Working closely with our brewers
Being a free house we have always had the advantage of choosing who we buy our beers from; in recent years customer requests for ‘something different’ coupled to the huge expansion in craft ales has meant that we can have some fun with what we sell on the pumps. Gone are the days of ‘only brown beer’, although there’s nothing wrong with a traditional bitter if that’s what tickles your fancy!
Over the years since I first walked into the Blue Bell as a 10-year-old boy lots has changed – not only in the pub and in Emsworth but particularly with people’s drinking habits! In the mid-90s Courage Best and Directors occupied the hand pumps, supplemented by Webster’s keg bitter and John Smiths Smooth… Many people would also drink a bottled Light Ale or a so-called Brown Split too. Most of the wine tasted like vinegar, and you would be hard pushed to find many who went beyond Fosters in the lager department.
I suppose I first noticed the swing towards a real ale or craft beer market when Fullers took over Gales Brewery in 2005. The Blue Bell had, at this point, been one of the few outlets in Emsworth serving London Pride; a well-known and highly regarded London pint which sold well. Following the takeover of Gales, Emsworth was flooded with London Pride – we suddenly needed to look for something different and discovered by chance through my cousin a little brewery called Sharps based in North Cornwall. They at this stage were not delivering as far East as Emsworth but we took a punt anyway and ordered six 9-gallon casks of Doombar. It sold in a week! This corner of Hampshire then became a regular dray route for Sharps Brewery.
Sharps and Doombar now get a bad press from the real ale elitist, but I believe that this once little know brewer opened the door for the start of the craft beer movement and made real ale accessible to a new and wider audience! Without Bill Sharp and his vision who knows where real ale would be now – it remains as popular on our bar now as it was then, and that’s why we still sell it; I believe Sharps still have a strong passion for what they do despite protestations from local experts!
Modern & Craft Brewers
Nowadays there’s a new brewery popping up on every street corner and the often over-used term “craft beer’ is, as a market sector, increasing year on year. In the 12 months to April 2017, the Craft Beer sector of the UK Beer Industry grew by 23% according to CGA Strategy and that is expected to continue in 2018. Long before this sat in the office of Odbins now Woosters myself and local artist Steve Massey dreamed of our own Emsworth brewery, and with Emsworth’s Fishing and Oyster Heritage, our first beer had to be an oyster stout. This proved difficult with not many brewers prepared to take the plunge by putting live oysters in their brew. Fast forward 11 years, by chance, the Staggeringly Good Brewery in Portsmouth put on an ‘oyster and beer’ night on…and from the shells these clever boys made a small batch stout! Cue a call from an over-enthusiastic Emsworth landlord with a mad idea! Could we make a REAL oyster stout, and ‘Bishop Slayer’ was born.
Our very own Bishop Slayer
Working on Bishop Slayer was not my first experience of the brewing process as I had helped Grant Thomas brew some ‘SkIPA’ at the original Emsworth Brewhouse, but it remains a fascinating process – I am always amazed at how a porridge-like substance becomes a refreshing beer! Brewers like an early start, so off I went to Pompey for 6 in the morning…The first part of the day included weighing the raw ingredients, before putting them into the mash tun, We used 5 different malts including Maria Otter Pale, roasted barley and chocolate malt. Once in the mash tun we had a chance to go for breakfast at another Portsmouth institution called ‘Bread Addiction’ in Southsea, before heading back to shuck the oysters and add them to the process; in all we brewed 1600 litres of the new Oyster Stout and used 25kg of whole oysters including the shells. The oysters bring sweetness and a seasoned mineral quality to the final beer. After the mashing in we transferred the liquor to the fermentation tank, via the heat exchanger, where the beer sat before being put in to the conditioning tanks. The final beer is completely natural, unfined and unfiltered, and was produced in 9-gallon firkins as well as 330ml cans.
It was a fantastic experience and we also raised £300 for the Solent Oyster Foundation. On the launch night we sold the first 9-gallon barrel in an hour! The official description of Bishop Slayer informs the customer of a “rich, intense stout made with fresh south coast oysters that impart a deep, layered minerality and smooth mouthfeel to the blend of 5 speciality malts. The beer is named after an infamous incident in 1902 that dragged Emsworth’s reputation into the mud – the Dean of Winchester Cathedral, The Very Reverend William Stephens, died of food poisoning following a banquet containing oysters from the town! His death was attributed to the somewhat unhygienic conditions in Emsworth harbour at the time and sparked the Great Oyster Crisis of 1903.”
We are now on our second batch of Bishop Slayer and it is flying out of the door! It’s still available in cans at the Emsworth Deli, Southbourne Farm Shop and Vin Wine Merchants and is also available at various other bars in the local area including Croxtons and Meat & Barrel in Southsea and The Hornet Ale House in Chichester to name a few! T-shirts are also available at £15 each from the Blue Bell.
Watch out for my next brewing collaboration, due to be launched on 15th September!
Some of our favourite local brewers:
Staggeringly Good – Portsmouth
They make beer for people who love to ride Dinosaurs! Tucked away in a dark corner of Southsea, Portsmouth there is a place where all PaleAleontologist can enjoy a pint of their favourite Thirst Quenching Theropods. At Staggeringly Good it’s important for us to share what we do with people so we have created a special space within the brewery itself where you can come and enjoy a pint of any of our delicious beers whilst overlooking the brewery itself where the magic happens.
Southsea Brewing Co. – Portsmouth
Located inside an old ammunition storage room at Southsea Castle – the south coast’s hottest new brewery. David Eastwood grew the brewery from his Garage while learning the trade volunteering at local breweries.
Suthwyk Ales – Suthwyk
Way back in 1150, the Canons of Portchester Castle established a Priory at ‘Suthwyk’, as it was then known. Following the Dissolution, the Priory gradually became the ruined wall remaining today, but the village of Southwick continued its rich historical journey. Brewing was part of that history until 1957 when Dick Olding, the last Master Brewer retired and the Brewhouse door was closed behind him. It was his skills that ensured Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower, and the American troops billeted on surrounding farms were never denied a pint in the village pub as they planned ‘Operation Overlord’, the D-Day offensive, from Southwick House.
Burning Sky Brewery – East Sussex
Burning Sky, a brewers dream. The dream of a long term brewer with a love of both punchy hop forward pales and of the beautiful Belgian beer tradition. A brewers brewery, we are fortunate to be blessed with a talented team.