Seaside, rolling hills, chalky clifftops, old market towns, redevelopment, new development, links to The City and an airport; Sussex is a big place. It’s also an increasingly popular and, in parts, crowded place but with its popularity comes inspiration, creativity and enterprise, and it’s the county’s beer scene that’s currently riding a big south coast wave.
Across West Sussex, through Brighton and into East Sussex there’s barely a town or village that doesn’t have access to incredible locally brewed beer. It’s sometimes hard to believe that there’s now upwards of sixty breweries that call Sussex home, from start-up to the well established progression seems inevitable as, despite a few closures, there have been an increasing number of expansions, new beers, and installations of fancy new kit. From traditional to modern, old favourite to experimental, the county has an extensive range of choice for drinkers. With so much competition from within Sussex itself finding a position in bars and pubs can’t be easy. Throw into the mix beers coming in from neighbouring counties & further afield still and the pressure increases. However, some breweries are taking things into their own hands and establishing new brewery taprooms and bars to showcase their talent.
One of those breweries is Brolly Brewing Company. Based in Wisborough Green on the west side of the county, housed in a small, fairly rustic brick building on a farm, Brook Saunders can often be found brewing up the likes of C.O.W (a hazy oat infused pale) and Chub (a hazy IPA) on the 1BBL kit at weekends, when he also opens the space for visitors. “Working full time and not having as much time to deliver beer further afield, the bar is now an essential source of revenue”, Brook tells me, “I set myself many goals to achieve with the first iteration of Brolly Brewing, having a bar at the brewery was right at the top. Firstly it allows us to meet the locals from our area and engage with our locality.” It’s engagement with local drinkers that is perhaps the most important part of the taproom concept. In a place like Wisborough Green; the quintessential English village comprising a village green, church, tearoom, duck pond, shop and pubs; it’s the kind of place that although beautiful, isn’t necessarily on the trendy, modern side of things, and with Brook brewing up a number of hazy and hop-heavy beers it’s vital to get the message across that this product is more than OK. In a traditional setting, used to traditional beers, Brook is pushing forward with modern brews and getting the locals on board. “We get instant feedback on our range of beers and get to see people drink them, [which is] very satisfying!”.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when I took a trip to Brolly Brewing, three beers were pouring; Chub, C.O.W and a New England IPA, whilst Brook brewed up a new strawberries and cream pale. The space between the bar and the brewery is just a few paces; the drinking area spilling outside; a couple of benches are set up between the unit and the neighbouring firework company. It’s rustic, it’s relaxed, it’s welcoming and it’s the welcome and chat that, along with the beer, have drinkers going back. It’s Brook’s dad that welcomes us first before pouring our beers. “I wanted to get my father back behind the bar”, states Brook, “he’s suffered with his health over the years and having him back doing what he does best is very special.”
Fifteen miles south of Wisborough Green sits an equally picturesque Arundel. It’s major draw is the castle which towers over the streets below, but the town also boasts a rich heritage in brewing and it’s Arundel Brewery, established in 1992, which now reigns. Uptown, the brewery’s NEIPA is currently the top rated beer in Sussex. It’s just one of the beers on show at the Norfolk Tap, Arundel Brewery’s new taproom. Opened earlier this year with help from the Norfolk Arms hotel, the room is snug, a cosy spot located within the boundaries of the hotel, yet still feels separate from it. There are six taps and two hand-pulls at the bar pouring a small range of beers from Sussex and further afield but crucially it’s Arundel Brewery’s beers that are the most represented, with the Norfolk Tap being the only establishment in the town to pour the brewery’s beers on both keg and cask. On my visit the staff were keen to talk about the beers, such as the Tarrant Street table beer; a low bitterness, juicy, low ABV beer which is named after the street opposite the taproom or the Lucky Swallow lager, a beer which takes its name from the symbol of the town. It’s a different model to the Brolly taproom but at its core is the same trio of purpose; location, feedback and revenue. Fresh beer at source, or at least close to it, is a major draw of the taproom/bar set-up, without any or too much travel time from vessel to glass, the drinker gets a beer just as the brewer intends. In turn drinkers can give instant feedback, something that is crucial in this busy, fast moving market.
Between them the Brolly Brewing and Arundel Brewery taprooms showcase the best of what Sussex beer is; inclusive, welcoming, and with the community at its heart. Sussex beer has found a balance of both modern and traditional, with the breweries of Sussex very much a part of the growing artisan food and drink scene that has enriched the county. Kissingate Brewery, Holler, Dark Star, Chapeau, Three Legs, Firebird, Battle , Bestons, Highweald and Franklins are all utilising the concept of the taproom in various ways. It’s these venues that are another thread in this rich tapestry, making the county a destination for enthusiasts, as locality and sense of place play an increasingly important part within modern UK beer. Wish you were here.
A version of this post was originally published in Beer Imbiber Magazine September 2018. Please visit Beer Imbiber for more features and subscription options: we’d love your support.