Thursday, 4 December 2014

There is a certain romance

This is a glass of Christmas Ale, Harveys’ Christmas Ale, as taken in a small measure in the sampling room at the brewery. This is a glass of the powerful, spicy, smooth, sweet, vanilla-almond, nutty, fiery Christmas Ale, which I enjoyed in the company of Harveys’ Miles Jenner, one of the most elegant and urbane brewers I know. The beer is potent and its potential for making me sleep after Christmas lunch is leviathan-like. Outside, while we drink the beer, the men and the women of the brewery are at work: checking the boil, maintaining the fermentation (and look at that lovely rocky head that signals the ascent of Harveys’ Best Bitter, one of the greatest expressions of this English beer style that I know), clanging barrels together after they’ve been steam-cleaned, directing nozzles into barrels in the racking room, the quotidian work of a brewery that those who reason brewing is a romance forget about. 

But then there is a certain romance in a vision of the tower brewery, designed by William Bradford, the same guy who brought Hook Norton to life in the 19th century; there is a certain romance in Jenner’s insistence on sticking to UK hops and the more local the better; there is a certain romance in the nature of the brewing liquor, a hard water that comes from two onsite brewery wells and there is definitely a romance in the idea of the rain falling on the South Downs within which Lewes sits and this rain taking 30 years to percolate through the ground and become the liquid that Harveys draws up for its beers; there is a certain romance about the copper-faced mash-tun from 1954 (bought at an auction after its former owners from Croydon closed); there is even a certain romance about the dome-like copper, which puts me in mind of Jules Verne and 10,000 Leagues beneath the Sea; there is also a certain romance about the story behind the yeast strain that Harveys use, a strain that arrived on the train from John Smith in the 1950s thanks to a brewing chemist on his hols who said that said variety was a good ’un and, which even though it has mutated and mutated over the decades, visitors from the north still pick up what they say is a Yorkshire character on the beers that Harveys brew; and yes there is a romance about the Russian Imperial Stout that Harveys brew, a romance in the three hour boil (as opposed to 75 minutes for their other beers) and certainly a romance in that this beer is going to be aged in wooden barrels supplied by a Portuguese and Crimean wine-makers. So for this moment or two let us remember the romance that exists in brewing as well as the day-to-day work that makes the brewing of beer possible.


  1. Right I'm going to say something controversial about Harveys.

    I agree that Sussex Best is an examplar of its style. I think Harvey's Mild, while a bit weak for my taste, is great. Harvey's Old is amazing. I like the Porter.

    However so many of the lesser known brews from Harvey's - the stuff that only seems to leave the brewery in bottles - is absolutely shocking. I often pick them up from the offie opposite Lewes station when I've been walking on the South Downs to drink on the train back to town. I'm going to give up as they're invariably rubbish. Star of Eastbourne IPA - tasted that one? Lewes Castle Brown Ale?

    How can the same brewer who produces such perfect beers also turn out so much rubbish?

  2. On the other hand the Imperial Russian Stout is a midfield general of beer and usually plays a blinder.