The familiarity of that crashing clinking noise as glass bottles empty into the recycling bin must have my neighbours turning their heads. It’s so easy to buy bottled beers of a decent quality though, they’re stocked in every corner of the town, and Horsham (and indeed the rest of Sussex) is home to some fantastic breweries, bottle shops, farm shops and markets all of which are difficult to ignore when you know they house some incredible bottled beers, even more so when those brews are of local origin.
Getting out there, seeing the towns and villages of the county and picking up some local brews is fast becoming a favoured hobby. Bottled beers are wonderful souvenirs of a day trip and become a tasty accompaniment to a moment of looking back on a visit. The best examples will take you back to a place as soon as the cap is off and the aroma is out.
In part 2 of this series I looked at cask beers being more popular than keg throughout the majority of the Sussex region. Cask plays an important role in the identity of the Sussex beer scene and whilst I still believe that you simply can’t beat a quality pint of cask beer, it isn’t always as easy to find the range and choice that you’d hope for. Sussex is dominated by the likes of Hall & Woodhouse and Greene King, so this means, more often than not, picking up a few bottles of your favourite Sussex brews is the easiest way to session the flavours of the county.
Browsing the shelves of a specialist bottle shop or even building up a collection of your own really opens your eyes to just how diverse and creative the Sussex beer scene has become. In just a handful of bottles you can travel the world, go from traditional to offbeat and flit between low n’ pale to the boldest of stouts. I’d love to see this diversity represented as part of the ranges offered by online beer merchants but, alas, finding any kind of Sussex selection on the ‘net is like finding a needle in a haystack. It should be mentioned that cans are becoming increasingly popular and whilst bottling remains the most common method of the two among Sussex brewers, the advantages have been jumped on by Dark Star, Hastings Brew Co, 360 and Gun Brewery, with more to follow soon I’m sure. Maybe these will find there way into online shopping baskets instead.
I’m confident in saying that the range of bottled Sussex beers has never been larger or more diverse than it is right now (which makes it easy to present a selection to you, but a little more difficult to narrow that selection down, there really are many great beers to choose from) and with more young breweries on the block the range is set to continue in growth. The quality is here too, so if you fancy a taste of Sussex at home then track these down and consider these beers as postcards from the region:
Dark Star‘s Imperial Stout leaves a bold footprint in the region’s beer soaked landscape, and whilst not one to session at 10.5%, it’s one I always look forward to. The most decadent and grand beer in the Dark Star range is slowly matured and is one for those that look for a viscous pour of dark chocolate shavings on a black forest gateaux, red berry sweetness, prickly hits of liquorice and espresso, a gentle weaving of smoke, a balanced burnt roast bitterness and a boozy warmth that acts as a reminder to take it easy.
Hastings Beer Co. Slovenian Brown (6%) is another I just cannot turn down, in fact I’ll go all-out and say that this is my favourite beer ever. EVER. Why? It pours with an excited fizz, one that matches the kid-in-a-sweet-shop type excitement I get when I see it. The cola coloured beauty gives off heady aromas of tropical fruit, sticky toffee and a gentle hint of chocolate. The palate plays host to an ensemble of mango, satsuma and pineapple upfront, followed by a pine hit which leads into a finish underpinned by sticky toffee and burnt sugar. In the breweries words, “It’s not your granddads brown ale.” Hastings Beer Co. have currently paused beer production, but are set to return in 2016 with an all new set-up. Read their blog for more info.
Whilst we’re on the darker brews I need to include Indecent Exposure by Naked Beer Co. At 4.5% this classically styled porter is one of the best on the block. Silkily flowing from the bottle and giving up aromas of dark chocolate, plums, liquorice and delicate coffee. The mouthfeel is full for the abv, and carries over the palate flavours of praline chocolates and cocoa, orange peel, smoky espresso and a dry roasted bitterness. Buy a couple of bottles, one to drink straight away and one to put away for a few months, age that brew and relish the stouter flavours and fuller aromas that greet you.
Brighton Bier, the self-titled bottle début from the city’s ‘original craft brewers’, walks on the pale side and sitting at a session-able 4% could easily become a go-to brew. This is a fairly balanced affair, pineapple and grapefruit dominate both the aroma and the palate whilst the pale malts act as both the perfect stage for the juicy tropical and citrus notes to act upon and as a rein to keep this beer super gulp-able and refreshing. A sweeping prickly, dryish bitterness comes into the finish making you go straight back in for another swig.
I’m certainly one to favour something more hop-forward but it’s a shame more traditional English Bitters are somewhat off-trend. This however is a very good example of a traditional style done well. It’s Chronicle by High Weald Brewery and it’s the great branding that catches you first and foremost (see Oh Beautiful Beer for some great shots). Open the bottle and the aroma is all fruit ‘n nut, caramel and brown bread. Those notes appear on the palate too, joined by orange marmalade on toast. It’s a well balanced brew, with that fruit ‘n nut characteristic together with a gentle bitterness that lingers long into the aftertaste. At only 3.8% it’s one that I’ll happily settle in to session.
Bedlam Pilsner is another that can easily sway you into a session, and it’s a good one to have stocked up in the fridge for a quick go-to, not least because those screen printed bottles just ooze style. It leads with aromas of gentle honey sweetness and a lemon-curd citrus, whilst the palate delivers a crisp refreshment of much the same; slight honey and lemon pith together with a mild black pepper kick balanced against cracker-esque malts and a snappy bitterness.
Firebird take on world beer, putting a Sussex spin on classic styles. Fireweisse is the Rudgwick outfit’s take on a Hefeweisen and is one of the brewery’s best. It pours a haze of yellow gold. On the nose; prickling spice and tempting banana with a little shy bubblegum and delicate lemon zest. Delicate spice, classic banana and a chewy late-developing bubblegum transitions into a balanced honey-like sweetness coating the palate in what is a full-bodied, velvety yet crisp mouthfeel. A delicate lemon bitterness provides a moreish end.
Zamzama by Gun Brewery is a 6.5% American style IPA. It’s a heady burst of pineapple, mango and passion fruit with a big black pepper kick before a full syrup-waffle malt profile stops the hops from becoming a raw slap by gently rounding out the fruity finish. There’s a fresh grapefruit after-taste which lingers, leaving a satisfied palate from this ‘gentle’ giant. Gun may be one of the newer breweries on the block but this outfit are already blowing some established brands out of the water with some exceptionally full flavoured, beautifully crafted brews and a forward thinking approach.
Monolith (8%) by Burning Sky, is a beer of epic proportions! Brewed in 2013 and aged for eight months in a Chianti foudre with wild yeasts. It smells just like a stout having a party with red wine. The initial taste is of vanilla mingling with dark chocolate and then a mildly tart red berry hit sweeps in bringing with it an oaked, boozy warmth before settling back into that classic roasted stout profile. The best thing? There’s more on the way:
I’m leaving you with this, Dark by The Three Legs a small batch micro brewery based in East Sussex. The beer is very much in the style of a classic stout, a sessionable 4.5%, and full bodied, pouring with a decent brown-cream head and giving off aromas of toast, dark chocolate and raisin. Cocoa, a touch of coffee, a whisper of smoke and an earthy character mingle in the glass to create a very easy going stout, perfect for these darker evenings. The brewery is very new to me, this beer was a chance find at a farm shop, with that exceptional label standing out among the rest. A classically styled, well made brew housed within a beautifully artistic bottle such as this is a great example of why travelling for beer to track down these hidden gems, these ‘postcards from a region’ is such an important part of the scene.
This is Sussex, Bottled Beer, Now.
Wish you were here.