We spent the weekend in Southampton, with a brief detour to Winchester, as part of our ongoing mission to visit parts of the UK other than the obvious.
Southampton struck us as the kind of town where you can find decent beer without doing tons of research. We particularly enjoyed draft De le Senne Jambe-de-Bois, one of the great Belgian tripels, at cosy cellar bar Belgium and Blues. We also had one of the best bottles of Rochefort 10 we've encountered in a while, as rich and dense as hot fudge sauce.
At the Fuller's pub we were staying in (sad trumpet parp) Off Piste again impressed us as a very convincing take on the modern pale ale, all raw hops, tropical fruit and waxy pith. Elsewhere, we were rather impressed by the dark-sugar plumminess of Gale's (Fuller's) HSB, which we don't remember being this kind of old ale or best mild, but that's what it seems to be now. Dark Star Pale Ale (also a Fuller's-owned brand) tasted spectacular: orange yeast over orange hops wrapped in a lantern of orange.
Hop Back is good again, especially at the Waterloo in Shirley, Southampton. GFB had a satisfying malty snap and a tickle of greenery. Crop Circle was maltier (the crackle of the crust of a cob) and hoppier (hedgerows and herb gardens) and sparking with life. Summer Lightning is back from the dead, as clean and dry as any lager, but with a touch of funk and a hayfever freshness – utterly glorious. All three looked more or less the same (the standard gripe about Hop Back) but tasted totally different, at least with a bit of concentration.
Dancing Man is Southampton's IPA and saison merchant and the taproom (would-be trendy, but dominated by middle-aged drinkers) serves a vast range of cask and keg beers in all sorts of styles. Super Liquid DIPA seemed on a par with the best of Verdant or Cloudwater – still not really our kind of thing, but with all the boxes ticked, from chewiness to Fruit Salad flavours. Bone Dry is a great, descriptive name for a cask session IPA, and it too was a technically proficient take on the style as good as anything you'll find on the bar in Bristol or London, though we'd have enjoyed it more with less haze, we think.
At the Wellington in Shirley we got stuck, unable to leave until we've had a go on each of the classics in the line-up: Titanic Plum Porter? Great. Timothy Taylor Landlord? Great. St Austell Proper Job? As good as in Penzance, and weirdly better than at the St Austell owned pub, also called the Wellington, 10 minutes from our house. White Rat (Ossett)? As good as any pint you'll find in the north, lack of sparkler aside.
Lots of great pints, plenty more that were enjoyable if unremarkable, and only a couple of duds. We consider that a big win.