Harvey's Brewery, Old Ale
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. Perhaps only Hook Norton Brewery in the Cotswolds can rival its architectural heritage and imposing beauty.
Established by John Harvey, Harvey & Son (Lewes) Ltd is now being run by the 8th generation of the same family. Miles Jenner (below), one of the loveliest, humble and most respected people in brewing, is Head Brewer and joint Managing Director. His dad brewed at Harvey’s and now so does his son, Edmund.
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.
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. This week’s beer, Old Ale is a firm favourite of theirs during the autumn and winter months. It’s dark and warming with burnt sugars and roasted malts complementing the Maris Otter barley. With hints of dried fruit and dates, it’s rich and woody and about as Autumnal as it gets. It was Harvey’s first beer to win a National Award in 1952 and has won many other accolades since, including World’s Best Mild at the World Beer Awards in 2015.
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. Miles sums up their approach better than we ever could; "There's no joy in coming back to Sussex if Harvey’s is everywhere”.