For many years I have frequently visited the city of Southampton, dragged by my other half on match day to watch his beloved team play football. He has been a Saints fan ever since he was little and when we first became a couple I thought I should take an interest in one of his hobbies … so I chose to share beer drinking with him! The opening of Caskaway on Oxford Street meant we had a new place for our pre-match beers and it was from here that I decided I wanted to find out more about the beer scene in Southampton.
I first did some research online and found a blog post by Tom Hallett called The Ultimate Guide to Southampton’s Craft Beer Bars and Real Ale Pubs which gave a very comprehensive list of beer destinations in and around the city. This blog post gave me a great start in discovering some places and areas of Southampton I would never have thought to have visited before, particularly those outside of the city centre. I began to create a picture of Southampton’s beer scene and decided to share some of my favourite bars and pubs in my own guide.
This blog post has been roughly two years in the making and within that time new places have opened and there have been some that have closed. The unfortunate side effect of drinking a lot of beer has also caused a delay in writing up this guide so if you follow this route I advise you do it over a couple of days to make the most of each stop. On one occasion when I had decided to do a beer crawl around Southampton I planned to start at Unity’s tap room in it’s old location just outside the city centre in Portswood. I thought I would have one or two beers here and then move one to see what else Portswood had to offer before heading back into the centre. From what I remember of that trip is that I rather enjoyed Unity’s Amalgamation Houblon Tripel and then the rest of the day is a little hazy …
Two years on and after a few more visits here is my SoBeer Guide to Southampton which I am hoping will inspire you to pay the city a visit.
Dancing Man Brewery Brewpub
Down near Southampton’s Docks and nestled within parts of the original town walls is the Dancing Man Brewery. The brewpub is situated in a historic Wool House and you can see a lot of the building’s character when you go inside. The double doors open to reveal pockets of seating areas and a large spiral staircase taking you to the second mezzanine floor. The decor is very eclectic with a mixture of historic photos and quirky antiques which add to the charm of the place. As you walk around the staircase and through to the back of the pub the large bar becomes visible and you get the first glimpse of the brewery’s seven brewing vessels. The DMB brewpub sell their own beers, both cask and keg, but also have a few guest ales and one off brews. Dancing Man are also very proud that their beers are unfined and champion this with their choice of guest ales with beers from Moor, Siren as well as Tapstone. Back outside at the front of the pub are some picnic style benches where I have spent a few sunny afternoons watching the ferries arrive into port with a chilled beer in my hand.
Caskaway Tasting Rooms
The Caskaway Tasting Rooms, established in 2016, was where I first started looking into the local beer scene in Southampton and has also been the place for pre-match drinks when we’ve been down to watch Saints play. The micro pub offers a wide range of keg and gravity pour cask beers, cider, as well as spirits which are served to you at your table as there is no formal bar. The beer list available usually showcases a variety of local breweries as well as some sought after new releases. Inside, Caskaway’s interior gives a nod to Southampton’s nautical heritage as the walls are decked with maps, compasses and model boats. When you look up ship sails drape from the ceiling filled with fairy lights which give you the feeling that your gazing into the stars.
Belgium & Blues
Belgium & Blues is made up of two parts. On the ground level is a Gin Bar and Brasserie serving classic Belgian food as well as smoked meats from Bark & Brisket. Downstairs is the Cellar Bar which has ambient lighting that gives you the feeling that you are in a traditional Belgian bar and there is plenty of booth seating making it feel very cosy. Belgium & Blues pride themselves on having one of the widest ranges of bottled Belgian beers in the country, something I can vouch for as on a recent visit I was able to try a 1.5 year old aged bottle of Orval. On the bar there are 20 taps of both cask and keg beers pouring Belgian style beers as well as championing local breweries. Belgium & Blues is also a great venue for music events and there are regular sets from bands during the weekends.
The Brewdog in Southampton is tucked away a little near Upper Bannister Street where there doesn’t seem to be much footfall compared to other locations for the brand. On stepping inside I am faced with the familiar template of a Brewdog bar which has been coined from the idea of what a ‘craft beer’ micro pub should look like with their trademark exposed brickwork, distressed wood furniture and brushed metal finishes. On looking at the beer list located above the bar I see some familiar beers, including one of my favourite Brewdog beers Elvis Juice, as well as some great guest ales. The staff at Brewdog are always friendly and offer great customer service, particularly if you need assistance in choosing what beer to order. Here there is a good mix of customers from your regular beer drinkers to people starting out on their beer journey.
Unity Tap Room
Unity Brewery have recently expanded and relocated from their small unit in Portswood to their current location which is conveniently nearby the St Mary’s Football Stadium. From the outside the brewery and tap room is a standard white coloured industrial unit but when you step inside you are greeted with the soft pastel colour palette that has become synonymous with the Unity brand, which you can learn more about from the Matt Curtis’ great interview with founder Jimmy Hatherley in a podcast for the Pellicle here. Upon entering as you look straight ahead you see the brewery which takes centre stage within the space. To the right is the tap room area which is a wide space with plenty of seating, a football table and a games console for if your feeling competitive. The bar has certainly been upgraded during the move from it’s original four taps to it’s current line up of 12 taps pouring their own beers as well as guest ales and cider. To the side of the bar there is a large fridge filled with freshly canned Unity beers as well as a great selection from other breweries which can be drank in or taken away. Out the back is an enclosed yard where street food stands run pop ups every Saturday. As I mentioned before the tap room is fairly close to St Mary’s Stadium which means I have a great excuse to pop in on match day, enjoy a few beers and eat some amazing street food!
The Bookshop Alehouse
As you look at the bright orange frontage of The Bookshop Alehouse you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just that, a book shop but as you look closer you see that it is actually a very interesting micro pub. As you enter the alehouse you’ll notice that some of the the old book cases remain in homage to the building’s previous purpose and there is a comforting scent of old books in the air. Personally I really enjoy the smell of old books and I think it adds to the character of the alehouse. The bar is at the back of the pub serving both cask and keg across their eight taps of local beers from big names such as Unity and Vibrant Forest as well as others from around the UK. The decor inside The Bookshop Alehouse is very eclectic and I think it reflects some of our British eccentricity. There is a mixture of beer memorabilia as well as retro signage hanging on the walls and in the corner near the bar there is row of Chinese lucky fortune cats that look like they are doing a Mexican wave. Each time I have been here I have noticed how friendly the staff are as well as the regulars and the pub does give the impression that it is an important communal hub for the area.
The Butcher’s Hook
The walk from The Bookshop Alehouse to our next destination is one of my favourites, in particular the Cobden Bridge crossing between two of the city’s suburbs St Denys and Bitterne Park which reveals a stunning view over the River Itchen. As you leave the bridge and walk up towards the small monument you will begin to see Southampton’s Original Micro Pub come into view. Here is another great example of a repurposed building as The Butcher’s Hook is a fully converted Victorian butcher’s shop. Inside the walls are still covered with the original tiles in off white and green, typical of the era, while at the window there is a hand painted scene depicting cows and sheep in a field. It’s not until you look up that the real character of the building shines through as you see the original meat hooks and you can really imagine how it would have looked as a working butcher’s shop. There is no bar in The Butcher’s Hook so people generally place their orders at the stillage which pours up to four gravity pour cask beers and there are six keg lines just to the side. Being Southampton’s Original Micro Pub means that The Butcher’s Hook is usually busy but it does have a really great atmosphere once your inside and the communal style seating is aimed at encouraging people to talk to one another, hopefully on the great beer they are enjoying!
My last stop is just a short drive out of the city centre to Shirley, and trust me it is worth grabbing an Uber out to this one. Overdraft is situated on the main high street of Shirley and is the last in a row of retail units. Inside it has your typical ‘craft beer bar’ vibe with benches, bar stools made from old casks and exposed brickwork on the walls. Here there is a good sized bar serving gravity pour cask ales from the visible stillage as well as range of keg beers and cider. At the back of the micro pub there are some vinyl decks as Overdraft regularly hold DJ sets and events in the evenings. The food is also incredible as there is a mouthwatering menu of Mexican street food including soft shell tacos and sharing platters. On a recent trip here, feeling a little worse for wear, I stopped on my way back home with the intention to have one quick beer for the purpose of this blog. After reading the street food menu and having a couple beers I was persuaded into staying longer and it certainly made my hangover a little more bearable!
As I mentioned earlier this is not a definitive list and there are a number of other great places to discover so I hope to keep this list updated as I visit new venues. The South Coast doesn’t often get mentioned when people talk about beery destinations but the scene in Southampton is really vibrant and I really hope that it will continue to flourish so that we can get the South on the beer map!