It was to be another 'staycation' this month with a week long break in very sunny Southport, the up-market neighbour of Liverpool. There are some really nice pubs in the town (in particular the Guest House and Barons Bar), but from a beer point-of-view probably the 2 most interesting places are run by brothers from the same family - Peter Bardsley operates the fairly recently opened Inn Beer Shop on fashionable Lord Street and Paul the Southport Brewery on the outskirts towards Ormskirk.
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The Inn Beer Shop is located at the very north-east end of Lord Street under one of the iconic Victorian glass topped canopies (unfortunately we were staying at the south-west end; damned inconvenient, but it was a nice stroll back!).
This is an interesting place with a slight twist on the 'standard' off-license/bottle shop or deli, since in addition to the great (and I mean really great) range of bottled beers there are also seated areas both inside and out on the pavement (just watch out for those pesky pigeons). This means you can sit in and drink one your many purchases (for an extra 50p) or have a tea or coffee (free refills) in some nice china along with one of the local pies. The place reminded me a bit of a Dutch Brown Café (minus any illegal substances, of course!).
It's quite narrow and cramped inside (maybe half a dozen tables at the front) whilst at the back is a bar area and a couple of additional tables. The bar is really quite small with only a single hand-pull (with a beer normally from the Southport Brewery) and a couple of foreign beers on tap (Augustiner Edelstoff and Jever Pilsner whilst I was there). The small bar area was always packed when I was in with people chatting away and beers being purchased - great to see.
The bottled beer choice was seriously impressive. I bought a load of bottles from the local George Wright Brewery (including some single hop Citra and Mount Hood specials), a few Prospect and Isle of Purbeck beers and an interesting beer with added port (Port O'Call - ouch!) from Bank Top Brewery. Prices ranged from under £2 to a more 'normal' £2.40-£2.60 and then over £3 for the more well-travelled bottles.
In addition there is also a great selection of German and Belgian beers, a good proportion of which will be served in the correct glass if you sit in. From Belgium I noted beers from Westmalle, Chimay (all colours), Floris, BFM Grand Cru, Kasteel, Rochefort etc...
I popped in on an almost daily basis and all the staff and locals were great. Peter and his wife Pamela wander about chatting to one and all, making sure everyone is OK, organising the tables etc... and the locals are more than happy to give advice on the beers and other pubs in Southport - it's all just very friendly and civilised and I liked it a lot.
In the middle of the week we headed to the only brewery in Southport, the eponymous Southport Brewery which has been going for just over 8 years. It's located over 2 units in a busy Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Southport.
I'd e-mailed beforehand to make sure we would be welcome and Paul, the owner/brewer, greeted us when we arrived. He runs the place with his step-son Jason who was out delivering in Liverpool today. Paul was really great company, showing us around the one unit with the brewery and chill-room with the other having the bottling equipment and 'all my junk' (Paul's words). It's a 5BBL plant and Paul now brews 3 times a week so the 3 Fermenting Vessels were all being used.
There are 5 beers in the core range with a number of seasonal and specials as well (especially if Southport FC manage to win anything!), see here. His latest beer is an Olympic-themed easy-drinking summer beer - he decided not to go for a Jubilee Beer as there seemed to be far too many on the go.
These vary in strength from 3.7% to 5.5% abv as that really is the core market around Merseyside/Lancashire - Paul has no inclination to brew anything stronger. Malt comes from Yorkshire (ha!), mostly english hops are used for bittering, but American, New Zealand and Slovenian hops are used for aroma, simply because the intensity of aroma they generate is far greater..
Because of the brewery tie system, he doesn't supply to that many places in Southport (a definite shame), really only the Guest House and Barons Bar (although there is still lingering ill-feeling for the latter from local brewers due to some loss of revenue from the recent takeover by Britannia Hotels), but supplies a number of outlets in Liverpool and the surrounding towns and also to independant pubs in the Lancashire countryside, beer festivals which seem to happen almost every week, as well as bottling a significant proportion of the beer nowadays.
His Golden Sands won Champion Best Bitter back in 2009 and I think that's when I must have tried it at a Scottish beer festival - the uptake after a such a win is considerable. Interestingly enough Houston Peter's Well is the current Champion Best Bitter and the 2 beers are quite similar - the Golden Sands is possibly lighter & slightly sweeter and the Peter's Well has more of a definite citrus flavour, but they are both really good 'classic' beers.
I'd picked up a dozen beers from local Scottish micros such as Loch Lomond Brewery, Fyne Ales, Ayr Brewing Company, St Andrews Ales and a Tullibardine 1488 Whisky Ale to swap for a dozen Southport Brewery beers. Paul really appreciated this and hopefully he'll enjoy those beers as much as I'm sure I'll enjoy his.