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Checking in with Brewhouse & Kitchen

Our trip to Portsmouth gave us a chance to reappraise Brewhouse & Kitchen – a quietly successful chain built around onsite brewing.

We’ve been ambivalent about BH&K in the past.

Despite each having its own brewer, the individual bars trade under a collective name, with the same branding and similar décor.

As a result, they can feel a bit like business class Wetherspoons.

The beers rarely strike us as memorable, either, tending to the soft, hazy and, yes, homebrew-like.

The interior of a modern bar with scrubbed wood, bare brick and grey paint.
The Southsea branch of BH&K.

Still, sitting in the Southsea branch on a Monday afternoon, we were struck by a few things.

First, how busy it seemed, given the time and day.

(We realise the above photo makes it look otherwise but that’s because we go out of our way to avoid snapping pictures of strangers.)

Secondly, the diverse range of people it served: solo retirees, young parents, ladies out lunching, students, builders…

Thirdly, some of the beer was strikingly good – specifically the Helles lager.

That latter was a false alarm, though, because we noticed “Brewed for us” on the menu and asked “By whom?”

Shepherd Neame, it turns out. We tend to forget that SN is a substantial UK lager producer.

The other beers were decent enough, though, on cask and keg, across a range of styles. It’s always nice to encounter a cask porter, for example.

At the end of our week in Portsmouth, on Friday lunchtime, we visited the city’s other branch, in the centre.

This was the very first BH&K, established in a former Wetherspoon pub, which was a former Brickwoods pub.

It felt warmer and more organically publike than the Southsea outlet.

There was brewing underway, too, filling the bar with the smell of hot malt.

Knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff were keen to talk about the beer and give clear recommendations.

We enjoyed a notably orangey Witbier and, on the barman’s advice, Rockingham American pale ale.

Both were solid, as good as many beers we encounter in craft beer focused pubs in Bristol. Think Left Handed Giant, for example.

“This is amazing!” said a bloke at the bar. “I’ve never heard of this place but look at all the different beers you’ve got. Weird thing is, I’ve got some friends who are proper ‘alers’ and they’ve never mentioned it once.”

And that’s true. You won’t hear “alers” talking about BH&K, just as they don’t tend to talk about Zero Degrees.

There’s something about chains that’s off-putting, however properly things are done. You don’t know the brewers, only the brand, and the beer can sometimes feel like an accessory designed to sell macaroni cheese and “small plates”.

We wonder if it might be different if each bar and brewery had it’s own name and identity.

Would “alers” feel warmer towards The Portsmouth Brewing Company at The White Swan?

6 replies on “Checking in with Brewhouse & Kitchen”

The obvious reference point is the Firkins, which generally wore their branding in a fairly light way that if you only knew one of them, you might think it was a standalone pub. I guess a lot depends on whether you’re depending more on regulars or on passing trade who may be attracted by a known quantity (qv Spoons).

At the other extreme are Stonegate, who most people probably haven’t even heard of despite being one of the biggest pubcos in the UK, the only clue in one of theirs I went to before lockdown was really small writing on the back of the wine menu.

‘and, yes, homebrew-like.”
Thats a bit offensive using home brew as a basis for describing unmemorable beer. Home brew beer as with any professional beer has many different levels of quality and very much the ones are get to taste tend to be better and more memorable than beers from many regional breweries.

I’ll stick up for “homebrew-like” as a descriptor for rough, unfiltered, unprocessed beer. Yes, the best home brewers make beer as finely honed as the professionals, but if you’re active on a scene that accepts all-comers (and I certainly have been) you’ll know there are recurring themes where the temperature control, the oxidation control, or many other common things, aren’t done right. It’s common enough in home brewed beer to describe it as “homebrew-like”.

Yeah, to me ‘homebrew-like’ would mean ‘rough and inconsistent’ rather than ‘bland and boring’. A huge part of a professional brewer’s training is about process control and consistency; whatever you think of the merits of individual macro beers, they rarely vary from batch to batch.

Hi, I’m Elliott the brewer at BK Portsmouth! I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed our pub and especially my beers! If you ever visit again please be sure to grab my attention and I’d love to give you out some free samples and have a good natter on all things beer. Cheers! ?

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