A study, by business finance specialist Rangewell, found that the craft beer industry in East Sussex showed 25 per cent better revenue growth than Greater London. High growth areas include Heathfield, Forest Row, Rye and Bexhill-on-Sea. The single highest revenue growth was 655 per cent, in Heathfield.
East Sussex has the potential to be a leader in the brewing sector, and one of the most popular places to set up a brewing business outside London and other cities. But, just as Sussex Sparkling Wine is competing with champagne on the world stage, the reputation for producing the best quality beer is what will ensure the county can compete nationally and globally.
The county has a long established history within brewing, with Lewes-based Harveys Brewery the oldest independent Brewery in Sussex, brewing beers since 1702. Its pubs and beers can be found in around the South East, and it continues to prove its popularity as one of the most loved and respected independent breweries in the country.
While there is a growing concern about the trend in craft brewing of younger breweries luring customers away from the old, trends rise and fall, and it is a testament to the quality of Harveys beers along with its willingness to innovate that ensures it continues to win awards. It is also a local landmark and a significant tourist destination with brewery tours taking place throughout the year, booked weeks and sometimes months in advance.
One of Harveys' biggest fans is Mark Tranter of Burning Sky. Mark found success with Dark Star in Brighton before moving to Firle near Lewes to set up Burning Sky, one of Britain’s best and most promising breweries and arguably one of the most underrated breweries in the world. Mark Tranter, Tom Dobson and the rest of the team are doing incredible things at their brewery in Firle, near Lewes. They have installed the first cool ship since the 1930s, or at least there’s no recorded history to say otherwise. They’re also producing spontaneously fermented beer, which tastes fantastic because it uses yeasts and microbes found only in the East Sussex countryside air.
Both breweries recently produced a ‘collaborative brew’ in memory of a friend. Only a few miles separate the two breweries, and Mark and Miles Jenner, Head Brewer of Harveys are close friends. Miles explains 'We are both passionate about brewing and have a great liking for each other’s beers. Between us, we cover an extensive range of styles.'
Burning Sky and Harveys share an absolute passion for quality. They are craftsmen in the most real sense of the word. In contrast to Harveys, Burning Sky doesn’t do brewery tours or tastings mainly out of respect for the owners of Firle Estate where the brewery is based (although Mark does take his brewing friends on tours of Harveys). It is also not just about the beer, they have a lifestyle. It’s a very low-key brewery.
Wild-growing hops were discovered in East Sussex in 2005. Named the Sussex Hop, they were found to be ideal for brewers thanks to their resistance to both mildew and wilt. Local brewery, Harvey’s, uses the Sussex Hop which boasts earthy, grassy aromas in its award-winning Wild Hop beer. Local breweries are also catering to more specific tastes, such as Gun Brewery which caters to the vegan and gluten-free market.
The funding helps companies, but it is the work that is put in by everyone that makes it successful. Solid business planning, knowing your product and knowing who to talk to is key.Chris Thomas Business Manager, Locate East Sussex
The question remains why, compared to other areas, is East Sussex becoming so popular? Mark Berry, Co-Founder and Director of Gun Brewery, in East Sussex, said: “East Sussex has a long history of brewing and long-established beer culture. Craft beer is just the latest chapter. “Any brewery starting out here is entering a market that’s comfortable trying new beers and supportive of new enterprises. At the same time, it is also demanding when it comes to quality.” He added: “Entering a strong local market that demands quality makes sure that brewers are on their game. This, in turn, is a great platform for national growth.
Once you’ve tried an IPA, made from Sussex Springwater, alive with lip-tingling tropical fruit and citrus flavours, or a complex warming stout, why would you drink anything else?
Though its close relationships with the council and brewers, Locate East Sussex, working with East Sussex County Council, has helped some breweries to face ongoing concerns and has connected them to funding, enabling them to become well established in the county.
Chris Thomas, Business Manager at Locate East Sussex, can already spot that it isn’t the funding that helps the businesses, it is how the funding is applied, "the funding helps companies, but it is the work that is put in by everyone that makes it successful. Solid business planning, knowing your product and knowing who to talk to is key. In largely rural areas such as East Sussex, helping small businesses to develop and thrive is vital and the rapid growth of this sector in the county is a real economic success story in which we’re proud to have played a part.”
Since the Investment Fund launched in 2013, five breweries have been supported including Burning Sky and Gun Brewery, along with Brewing Brothers and Hop Yard Brewing who are part of the new trend in brewhouse venues, making an impact outside of their immediate market and diversifying their offer.
With the costs of doing business in London and the South East rising, East Sussex seems to be the last haven of affordability, being far enough away from London for a great lifestyle but not far enough from the biggest markets in the world, It’s a beautiful place to live enjoy a better work and life balance, attracting young people, often those who leave good paying jobs to start their own small business ventures. Within that lies a challenge and an opportunity, as much of the canning and processes having to be completed outside of the county, but with this growth, it will lead to other industries rising with it.
Brewers can have a broader impact on business here, too, regarding the supply chain they need from design and marketing to specialist brewing equipment. East Sussex strives to be as local as possible, and welcomes companies and their ideas into improving the economy, the output and putting customers first with locally crafted design, ideas and, of course, beer. We’d like, for instance, to bring more bottling and canning facilities into East Sussex.
East Sussex Investment Fund, currently at its fifth iteration and open to almost all types of business including manufacturing and retail, stipulates a maximum grant of £8,000 per job created, or £16,000 if it’s a loan. Applicants must show they can draw down match-funding of at least 50%, which might come from various sources such as banks or savings. We are looking to create jobs, not displace jobs. While we are not focused on retail, we are looking for companies to compete with big brands rather than each other, as much as East Sussex is competing with bigger counties, it’s new business, with export opportunities far beyond county or national borders.
Cllr Rupert Simmons, East Sussex County Council lead member for economy, said: “Helping small businesses such as microbreweries to set up is a key part of our work to boost economic growth and job creation. We have made funding available through our East Sussex Invest and South East Business Boost schemes for this purpose, providing business advice and support services to small businesses.”
“In the last four years, £180,000 grants or loans have been provided to help six microbreweries start up or develop in East Sussex, helping them to grow and to create 20 new jobs. Some of the breweries we’ve supported have won international awards and we’re delighted with their success.”