I seem to be a bit off the pace at the moment having spent much of the last two weeks out-of-town and away from my desk.
Last week saw us spend a couple of days in Portsmouth where my favourite son is studying. Hit the tourist trails and experienced the usual ups and downs of the local pubs.
Gun Wharf Quays is the newest, most recently spruced up part of Portsmouth. It is a re-development of bars, restaurants, nightclub, outlet shopping and apartments. It is a happening place with some good vibes. It is common that the traditional pub in places like this is an All Bar One or a Yates. Here we find the Old Custom House a large Fuller's pub converted from old naval office building. Gales brewery was a backward company in many ways but this is an example of the vision and ambition that could have saved the company as an independent outfit. Fuller's have inherited a great pub here. It is large and multi-roomed but still bright and inviting. The staff give the impression that they are there to make sure your visit is as enjoyable as possible. We have enjoyed a meal here on a couple of visits. It is a pub where you get the impression that people are trying hard. The wide range of Fuller's beers is an add-on for me and the beer has been good on all three visits. I think the pub has had problems with consistency in the past and as such does not appear in the Good beer Guide.
The next pub, venturing towards Southsea, is The Hole in the Wall, Portsmouth CAMRA pub of the year, and the home of Oakleaf Hole Hearted beer. I enjoyed a pint of porter here and my wife and son had the Weston's perry - both good. I was concerned to see most people drinking pints of squash - lemon and orange. On further research, the orange proved to be Cheddar Valley cider, a brighter cider you will not see and the lemon was alcoholic ginger beer. Unfortunately I tried neither as we were hot footing it to the next place.
The Florence Arms, further into Southsea is a friendly pub that focuses on cider. A list of about forty bottled and cask ciders was offered. Whitehead perry was chosen by the lightweights, I had a lovely pint of an Oakleaf seasonal beer - a long name that I cannot remember (and does not appear on their website - was I dreaming ?).
Onwards and upwards to the Fifth Hants Volunteer Arms on the main Southsea drinking stretch, Albert Road, a cosmopolitan, vibrant if slightly scruffy street. I was expecting a Fuller's pub from the Good Beer Guide description. I was surprised as we approached because it must be one of the only Fuller's pubs that has not received the post Gales makeover. When we entered it was clear that this pub was in dire need of some tender loving care and attention. The furniture and carpets were filthy, the welcome non-existent and the beer, like the rest of the pub, tired. This small pub has probably suffered in this long, deep recession and really does need, what I think is now commonly called in the trade, "tenant support". I hope it gets a leg up soon because this is a small, traditional, street corner community pub that is fast becoming lost in this country. I know tenants have obligations under their leases but this sort of run-down ambiance does nothing good for a company as widely regarded as Fullers. A Good Beer Guide pub for many years on the evidence of many certificates on show but it must be in serious danger of being omitted in future unless it pulls its socks up.
The evening ended watching the football in the Leopold, a modern pub also on Albert Road. Excellent pints of Oakleaf Hole Hearted made the Thierry Henry handball even more funny.
So there you have it, a trot around the pubs of Pompey. Some highs and some lows. Mainly good beer, great choice of local beers and cider and reasonable prices.