A little while ago I posted the first entry of my Sussex Beer Now series, an introduction to a steady stream of posts that aim to highlight all that is great and good about my local beer scene; the pubs, the brewers, the beers. Since then I’ve been steadily working my way through a seemingly endless stream of thoroughly enjoyable local brews, primarily on cask and in bottle, with kegged occasionally stepping into the mix too. Kegged beers being more available along the Sussex coast, it’s cask that remains king and more often than not, it’s a pint of best bitter that’ll be in your glass.
The region is probably best known for the long established Harveys of Lewis and with more heritage than you can shake a hop plant at this brewery is an icon of the local scene. The beers are still produced at a site that dates back over 200 years with the Gothic tower standing proud as a local landmark. Their flagship ale is the popular Sussex Best, well known, much loved and completely soaked through the local landscape. Although Harveys Sussex is perhaps seen as the flagship for the county there are plenty of other regional bitters on offer, a popular style choice in the Sussex brewers’ portfolio, each one worthy of attention and whilst they may not have the heritage and horse drays of the East Sussex icons, they too are fast becoming classics of the county. Dark Star for example, the other big name in Sussex brewing, regularly brew their own version of the classic best; Partridge, named after their current home in the village of Partridge Green. And it’s a belter. This core beer in their range has the malt profile of Maris Otter, Crystal and Chocolate with a bundle of East Kent Goldings hops added. A complex beer packed with notes of toffee and fudge, fresh bread, honey, marmalade and hazelnut.
Served fresh it’s hard to beat the profile of a cheery cask bitter. There’s something quite special about sitting in the corner, the beer garden, or at the bar of your favourite pub with a pint of the local best. For me drinking a fresh pint packed with bold, yet not brash, aromas and flavours of toffee, bread dough, citrus, honey, toasted nut etc, and sat in a quiet spot perhaps overlooking the bright, chalky Downs, is a gentle and affable connection with the place I call home. The humble nature of a bitter from cask is perhaps definitive of British beer and very much the stronghold of the Sussex region but there is also an abundance of other exciting beers being produced in Sussex right now, independent from other regions’ scenes but taking inspiration from and in turn, feeding back into. Momentum is gathering and a shift has moved this local scene towards a greater range of choice. It’s now even easier to explore a whole world of beer without ever setting foot out of this one small county of countryside, coast and cask.
Black Cherry Mild (4.2%) immediately springs to mind as a local classic. You may recognise the name, having just won a medal at the recent Great British Beer Festival. Brewed by Kissingate of Lower Beeding, this dark beer is a balance of black cherries, muscavado sugar and Amarillo hops which combine to create a pleasing mix of not-too-sweet cherry fruit highs, a light smattering of chocolate, orange zest and a liquorice note in the finish. This is fast becoming a flagship beer of the county. Also try: Gardenia Mild (4.5%) – floral hops and herbal hits of Rosemary, Bay and Thyme that weave through in abundance and lead to a dry, bitter finish. Micro Lot Coffee Porter (5%) – sweet coffee beans from the Finca la Cascada microlot farm in Nicaragua flavour this smooth brew and mingle with chocolate, roast nut and vanilla.
Another dark, silky and sweetly fruity number is that of Freudian Slip (6.5%) from the Naked Beer Co lads. These guys can be found in Lancing on the South coast, brewing fun, creative beers that are big on flavour and personality. Take a whiff of this brew and it’s dates, figs, currants and an essence of smoke that’ll greet you. A thick beer with bold helpings of sweet dark figgy fruits, silky caramel and a touch of mocha working on the side. If you see this on cask, buy a pint. Also Try: Indecent Exposure (4.5%), the best porter brewed outside of London.
Stick to the Sussex coastline and you’ll no doubt find the brews of class act, Brighton Bier. Initially a gypsy brewing outfit, working from the Hand in Hand pub, Brighton Bier is a brewery assured of its roots and now has a permanent premises to call home within the city. South Coast IPA (5%) is a core brew within the range and a beer I buy whenever I see it. A heady mix of tropical fruits, lime and a pine quality leading toward a pithy bitter finish. Clean, refreshing and demanding of the next sup. Everything you want from an IPA and one of the best being brewed in Sussex. Also Try: Dealers Choice IPA – and experimental series of beers exploring every inch of the style.
Talking of the IPA, let’s fly North West to Lodsworth and the excellent Langham Brewery. Just as the last of the Swallows leave us at the end of the summer, one finds its way to the fore, as the seasonal Black Swallow (6%) a Black IPA available between October and March, with tangerine and other citrus flitting around above a creamy chocolate and toffee base whilst a more floral bitterness steadily builds into the finish. I’d love to see this beer bottled but for now it’s a cask highlight of the Autumn/Winter months. Also Try: Easy Ryder – a supremely hopped, bold, resinous, tropical Rye-PA with a dry spiced finish. Aegir (7.5%)- a heavy hitting Smoked Baltic Porter
Burning Sky needs no introduction. Many a beer fan already know and love the beers by this outfit from Mark Tranter. Aurora and Devils Rest are the bolder brothers of Plateau, whilst Arise will lure many to the keg lines, but it’s the easy going nature of Plateau (3.5%) that keeps me coming back for more. An assured malt body, defined bitterness and a wave of juicy hops to quench the thirst for lemon, orange and peach. This is a laid back brew to sit ‘n session on a summers day. This is the best Pale in the county. Also Try: Aurora (5.6%) – the bigger, bolder, more tropical, more boozy sibling of Plateau.
This is a small selection, a cherry-pick of the Sussex cask beers that I want you to seek out, some sit firm in the camp of tradition whilst others follow a more new wave trail but they are the beers that have caught my eye, captured my imagination, stolen a place in my heart and have, for me at least, become synonymous with my home county. This is Sussex, Cask, Now.