam train

Sure, anyone can pick up a few cans or bottles to drink on the train. But there are few trains that serve cask beer onboard.

One such train is the Watercress Line’s Real Ale Train (aka the RAT). This runs on Saturdays and some Fridays throughout most of the year.

The RAT is essentially a mini beer-festival, featuring ales from two local breweries served in a restored bar carriage.

The loco does two round trips from Alton to New Alresford. So, there’s plenty of time to enjoy some social time with a group of mates in one of the wood-panelled carriages or simply watch the beautiful mid-Hampshire countryside pass by as you get slowly tipsy.

Beers on the Real Ale Train.

There’s also great homecooked food like curry and chilli con carne available to accompany your beer.

It’s great value too – tickets are just £15 and it’s only £2 a pint onboard.

Alresford station.

2. A bookshop

A few years ago, drinking beer in one of the many micropubs that have sprung up in Southampton would have been considered unusual.

Indeed, the experience of quaffing fine beer in a former bank in Shirley (Overdraft), a converted Victorian butcher’s shop in Bitterne Park (the Butcher’s Hook) and an old doctor’s surgery in Portswood (the Tram Stop) hasn’t lost its lustre yet.

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However, the quirkiest micropub in Southampton is surely the Bookshop Alehouse, which as the name suggests doubles up as a bookshop and a pub.

In the Bookshop Alehouse.

Like most of the other micropubs in the city, this place used to be a retail unit.

It didn’t experience a complete transformation though – the former bookshop’s paperbacks and hardbacks stayed on the shelves and were joined by seating, a bar and a varied selection of up to eight beers on cask and keg and four proper ciders.

3. A farmers’ market

You might think it’s – well – just farmers who sell their produce at a farmers’ market.

Not so. Go along to one Hampshire’s eight regular farmers’ markets and you’ll find people selling pizza, coffee, gin, trout, biltong and much more on sale alongside meat and veg.

You can even pick up some draught beer from Winchester’s Mash Brewery, both to take away to drink at home sup on as you explore the stalls and (in my case) nibble on the free samples.

They sell bottles and mini kegs too.

Mash’s stall at a farmers’ market.
Hampshire Farmers’ Market at the Watercress Festival.

Mash generally pitch up at every market across the county (which is quite a feat when there are two on in one day).

Occasionally, other breweries and pop-up bars also sell draught beer at Hampshire Farmers’ Markets special events like the Alresford Watercress Festival and Applefest in Swanmore.

4. A trading estate

In the last 15 years, the number of breweries in the UK has tripled from around 500 to more than 1,500 today.

In Hampshire alone, there are now more than 30, many of which are new microbreweries.

The great thing about setting up a brewery is that you don’t need a fancy building, just the right equipment and some space. This is why so many of Hampshire breweries are based on trading estates and business parks.

Lots of these, including Vibrant Forest in Lymington, Unity Brewing Co in Southampton, Red Cat Brewing in Winchester and Fallen Acorn in Gosport have tap rooms onsite so you can drink beer as fresh as can be, a few yards from where it’s brewed.

The Unity Brewing Co tap room.

As well as selling great beer, the tap rooms are welcoming little venues, whether its the cosiness of Fallen Acorn’s office-cum-micropub or the contemporary industrial feel of Unity Brewing Co’s open-plan bar, which overlooks the brewing equipment.

It turns out trading estate car parks can make great beer gardens too – Red Cat Brewing Co’s regular open days, where everyone congregates outside the brewery, are testament to that.

Red Cat Brewing’s open day.

5. A medieval warehouse

Drinking beer in a brewpub may not be unusual in itself. But the Dancing Man brewery, pub and restaurant is no ordinary venue.

The building, which was built in 1338 and is one of the city’s oldest buildings, started life as a wool store (hence its also known locally as the Wool House).

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In the Napoleonic Wars, it was a jail for French prisoners of war and the graffiti they wrote in the 1700s still adorns the walls. However, it’s the stunning spiral staircase and 14th century timber-framed ceiling that you’ll notice first when you enter the Wool House.

The stairs and timber-framed ceiling at the Dancing Man

The beer selection is also pretty noticeable, with eight hand pumps offering beer from the onsite brewery as well as guest ales. There’s food too.

If you fancy finding out a bit more about the history of the Wool House and the surrounding streets, See Southampton run a bi-monthly ‘Barrels and Beer” walking tour. This includes many of Southampton’s historic pubs and finishes with beer tasting at the Dancing Man.

Over to you

Do you know any more unusual or quirky places to drink real ale and craft beer in Hampshire?

Leave a comment below or get in touch with me on Twitter.

Acknowledgements

Big thanks to the following people for help and inspiration creating this article: AlannaSoph, Tom Hussey, Julie Mac, Patricia Hughes, Soton Beer, See Southampton, Helen Seward, Fallen Acorn Brewing, Sarah Sibley, Historic Southampton, Lexie Carpenter, Amy Grinstead, David Blaikie, Barry Hodges, Soozin, Anna, M Davis, Cecilia Marsden, Gordon Coates, Russell P, Paul JenksAndrew B and Ian Drinkwater.