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D-Day for Bottled Beer

Picture the scene. It is 1944 and war has been raging across Europe for nearly five years.

Rationing is taking its toll, nights are blacked out and the threat of Nazism lies but a couple of dozen miles across the Channel. Dark days indeed – especially when all the radio has to offer is The Brains Trust and Vera Lynn.

In desperation, you pick up your gasmask and head for the pub. Having spent your shilling on a gravity-reduced pint of mild, you make for your favourite corner only to find it occupied by a couple of off-duty chaps from the local military base. They seem rather familiar.

A few swigs of ale later and recognition comes as a shock. That fellow with the clipped speech looks uncannily like Field Marshal Montgomery, and his American companion has to be Eisenhower, doesn’t it?

Turning Heads

It must have turned a few heads when, in the run up to D-Day, these military giants turned up in the local boozer for a leisurely drink, but that’s what happened at The Golden Lion in Southwick, a pretty little village just inland from Portsmouth.

Plans for the Allied invasion were being finalised during the day at nearby Southwick House and, to ease their mental muscles, the main men would repair to the local pub in the evening. The beer on the bar came from Hunt’s brewhouse next door.

Sadly the brewery ceased production in 1957 but the building still stands and is a remarkable monument to small-scale brewing in the mid-20th century. Its survival is owed in no small measure to the fact that it belongs to the Southwick Estate, which allowed the site to be restored by volunteers in 1985.

A one-off brew was put through at the time, but proved undrinkable, the sterility of the equipment no longer what it should be. Since then the brewhouse has lain dormant. It has been of no use for brewing and yet the attractive old building cannot be freed up for other uses.

Inventive Solution

A preservation order has been slapped on it by English Heritage, which means that the equipment cannot even be moved for display elsewhere. How to make the best of such an asset has been a dilemma facing the Estate for two decades, but now an inventive solution has been found to keep all parties happy.

On the hills around Southwick, farmer Martin Bazeley grows barley for brewing. A few years ago, he decided to re-establish the field-to-table concept by having some of his barley malted and turned into his own beer.

Suthwyk Ales was founded to market his first brew, a golden ale called Skew Sunshine Ale. A second beer, Bloomfields, followed soon after, and last year, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, a third beer, Liberation, was introduced.

All are brewed for Martin by Oakleaf in Gosport. For some time, Martin has harboured the idea of opening a bottled beer shop, and the building he has wanted to use is the old brewhouse itself. This year, his plans have come to fruition.

Shop with a Difference

Joined in partnership by publican Al Stringer, who previously took the Hawkley Inn, near Petersfield, into the Good Beer Guide, Martin has negotiated the use of the old premises. What they offer is a beer shop with a difference.

Downstairs there are some 250 bottles from breweries and cidermakers all across the South and beyond. They share space with a 145-year-old steam engine that used to power the brewery, and two wooden fermenting vessels that now tower above the cash desk.

Upstairs, the brewery remains intact, complete with malt mill, grist case, wooden mash tun, coal-fired copper, hop back and coolship. Visitors can wander around, imagining the days when the louvred windows struggled to clear the steam rising from the bubbling wort.

The Last Brewer

There’s a picture of the last brewer, a man named Dick Olding whose retirement saw the closure of the brewery. He was 81 and, for some reason, thought he was too old to run it any longer on his own. His keys still hang on the peg, his ladder leans against the copper where he left it, and his tools stand rusting in the rack.

Martin and Al have taken this picture of Dick, waist-deep in his mash tun, and painted it on a new sign that swings in the breeze outside. Southwick Brewhouse, as the venture is called, is a well thought-out and generous concept that protects a heart-warming slice of rural heritage and provides a service to brewers and drinkers alike.

It’s a tourist attraction in itself and, once you’ve done the tour (no charge for entry) and bought a few bottles (you ought to really), you can pop next door to the pub to drink more of Martin’s beer, perhaps sitting in the seats where, six decades ago, those brilliant military masterminds once relaxed.

This feature first appeared in What's Brewing in December 2005. Please note that details and facts may have changed since that first publication.

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