We present an introduction to some of the finest breweries in Brighton, Lewes and the surrounding area, as well as Sussex’s favorite ales and the impact of CAMRA.
In the small town of Lewes in Sussex you can find Harveys brewery. Harveys is the oldest independent brewery in Sussex, and has really stood the test of time, having lasted eight generations thus far. Harveys’ history in brewing spans 200 years and the brewery itself is housed in a Victorian gothic tower, which has been gradually adapted over the past 150 years to suit Harveys brewing needs.
Harveys are proud to be a ‘local’ brewery in the Sussex area and distribute their beers to a 50-mile radius around Lewes. They source their hops from Sussex, Kent and Surrey and promote the local sustainability policy. Once hops have been used they are reintroduced into the land as fertilizer The spent hops are used as food for the dairy herd at Plumpton Agricultural College.
60 feet below the premises, spring water is drawn via the artesian well. Harveys have built their distinct beers through this process and the yeast strain that has been in action for half a century.
Harveys’ most popular ale – Sussex Best Bitter – was born in the post war period and is still recognised as their best ale to date.
North Laine Brewery
The North Laines Brewery is a relatively new, but increasingly popular public house with in-house microbrewery in Brighton. The brewery has embraced the counter-culture and community philosophy that Brighton’s North Laines quarter lives by. The pub has been a hit for its warm atmosphere and fundamental difference to the many other pubs of Brighton. It is a refreshing addition to the North Laines area of Brighton, and fits in seamlessly with the area.
The customers of the North Laines Brewery get to drink the popular ‘Laines Best’, which is brewed in front of their very eyes, and is always a talking point when waiting at the bar.
Along with brewing a great beer in-house, the brewery has created an atmosphere ideal for a family Sunday roast or a Saturday night out on the town.
You may also hear the North Laines Brewery being referred to as a brewpub, meaning a pub which brews its alcohol on the premises. Brewpubs have been in Germany for hundreds of years, whilst many are finding their place in many a British villages, towns and cities now.
Favored Ales across Sussex and the presence of CAMRA
Since 1971 CAMRA (the campaign for real ale) have tried their very best to see some of the best ales across the country get the recognition they deserve, and help to keep the smaller breweries to stay in business. Today large breweries dominate the market and push out smaller breweries.
During the late 1960’s and early 70’s many breweries opted to move away from allowing their ales to ferment in the cask in which they were left to brew in. It was the founding members of CAMRA that opposed this move and promoted the traditional flavoursome production of fine ale. As many breweries expanded, at the detriment of their ale’s taste, some were very aware of the problems of sacrificing their authentic taste.
Since March 16th 1971, CAMRA have stood by their word and are now recognised for their passionate work. Not only do CAMRA support fine ales that may have otherwise vanished without a trace, they also promote good pubs across the UK and Europe. Pubs across Sussex have been able to flourish with the support of groups like CAMRA.
Here are just a couple of the ales you may get your hands on whilst in Sussex:
Laines Best – cited as a decent session bitter with a fruity twist, light malt and some hop. The Laines Best is a favourite at the North Laines, where you can find the micro-brewery in action. It is a 4% alcohol ale known for its distinctive flavour.
Robinson’s Hoptimus Prime – A fruity blonde with a crisp finish made from British hops and barley malt. This is often found tightly gripped in the hand of many a fan at The Sussex in Hove, East Sussex. Robinson’s is 4.1% alcohol.
Wadworths St George & the Dragon – This 4.5% ale is a fiery amber bitter known for its hints of blackcurrant, orange and digestive.
Traditional Breweries versus Modern Breweries
Microbreweries – It was in late 1970 that the first microbrewery foundations were laid. The first successful microbrewery was founded by Bill Urquhart at Litchborough Brewery in 1975 in Northamptonshire. Since then we have seen microbreweries pop up all over the United Kingdom, such as the North Laines brewery in Brighton.
Originally, microbreweries referred to the size of the brewery, though in more recent times it has become an attitude to brewing and a word used to describe the flexible nature of the brewery itself. Microbreweries wanted to set themselves apart from the large breweries in their philosophy. Micro-breweries don’t aspire to be mainstream breweries. The experimentation, adaptability and customer service offered by micro-breweries is second-to-none, and so they are able to build a small but loyal customer base who help to promote their unique ale.
One of the key differences between a microbrewery and a traditional brewery is the marketing strategy. The ales produced by the microbreweries aimed to compete on quality and diversity, over marketing spend and low prices. For this reason, Sussex has seen some microbreweries have great success as customers see the value in an ale they truly enjoy drinking and can support ethically. Environmentalists may be concerned about the distance a pint of Heineken travels before it reaches their local pump,
Despite the market share of microbreweries being just 2%, their influence is much greater than it may appear. Mass market breweries attempted to push out the original breweries by creating brands to directly compete with them, with this failing they turned to investing in the microbreweries or even buying them out.
At the end of the day, enjoying your drink comes down to a combination of things. You need to enjoy the environment you are in and the taste of your drink, but you also need to be happy being a customer of a brand you are supporting.
Tom Clark is a Brighton- based writer who spends many a summer evening sampling fine beers around Brighton and the Sussex area.