Bloomsbury Brown, Harvey's Brewery
As you cross Cliffe Bridge on the River Ouse in the East Sussex town of Lewes, you can’t miss it. The brewery has existed on the site since 1790 and was rebuilt in the Victorian era. Since then it has been gloriously and thoughtfully maintained, resulting in one of the most spectacular breweries in the UK today.
Established by John Harvey, Harvey & Son (Lewes) Ltd is now being run by the 7th generation of the same family. Miles Jenner (below) is Head Brewer and joint Managing Director. His dad brewed at Harvey’s and his son Edmund is involved too, as Head of Technical Services.
They may be well over two-hundred years old, keeping it in the family and fiercely committed to their local community, but if you think for one second that Harvey’s are just an old-fashioned, inward-looking outfit of old fuddy-duddies, Miles will quickly set the record straight. Harvey’s have innovation at their core. They more or less invented the Best Bitter category in 1935 with a beer of that name. They introduced one of the first golden ales in 1988 in a bid to wean people off lager. In more recent years they’ve introduced keg beers, cans and a 5-barrel microbrewery where they can experiment with newer beers as well as recreating historic beers from their vast archive.
One such beer is Bloomsbury Brown. The old-fashioned 275ml bottle features a picture of the artist Duncan Grant who was a member of the "Bloomsbury Group". Formed in the 1920s, the group featured some of the most influential writers, painters and intellectuals of the 20th century. Its members denied being a group in any formal sense, but the likes of Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster, along with Grant, were “united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts”.
Grant made his home at Charleston Farmhouse, on the South Downs not far from Lewes. Harvey's Nut Brown, which is the recipe Bloomsbury Brown is based on, was reputed to be one of his favourite drinks and it’s easy to see why. A traditional Brown Ale, it’s sweet and dark with a nutty palate and a smooth, rich body that belies its low ABV.
Words like ‘sustainability’, ‘local’ and ‘green’ are rarely bandied around here. They don’t need to be. They have been at the heart of Harvey’s approach from the very beginning. They work with local suppliers wherever possible, sourcing hops from Kent, Surrey and Sussex. They draw their water from a natural source under the brewery which comes via an aquifer that captures rainfall from the Sussex Downs. Miles even uses the same yeast strain today that his dad would have used in the 1950s, recycling it after every batch.
Harvey’s cask beer is only sold within a 60-mile radius of the brewery, which may be one of the reasons there is such a cult-like following amongst the locals.
We’re delighted to get several thousand bottles of this beer around the country, but don’t expect to see a great deal more Harvey’s beers unless you live locally. "There's no joy in coming back to Sussex if Harvey’s is everywhere” laughs Miles. Duncan Grant would almost certainly have agreed.
Want to read more about the Bloomsbury group? Check this out.