The Merchant House including Need Street Food

Tuesday, 10 April 2018
The Merchant House including Need Street Food
Tuesday, 10 April 2018
It may have only been open for two months but The Merchant House has already established itself as a worthy new addition to the Southsea craft beer scene.

A fully independent free house, I was impressed with the beer selection when I first visited during the opening week but now that there's food on offer I figured it was an ideal time to pop along, sample a dish or two and then put my thoughts into a blog post.

The food in question is provided by Need Street Food who have taken up residency in the Merchant House kitchen. Having already built a solid reputation as Feed Hot Dog Co. they have now branched out and provide a full street food menu with the added bonus that for every meal they sell they fund life saving food for children across the globe.

For those that haven't yet found their way to the Merchant House, it is on Highland Road in what used to be the Ice Bar, although you'd struggle to recognise it thanks to the amazing refurbishment. It's now a lovely blend of wood and bare brickwork which whilst far from chintzy, still manages to be very welcoming and cosy especially when busy. There's also a sizeable downstairs area which provides more tables and seating.

When I visited (along with my good lady, Vicky) it was around 4.30pm on a Monday afternoon and there were only a handful of other people in, so we were able to purloin a table near the front with a view of the comings and going of a weekday Southsea.

With the kitchen not opening until 5pm I did what any sensible person would and picked myself a beer to whet my appetite, plumping for a pint of Buxton Brewery's Myrcia. This Oatmeal IPA is a stunning beer to look at, especially when delivered by keg, and at only 4% ABV but with a lovely balanced flavour it's a great session ale.

The Need Street Food menu offers a great selection and narrowing my choice was difficult. I was tempted by the Merchant Burger (when am I ever not tempted by a burger?) as well as the Hanoi Hangover Fries (which seem to have already created their own following on social media). But in the end I went for the Benny Burger (crispy chicken thigh, shredded lettuce, maple bacon, dirty cheese, garlic truffle mayo; £7.00) and Burnt End Fries (£7.00), with a schooner of Wild Weather's Pirate Captain Jester IPA to wash it all down. Vicky went for the combo option of Merchant Burger with Rosemary Fries for £9.50.

When the food arrived the first thing that struck me was the portion size, especially the Burnt End Fries. Some people may baulk at paying £7.00 for a side to go with a burger but having seen the quantity these are clearly designed for either sharing as a side or enjoying as a meal on their own.

Of course any discussion around value for money is a little pointless if the meal isn't worth eating, but with Need Street Food I can happily report that this definitely isn't the case. The chicken thigh in my burger was juicy but with a lovely crisp coating and the Burnt End Fries were a delight, especially the bourbon barbecue sauce that they were topped in. I did sneak a little taste of Vicky's burger and that was delicious although I'd have to sample a whole one myself before deciding where to place it in my hard fought list of favourite Southsea burgers.... watch this space!

So my overall impression of the Merchant House? Well as a craft beer lover it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on my wish list, with a varied and regularly changing beer list (keg, cask, bottle and can), a quality selection of spirits, a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of seating and now a kitchen pumping out tasty food. In a town like Southsea that has really embraced the modern craft beer scene, I can't see the Merchant House, including Need Street Food, being anything but a huge success.

A random beer and burger afternoon

Monday, 26 March 2018
A random beer and burger afternoon
Monday, 26 March 2018

As a Southsea local we are not short of good quality burgers.... 6 oz Burgers, Feed, Meat and Barrel, the recently opened Merchant House featuring Need Street Food and many others all offer their own amazing renditions of one of my favourite ever food stuffs. But that doesn't mean that I wasn't pretty excited when 7 Bone opened a restaurant on the Guildhall Walk right here in Portsmouth. However, due to an on-going quest to lose some excess meat of my own I hadn't yet had the opportunity to check out there latest branch. But when a few colleagues from work suggested we popped in after a hard day's graft I couldn't resist.

Now obviously I'm a fan of beer, so when the walk to 7 Bone was going to take us straight past the front door of the Brewhouse and Kitchen I figured that this would make an ideal spot to wait for the few stragglers who had been late away from the office.

If you haven't been to the Brewhouse and Kitchen on Guildhall Walk, its occupies the site that is best known locally as formerly being the Mucky Duck pub. The Brewhouse and Kitchen is a 20 strong chain of brewpubs that sell beer both brewed on site as well as craft and traditional ales from around the world. I love the layout of the Portsmouth pub, with the large brewing area making a striking feature as you walk in through the door but with a lovely airy décor that does a good way of marrying the old and the new.

I've eaten in this venue before and would definitely recommend it however, as we had our eyes on the burger's a few doors up, on this visit I limited myself to liquid refreshment. I was very tempted to plump for one of the house beers but when I saw that they had Beavertown Gamma Ray on tap I couldn't resist. Gamma Ray was one of the first modern craft beers I tried and is still one of my absolute favourites. One of my friends tucked into a few pints of the Mucky Duck Bitter and having tried it myself, I can report that its a great example of this more traditional style.

Rather happily for me, a couple of the group were delayed slightly so it meant that we could get comfortable, enjoy the beer and build an appetite for what was to come.

And it's a good job that we built up that appetite because the burgers in 7 Bone were immense! I had huge trouble picking from the menu; The "Peter Green" (aged beef patty, texan all steak chilli, cheese, american mustard, jalapenos) tempted me, as did the "Prince Charles is Overrated" (aged beef patty, bacon, cheese, shredded iceberg, pickles, dirty spread) but in the end I couldn't look past the "One Big Chicken." If the extent of your chicken burger experience is your local KFC then you need to get yourself to 7 Bone, because this monster of buttermilk fried chicken, hash brown, cheese, chipotle ketchup, hp sauce and mayo is the real deal.

And if you think that sounds good, wait until you see the fries! I went for the Portswood Poutine... a pile of fires with cheese curd on top and a boat of braised beef in deep gravy to dip into or pour over as you see fit (I poured!). If that doesn't take your fancy then other sides on offer include chilli cheese fries, dirty fires and chicken fried halloumi fries (I've had this in the Portswood 7 Bone and they are amazing!).

The drinks choice isn't bad either, with a small but perfectly formed beer and cider menu, amazing shake combinations (including boozy Hardshakes), spirits, wine and soft drinks. I picked a can of Wild Beer Pogo and this pale ale brewed with passion fruit, orange and guava was a lovely fresh tasting option to pair with the rich meaty food.

7 Bone's "Red Basket Deals" mean that you can get a main course and a dirty side for £11.95 and the can of Pogo was £3.95. For the quality on offer I think this represent pretty good value.

The Guildhall Walk still suffers from a reputation built several years ago, of drunken yobs and alcohol related violence. But recently, thanks in no small part to the opening of venues like Brewhouse and Kitchen and & 7 Bone, people have started to recognise it's potential and began to migrate back to the area. This is a great sign and would suggest that despite it's history, this area does have a place in heart of Portsmouth's food and drink scene.

Southsea Ale Club "Spring Break" Tasting Night

Monday, 12 March 2018
Southsea Ale Club "Spring Break" Tasting Night
Monday, 12 March 2018
After missing the last few events due to work commitments I was really pleased to be able to attend the most recent Southsea Ale Club tasting night. Held at Hunter Gatherer Coffee on Thursday 8th September "Spring Break", was compeered by Ali Lees, co owner of the Wave Maiden on Osborne Road. Ali, who originally hails from New York, is responsible for the ever changing yet extensive craft beer menu at The Wave Maiden so was the perfect host for this event that focused on beers either brewed stateside or produced with a heavy American influence.
This evening really was the perfect night for local beer lovers. On arrival I found myself being handed a sample of Staggeringly Good's Non Renewable Resource, their amazing bourbon oak aged imperial stout. This last batch had been given extra aging and is a fine example of one of my favourite styles of beer.
Before the tasting officially started there was still time to buy a drink and meet some new beer friends. I opted for a bottle of Casemate IPA from the very local Southsea Brewing and found myself a seat at a table, forcing my way into a group that had arrived a little earlier. Thankfully they accepted me into their fold and it quickly became evident that we all shared a love for quality craft beer.
After Chris from Southsea Ale Club gave a quick introduction it was over to Ali who first gave a brief but very informative talk on the evolution of brewing in the USA. Anyone who’s seriously into craft beer will be well aware of the strong influence that their brewing has had on the scene, but it was fascinating to hear how much of an impact certain factors (especially prohibition and home brewing) had made on the industry.
Then it was into the tasting. Everyone person was given a score sheet for each of the beers to follow, with ratings to be given for various attributes including appearance, aroma and taste. But interestingly all of the beers were initially tasted blind, with the cans or bottles only being brought out once everyone had been able to consider their thoughts without being swayed by preconceived ideas about certain breweries or styles.
The first beer out was Road Jam, a fruit beer brewed with raspberries and lemongrass, from Two Roads Brewing based in Stratford, Connecticut. Being a fan of sour beers I quite enjoyed this although the feedback from the rest of the table was a little mixed.
Next up was Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. This Farmhouse style ale had a lovely complexity to it, helped enormously by the Belgian yeast, but lacked some of the peppery finish that I like and expect in this style of beer.
The following beer was my highlight of the night and was also a huge surprise. When first brought out in the glasses it had the lovely haze and fruity aroma that you'd look for in a New England Style IPA and it delivered all of this and more on tasting. It was a stunning example of this popular US style of brewing and I wasn't alone in being shocked that this was actually from Arundel Brewery in Sussex! I've tried very little from them in the past but this "Uptown" IPA really is a top bit of brewing.
The 11th Sour by Fordham Brewing (Delaware, USA) was the fourth beer and was something a little different. This Berliner Weisse is brewed with Concorde Grapes which gave a fruity and refreshing angle to this ale. If I'm honest, I would have welcomed a little more sourness but it was still very enjoyable.
The final beer of the official tasting was Saugatuck Brewing's Blueberry Maple Stout. When first poured I wasn't too sure about this beer but as it warmed the bluberry and maple really started to come through. It was slightly sweeter than I'd normally want my stouts to be but the flavours worked well together and on a cold winter's night I could easily see myself getting though a bottle of it.
Whilst the scores were collected and being counted it was time for two special beers.
First was an IPA from a group of local home brewers who, under the name of "Make Make", hope to make a go of commercial brewing in the not to distant future. If this beer, which they'd aptly named "Spring Break," is an example of their usual brewing quality then they've got a great chance of success.
The final beer was something completely unexpected and was something Ali was keen for us all to try. By this point I was feeling a little tipsy so my memory may be a little hazy, but as I remember a Hipster Michelada is a glass that has been rimmed with lime juice and tagine spices before having a cheap american lager (think PBR or Busch) poured in. It may sound unpleasant but I'll be honest, it worked a treat and the mix of fiery spice and ice cold lager really woke up the taste buds…. It’s something I'll probably recreate when summer barbecue season comes around!
All that was left was for the most popular beer of the tasting to be announced, with Arundel Brewing's "Uptown" NE IPA being named the worthy winner. I can't stress enough how good this beer was and if it's a style you enjoy make sure you seek out some cans.
So sadly after that it was time to bid goodbye to my new found beer friends (once we'd all connected on instagram) before slipping away into the cold Southsea night.
It was another great evening organised by the Southsea Ale Club, who are doing a sterling job getting like minded beer lovers together. I can’t wait to hear what they've got planned next!

A mini craft beer adventure to Southampton

Tuesday, 6 March 2018
A mini craft beer adventure to Southampton
Tuesday, 6 March 2018
You don't have to have lived long on the South Coast to know that there's a fair amount of rivalry between Portsmouth and Southampton. I won't go into the various nicknames and stories around this subject but it's fair to say that the two maritime hubs, whilst having a lot in common, aren't afraid of a little competition.
That being said, the craft beer scene is one area that both cities appear to be fighting well above their weight and even more pleasingly, it seems to be an area where the two populaces can appreciate and enjoy what each has to offer.
I have frequently posted about my love of the Portsmouth and Southsea drinking establishments but last week I had the opportunity to hop on the train and sample of couple of venues that Southampton has to offer.
Train beers were a couple of low ABV offerings from Cloudwater
First up was The Butchers Hook Ale House in Bitterne, a small but beautifully formed craft beer venue. Whilst it is a fair distance outside of the centre of Southampton it is serviced well by both train and bus, so really is not hard to get to. As I was travelling from Portsmouth I got the slow train and the Butchers Hook is only a ten minute walk from Bitterne Station.
It has a very casual feel, with no real bar to speak of, rather an alcove at the rear with kegs, casks and fridges. The menu, which changes daily, is written on a huge floor to ceiling chalk board as you walk in, and is also posted on their website.
Although we weren't stopping for a long, as I was in a large group I was able to sample a number of beers; my can of Verdant "Gardens of Narrative" was a superb IPA but I was also very impressed with the Dancing Man Brewery "Big Casino." This hazy NE style IPA may come from a small local producer but it is a great example of this kind of modern beer.
Gardens of Narrative by Verdant is a stunning IPA
This was my first visit to the Butchers Hook and I was mightily impressed; it’s a lovely place to drink and I can imagine that when busy it's going to have a lovely atmosphere. And if all that isn't enough, whilst they don't have a kitchen they are more than happy for you to bring your own takeaway food into the pub, even supplying you with plates and cutlery!
After leaving the Butchers Hook we hopped back onto the train for the short ride into Southampton Centre. From there we took the brief (but chilly) walk into the Bedford Place area to the Brewdog Bar
This is the second BD bar I've been to (the other being Brewdog Soho) and the décor, all industrial bare walls and neon signs, seems pretty consistent. But it works and with plenty of seating both upstairs and downstairs it manages to hit the balance of being stylish without being pretentious, even if does feel like you're in the industrial sector of the Crystal Maze.
It's not a Brewdog Bar without neon lights and stripped back wall coverings
As you'd expect from a Brewdog Bar, they stock a great selection of their own beers as well as number of guest ales on draft and in the fridge.
As it was a cold night I was drawn to the darker side of the menu and opted for a pint of Brewdog's own Nitro Jet Black Heart. This Oatmeal Milk Stout scores great on ratebeer and I was very impressed, especially with the nitro delivery. It's like drinking a pint of Guinness that actually has some flavour to it!
Nitro Jet Black Heart is one beautiful looking stout
With the hours ticking on there was sadly own time for one more drink so I went for something a little bit more interesting; a third of Brewdog Abstrakt 25. This Barley Wine weighs in at a hefty 13.3% and there's no hiding that alcohol. Aged for six months in bourbon barrels this has a lot going on; dark mollasses, cacao, dark forrest fruits and on and on but is also incredibly well balanced. It was actually my first time trying a Barley Wine and it definitely won't be my last.
Brewdog's Abstakt 25 was a very nice into into the world of Barley Wine 
I didn't eat in Brewdog but a couple of lads that I was with ordered pizzas (that's the only food on offer) and they were reasonable value, came on a lovely thin base and tasted great (okay so maybe I stole a slice or two!).
After that it was a quick walk back to the station and a short doze on the train before getting back to Southsea.
This was only a very brief snapshot of two very good craft beer venues in Southampton. I've already been to both Belgium & Blues and The Dancing Man and was a little sad that I didn’t get a chance to revist them on this trip. 
But there's still a number of craft beer venues that keep getting recommended to me (The Bookshop Ale House, Overdraft, Olaf's Tun, Unity Brewing Tap Room) so it's only a matter of time before I head back across to Southampton.
Have you drunk in Southampton? What's your 'must not miss' beer spot in the city? Let me know in the comments below.


A Four Pack of Trillium

Wednesday, 28 February 2018
A Four Pack of Trillium
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
As soon as some good friends told me that they'd be in Boston for their honeymoon I started dropping some not so subtle hints around my desperate need to get hold of some Trillium beers. Thankfully my efforts did not fall on death ears and when my they returned to the UK I was presented with four fresh cans that had safely made the journey across the Atlantic.
Trillium are one of the breweries that I've been very aware of since delving into the craft beer world on Instagram; the pictures of hazy IPAs and DIPAs wowing me from afar whilst the reviews just reinforcing that the Boston based brewery really are amongst the world's best.
I was lucky enough to try a can of the Congress Street IPA in February 2017 and whilst it wasn't the freshest it still wowed me with its powerful fruity punch and amazing balance. So you can imagine how excited I was to get this four pack of cans that were all brewed within two to four weeks of when I drank them.
As you'll read below, they were all very impressive!

Double Dry Hopped Farnsworth Street IPA
It had a very hazy pour with a tiny white head and an aroma of mango and apricot. It was well carbonated, with a soft mouth feel. The flavour was amazing, soft fruits up front and lovely drying bitterness.
I let my other half try this one but after she described it as "fusty, dry and scratchy" she wasn't allowed to try any more of my Trillium beer!
Heavy Mettle DIPA
Describing this beer as hazy does not do it justice; I've seen brick walls that let more light through. But doesn't it look amazing! The nose was a fruit salad of juicy mango and pithy grapefruit but with a heavy hit of pine also evident. Those fruit aromas didn't really carry through into the flavour but the sticky pine definitely did. I don't like using the word dank as it can be overdone in craft beer circles but here it's actually pretty apt and, along with a warming boozy element, this reminded me somewhat of Magic Rock's slightly bonkers Un-Human Cannonball Triple IPA.

Vicinity Double IPA 
This had that classic NE IPA hazy golden appearance and no head to speak of. The aroma was subtle with hints of apricot and sticky pine. It had a small amount of carbonation and on tasting was not as full of soft fruit as the IPA, but very smooth with over ripe apricot then resinous pine.
PM Dawn American Stout
This coffee stout looked beautiful; almost jet black with a latte coloured head that disappeared fast. It smelled like freshly brewed coffee and sweet vanilla biscuit and had a smooth and satisfying mouth feel. The coffee dominated up front but there was also thick molasses, dark chocolate, before the vanilla returns at the back end. This had big bold flavours and a lovely warmth from the alcohol.

So as you can see, all four were amazing but what pleased me the most was that whilst the hazy IPA and DIPAs were just as good as I'd hoped, the stout was a real standout. If these four beers are indicative of Trillium's usual output then they deserve all of their plaudits. 
But, it would be remiss of me if I didn't also highlight that in the last twelve months I have drank many beers of similar styles from British breweries that are just as good and in some cases, even better than those drunk here. The influence of the US craft beer scene on the rest of the world cannot be over stated but they no longer stand alone and the top of that hazy, hoppy tree.

My best beers of 2017

Sunday, 31 December 2017
My best beers of 2017
Sunday, 31 December 2017

Well despite having to cut the amount of beer I was drinking in the latter half of the year I can look back on 2017 and reflect on some amazing ales. Below you'll find some of my personal highlights along with what I have crowned as the best beer I've drunk over the last twelve months.

Highly Commended - Yellow Belly Sundae by Buxton and Omnipollo

I've made no secret of my love for the original Yellow Belly but this year I finally got a the opportunity to try the bourbon barrel aged version and it was amazing. You can read my full review here.

Highly Commended - Grower Owned by Magic Rock and YCH Hops

This IPA was everything that you'd want from the NE style and was one of many phenomenal beers that Magic Rock produced this year. You can read my full review here.

Highly Commended - Apex Twin by Time and Tide

Another barrel aged beauty, this time Time and Tide's Apex Twin. I was lucky enough to get a pre release bottle it was another great example from one of the brightest and most interesting breweries in the UK right now. You can read my full review here.

Highly Commended - Into the Haze by Deya

This came very close to being my favourite beer of the year and is certainly the best sub 7% IPA that I've had in 2017. It was liking biting into a hoppy cloud! You can read my full review here.

Highly Commended - Brazilian Breakfast Stout by Southsea Brewing

I first tried this at the inaugural Southsea Ale Club Tasting Night and it blew me away when fresh, but sampled again recently after six months of aging it truly is a thing of beauty. I still haven't completed a full review but I've got some instagram tasting notes here.

Highly Commended - Putty by Verdant

This NE style DIPA is just one of many hoppy masterpieces produced by the Cornish wizards. You can read my full review here.

Highly Commended - Jurassix DIPA by Staggeringly Good

Another local beer and this project produced not only a beautiful DIPA but also some of the coolest cans you could ever hope to see. To read more about this collaboration between Staggeringly Good and six amazing local artists, as well as a review of the beer itself, click here.

Highly Commended - Passion Fruit Lassi IPA by Northern Monk

Combining striking artwork with an IPA packed with tropical fruit flavours was a masterstroke by one of the UK's most consistent breweries. You can read my full review here.

My best beer of 2017 - Chubbles by Cloudwater and The Veil

I said at the time of drinking, way back in September, that this would likely feature in this list and it proved a beer hard to beat. You can read why it's my beer of 2017 by clicking here.

What was the best beer you drank in 2017?

Open Mic Night at Staggeringly Good

Friday, 6 October 2017
Open Mic Night at Staggeringly Good
Friday, 6 October 2017
If you're brewery doesn't have a dinosaur stain glass window
then you're just not trying hard enough
Last Thursday (28/09/17) saw me make only my second visit to the Staggeringly Good Taproom and about five minutes in I remember saying to myself "why haven't I been back here sooner!"
Well that question was answered when I woke the following day feeling more that a little delicate. This is not the fault of Staggeringly Good, they are guilty of nothing more that producing amazingly drinkable beer and serving it in one of the coolest beer venues you'll find locally.
Based on Rodney Road (just about Southsea according to the map), the brewery taproom has been serving fresh dinobeer since early 2016 and it has fast established itself as a beer lover's dream.

Such a cool tap wall!
The last Thursday of every month is their Open Mic night where local musicians, poets and artists can showcase their talents, and then be rewarded with beer. Following on from the amazing Jurassix DIPA project it's just another example of how Staggeringly Good embrace, nurture and promote the amazing wealth of creativity in the Portsmouth and Southsea area.
I'd been hoping to get down to one of their Open Mic nights for a while so when the stars aligned and both me and some beer loving friends had a free Thursday night it was an ideal opportunity to pop along.
On the beer front first up for me was a can of the most recent release of Hop Rod. This hazy IPA is brewed for The Wine Vaults (another top Southsea beer venue) and superb; full of the tropical fruit flavours and smooth mouthfeel that you'd look for in a New England style IPA.
A post shared by Staggeringly Good Beer (@staggeringlygoodbeer) on

 After a couple of cans of "Rod" I moved onto the Jurrassix DIPA. Even now, some three months after canning, this 8% Godzilla of a beer still tastes great and is far too easy drinking considering the hefty ABV. If you still haven't tried it I'd suggest getting down to the brewery and grabbing some before the last few cans become extinct.

Jurrasix; a top DIPA with amazing local art = WIN

Finally we moved onto the last beer of the evening, but what a way to finish! Non Renewable Resource is Staggeringly Good's new Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and this glossy black boozy beast is the epitome of grown up drinking. At 8.7% abv and coming in 660ml bombers we thought we took the sensible choice by purchasing two and splitting them between the three of us. Well we were fools. One would have been plenty, especially on top of the behemothic beers we'd already drank!

Non Renewable Energy is a beast of a beer
So what about the entertainment? Well I'll start by taking of my hat to the two acts whose name I didn't catch. First up was a haunting acapella vocal performance; I didn't catch the lady's name and it was a song I did not know but it was a striking way to begin. Then there was a lone chap on his guitar who I thought was going to be all about an Ed Sheeran, Damian Rice kind of chilled out vibe but then shook the rafters with some genuine rock rage.

But either side of the solo rocker was a two part set by local band Skaraman. I could try and describe them but I'd fear I'd do them a disservice. So, quoting direct from their very own facebook page, they are an "experimental acoustic duo project of Original and Cover tunes mixing sounds of Reggae and Ska with a hint of Jazz and Hip-Hop aromas."

Skaraman bringing the funk

However you'd describe them, the sound that band members Mike and James produced on their guitar and upright base respectively was perfect for the night. From the moment they kicked off with their ska influenced Fugees cover I was hooked! And I'll apologise to them now for my drunken demands of multiple encores!

For any readers that have hung around in hope or expectation of an eloquent summation of the night I'm afraid you're out of luck... my memories are, like the beer, a tad hazy. But I do know that as I gracefully stumbled out into the clear Autumnal Thursday night I knew I'd had a cracking night and despite the hangover, I won't leave it so long before I return.

The Staggeringly Good Brewery and Taproom can be found at Unit 3, St. George’s Industrial Estate, Rodney Road, Southsea, PO4 8SS and is currently open as follows (although it's always worth keeping an eye on their social media for up to date hours);
Thursday 2pm – 10pm
Friday 2pm – 10pm
Saturday 12pm – 6pm

You can find Skaraman performing at pubs and venues around the area, follow them on facebook to keep up to date.

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