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Microbreweries in Hampshire revitalising the counties traditional pint

PUBLISHED: 15:24 27 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:30 27 February 2014

Steve Haigh Alfred's Brewery

Steve Haigh Alfred's Brewery

Archant

Not so long ago Hampshire’s brewing heritage looked under threat, yet today a growing number of microbreweries are using their passion, creativity 
and skill to breathe new life into the traditional pint. This month’s Petersfield Beer & Cider Festival raises a glass to some of our local brews

Once, the traveller to Romsey couldn’t fail to notice the local advertising slogans: “You’re in the Strong Country – Famous for Strong’s ales and stouts.” No more. Indeed, while “Time” was finally called on the town’s 123 year-old brewery in the 1980s, its ownership and output had long since changed. Ditto the story at George Gale’s in Horndean, at Brickwoods in Portsmouth and at many others. Now, however, despite sales of mainstream beer continuing to slump, something pretty miraculous is happening. “There are currently more breweries in Britain than for a very long time,” says Sara Carter, head brewer at the multi award-winning Triple fff Brewery in Four Marks. “We’ve now got well over 1000 microbreweries and new ones are opening up every month. At the last count, there were 19 in Hampshire.”

Muscling their way in to take an ever-increasing share of sales at the bar pumps and check-outs these brewers, usually hidden-away in small industrial units, disused farm buildings and even garages, are inspiring a new enthusiasm for real ales.

Hampshire’s barley belt may have diminished and the hops needed now come from further afield, but the local water quality remains second to none. And Sarah’s using her 50 barrels to produce up to five brews at a time, from pale ales to porters, and everything in-between.

“I think the awareness is growing amongst the public of the enormous range of beer styles – all different colours, all different flavours, and all different strengths,” she observes.” I’m biased but I think there’s a beer out there for everybody and for every situation.”

And, as one of a growing number of female brewers, or ‘brewsters’ as they are known, Sara has some advice for women less familiar with drinking ales: “Don’t be afraid to ask to try the beer first,” she says. “If a pub doesn’t offer tasters automatically, they might start to.”

At the opposite end of the microbrewery spectrum is Steve Haigh, who launched Winchester-based Alfred’s Brewery in 2012. He first learnt the alchemy involved elsewhere, and says: “Brewing is a technical and a creative process; I like to experiment using new tastes and flavours.” With two barrels currently producing around 2500 pints of real ale a week, Steve’s already achieved top three placings at beer festivals and puts this success down to maintaining consistently high standards. “Never let anything out of your front door which you’re not completely happy with,” is his mantra.

The recent boom in breweries and ales, does pose the question: are there still enough pubs surviving to go around? But this young breed of brewers seem to welcome competition if it means customers are offered more variety, because it’s great for keeping up quality and great for choice.

And that’s exactly what the team behind the new two-day Petersfield Beer & Cider Festival aims to showcase. With a track record of running the crowd-pleasing Christmas, spring and summer festivals, Steve Jacob and Ben Errey believe their blend of thirst-quenching brews, tasty curries and toe-tapping music will prove equally popular in the town. “Real ale is a big thing here,” says Steve. “We expect some hardened veterans of beer festivals and some people that will be coming along to their very first one.”

To help festival-goers to decipher one beer’s subtle floral and spicy characteristics from another’s citrusy and fruity layers, tasting notes will be provided. With tokens available to purchase and exchange for half pint measures, Ben’s enthusiastic about the range of ale that is likely to be available.

“The good thing about a beer festival is that you get to try ones you’ve perhaps never tried before. We’re keen to keep it ‘local’ and will have 70 barrels, which gives us the option of having a couple for each beer. With the ciders too, there could be up to 45 different brews.”

Interestingly, just as real ales are undergoing a renaissance so too are the traditionally made ciders. Take those from Alton-based Mr Whitehead’s Cider Company, for example. This former Hampshire Life Drinks Producer of the Year winner uses apples locally grown near Selborne to recreate both familiar favourites and to concoct the scrumptious sounding Toffee Apple and Strawberry flavours.

The Festival also features live music to suit all tastes with session headliners The Cheese Doctors, Monkey’s Fist and The Brass Knuckle Blues Band, already confirmed. And Ben’s confident that there will be a rush to buy the event’s specially made commemorative glasses.

“We plan to have a guest designer for the glass each year, so the hope is that these will become collectables.”

With the same venue having been rebooked for 2015, there’s every sign that, given enough support, the future of brewing in Hampshire is in safe hands.

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Getting there

When: Friday 28 February 6pm - 10.30pm; Sat 1 March 12.30pm - 5pm and 6pm - 10.30pm

Where: Petersfield Festival Hall, Heath Rd, Petersfield, GU31 4EA

How: Entry to each session costs £5 (over 18s only), plus half pint tokens £1.50 each; advance tickets available from www.petersfieldfest.com and PetaPrint, College St, Petersfield

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The micro-pub

In pastimes Hampshire boasted more taverns, inns and alehouses per head of population than the national average. Now the conversion of a former shop – with standing room for 35, signals the arrival of Hampshire’s first micropub, a new way of selling locally brewed real ales and craft beers. “There are lots of really good beers around and plenty of Hampshire breweries trying new things,” says Anthony Nicholls, who with business partner Dan Richardson is confident that The Butcher’s Hook will become well established within Southampton’s Bitterne Triangle community. For updates visit: www.facebook.com/TheButchersHook

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Brewed in Hampshire

There’s a growing range of local beers available to buy at festivals, from pubs and shops, and direct from the brewery. Why not try the following:

Saxon Bronze Alfred’s Brewery, Winchester, 01962 859999, www.alfredsbrewery.co.uk

Golden Muddler Andwell Brewing Co, Hook, 01256 761044, www.andwells.com

Wassail Ballards Brewery, Nyewood, 01730 821301, www.ballards-brewery.co.uk

Swift One Bowman Ales, Droxford, 01489 878110, www.bowman-ales.com

Double Drop Flack Manor Brewery, Romsey, 01794 518520, www.flackmanor.co.uk

Goodens Gold Flowerpots Brewery, Cheriton, 01962 771534, www.flowerpots.f2s.com

Havant Started Havant Brewery, 02392 476067, www.thehavantbrewery.co.uk

Invincible Irving & Co. Brewers, Portsmouth, 02392 389988, www.irvingbrewers.co.uk

Belgarum Itchen Valley Brewery, New Alresford, 01962 735111, www.itchenvalley.com

Fortyniner Ringwood Brewery, 01425 470303, www.ringwoodbrewery.co.uk

Moondance Triple fff Brewery, Four Marks, 01420 561422, www.triplefff.com

Flying Saucer Vibrant Forest Brewery, Lymington, 07921 753109, www.vibrantforest.co.uk

And cider...

Mr Whitehead’s, Alton, 01420 511733, www.mr-whiteheads-cider.co.uk

Check www.petersfieldfest.com for the latest Beer & Cider festival line up

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