Yard Party! Celebrating Sussex Beer at Dark Star Brewery

I usually hate buses. There’s something about them that sets my anxiety in a spin, not least the fact that I might get on the wrong bloody one, end up somewhere I don’t want to be and not be on time. There’s an exception, however, to my unwritten rule of Never Get a Bus, because every rule has an exception, and in this case it’s to always get on the bus if that bus is brewery-bound. On Saturday 1st June I found myself sitting on a bus trundling out of Horsham to a patch of grey estate among a patch of green countryside, to the Dark Star brewery in Partridge Green, West Sussex for the first ever Sussex Beer Yard party.

Sussex is a disjointed place, it consists of a lot of little villages, some large market towns, a couple of small cities, a coastline and a bunch of fields. Oh, and a very large list of breweries. It’s an expansive and beautiful part of the country with lots going on, and many, many artisans producing many, many things you want to sample, especially the beers, but getting around to do so is not easy. Brighton is perhaps the natural hub, a bridge between West and East with it’s own countryside and coast it is easily the cultural capitol of our region and the best place to start, an obvious destination in order to get a taste for things, but do you really get the full picture? Brighton is perhaps in a bubble, similar to that of London. The Bermondsey Beer Mile and similar areas in London and other cities across the UK have sprung up to give enthusiasts an easy way to sample beers and perhaps meet the brewers, working their way around an area easily going from taproom to taproom, but that’s just not possible in Sussex. So what to do? Well by initiating the Sussex Beer Yard Party, Dark Star may have just created the perfect Sussex beer destination.

“Have you been to this before?”, a couple of folks asked, to which I had to reply that no, this was the first outing for this sold out event, but with Hopfest already established, the Dark Star team know how to throw a party in their yard. The shuttle buss pulled up to an already buzzing yard, full of people enjoying the beer and weather, it was good vibes all around, more so since Dark Star had clearly learnt from last year’s Hopfest; endless queues are not a good thing and limited tickets are. Being able to walk straight up to the individual brewery bars and being able to have a conversation whilst still being amongst a great atmosphere was the perfect balance.

Dark Star described the idea prior to the day: “Why don’t we get a bunch of mates together in the brewery from a range of the best breweries in Sussex and have a blast? Open to the public, but limited in numbers so you can actually get to try the beer you want to try, let’s make it ticketed, but a sensible price and have a great tasting glass, with any profits going to the Foundation…someone may have even said “simples”.

Twenty breweries were there to represent the local scene, each pouring in half or third pint options and bringing with them a range which showcased perfectly what Sussex beer is all about. I opted for a pour of Brolly Brewery’s cask NEIPA Bishop’s Pric first, a 3.6% easy drinker putting Equanot hops on show. Usually only available at The Kings Arms in Horsham (located down the Bishopric, hence the name), it was the perfect session-strength brew to get the taste buds acclimatised before hitting the likes of Burning Sky’s sublime Saison du Peche, Good Things’ brand new Saison and low alc Session Pale, Unbarred brewery’s small batch Peach IPA and, brew of the day, Franklins x Ascention Cider Purple Jaze, a stunning Berliner Weisse throwing lemon, blackcurrant and blackberry notes all over the show. Tart but not too much, Purple Jaze hid it’s alcohol and quenched a thirst, a beauty to look at too it was the beer I wanted to put in a pitcher and drink for the rest of the day under the summer sun and clear blue skies. The Franklins Nitro-cino coffee milk stout served with chocolate powder and coffee beans was perhaps the second best beer on display that afternoon; Franklns, it has to be said, are on fire right now. To be fair, most breweries in Sussex are and not just those doing fun pours, although you need the experimental, boundary-pushing beers in order to appreciate the ‘ordinary’ bitters et al. Here in Sussex the switch between the new and old, the modern and trad is seemingly seamless, easy, normal; something which wasn’t the case not too long ago as cask and traditional styles reigned, but the beers at the Sussex Beer Yard Party were showing just how far the local scene has come in a few short years.

It wasn’t long after setting up Look at Brew I realised the Sussex beer scene, my local scene, was a positive one. Over the past few years I’ve seen this community change and evolve, becoming something altogether bigger, bolder and more open than ever before. The changes are numerous and varied but one thing that has stayed a constant is the camaraderie. Sussex camaraderie goes beyond beer, that ethos of collaboration and creation is one which naturally extends to the rich tapestry of the rest of the county’s food and drink producers. Wine and beer, chocolate and beer, coffee and beer, chilli sauce and beer, etc, etc. If you’re a foodie, Sussex is the best place to be. If you’re a beer fan, Dark Star’s yard was definitely the place to be on June 1st. Will it be back? I hope so. The branding didn’t have any Dark Star logo’s at all opening up the idea of other hosts taking a turn. Indeed, a bigger space to fill with even more breweries and producers who couldn’t make it or fit in this time around would be welcomed. In the meantime how about the Sussex Sixer? Six collab beers from different Sussex breweries to fill that gap until the next yard party. A taste of what these fantastic breweries are all about, in the style of the Wylam Northern Powerhouse set. Now’s there’s a thought. That Yard party though, that was worth getting on a bus for.