A Slice of the Pie – The Growth of Brewing in East Sussex
East Sussex is fast being known for great beer, with many new brewers appearing in the county, and many more expanding as demand reaches an all-time high.
Award winning Beer Journalist Emma Inch explores how East Sussex brewers are working together in harmony to create a perfect pint.
‘East Sussex is a great place to have established a brewery…A massive range of the beer spectrum is produced in the county and is increasing all the time.’Three Legs Brewery
The Growth of Brewing in East Sussex
Pay a visit to Bedlam Brewery and you might just come away with mud on your boots. Despite its modern approach to brewing, its appeal to urban drinkers, the solar panels that gleam across its roof, and its recently delivered state-of-the-art brew kit, the folks at Bedlam never forget their roots. Located on a farm in Plumpton Green, north of Lewes, they’re as familiar with the local pigs as they are with the local pubs; they even share their spent grain with the farm’s cows.
Bedlam began life in 2011 just across the border in West Sussex, moving east seven years later. In doing so, it joined a county where the interplay between metropolitan and rural, heritage and revolution, respect for regional produce, and a strong sense of community connection, characterizes an exciting, expanding, and welcoming brewing scene.
Three Legs Brewery in Broad Oak, north of Hastings, has been around since 2015. According to co-founder, Ben Murray,
‘East Sussex is a great place to have established a brewery…A massive range of the beer spectrum is produced in the county and is increasing all the time.’
Many brewers like Ben perceive the growth in breweries not only in terms of healthy competition, but also as beneficial due to the amount of innovation, support and cooperation that comes along with it.
‘I think the brewing population in East Sussex and beyond are pretty friendly and cooperative. The only enemy of a brewery like ours is bad beer. All the time the brewing is quality-led and diverse, that can only increase demand. Not only that, if you’re ever a bag of malt or some hops short, it’s nice to have neighbours.’
Prior to setting up Three Legs, Ben was a winemaker. East Sussex is one of the UK’s leading wine-producing counties, and other drinks producers – including cider and gin makers – have also chosen to make the county their home. This thriving artisanal drinks scene has resulted in some interesting cross-pollination. For example, Bedlam Brewery’s Porter Noir is a warm, dark ale flavoured with pinot noir grapes from the Ridgeview Estate in Ditchling, and Burning Sky Brewery’s Cider Apple Saison showcases Dabinett and Harry Masters Jersey apple varieties together with the skills of local cider maker, Ascension.
Of course, part of the reason East Sussex has such great drinks producers is the synergy they have with the county’s rich agriculture. Beak is one of the area’s newest breweries. It put down roots in the county town of Lewes in spring 2020 and within months was listed as one of the top UK microbreweries by ratings site Untappd. Founder, Daniel Tapper, is very keen to draw on hyper-local ingredients.
‘Currently we are growing eight acres of mixed heritage grain just outside Lewes. The beer brewed using this grain will be hopped with locally grown hops before being fermented in a 5000-litre oak barrel using native wild yeast strains. What’s more, portions of the beer will then be conditioned over local fruit. It’s our ode to this county’s amazing produce.’
Just down the road from Beak is ‘Lewes Cathedral’, otherwise known as Harvey’s, the oldest brewery in East Sussex. Established in 1790, it remains in the hands of the same family to this day. Miles Jenner has been head brewer for the past thirty-five years and agrees that local ingredients are best.
‘It is simple environmental sense. Why import foreign hops when you have the finest hop growers in the world on your doorstep?’
A brewery is nothing, of course, without people to drink the beer. Harvey’s branding carries the unofficial motto of Sussex: ‘we wunt be druv’, in reference to the independent mindedness of the locals, and represents the symbiotic relationship between brewer and drinker.
‘We feel we are a truly local brew, tailored to the local palate, ‘explains Miles, ‘Many of our brands…reflect our local heritage. Local sentiment has created a sense of public ownership of the brewery and its beers – and we take tremendous pride in this.’
Daniel Tapper also recognizes the special support the people of East Sussex extend to their local brewers.
‘People like to drink beer here and they appreciate both heritage and progression, which is great for a brewery like ours.’
The unique position of East Sussex and its county town also plays its part. As Daniel says,
‘The location of Lewes is ideal for us. We get to live and work in a truly unique rural town in the heart of the South Downs National Park and yet we are ten minutes by train from Brighton and sixty minutes from London. I think over time this will help the town to become a genuine craft beer destination.’
Arguably, the county already has a wider reputation as a place to drink quality beer. Matthew Curtis, author of the recently published book ‘Modern British Beer’, is a big fan.
‘I’m always excited to visit East Sussex and experience its beer scene, from traditional breweries such as Harvey’s through to modern trailblazers like Burning Sky, it really does have something for everyone. I’ve been particularly excited to see this scene continue to develop recently too, with the addition of breweries like Abyss and Beak proving that there’s still plenty of untapped potential, and will mean I’ll be making many more visits in the future to sample all these wonderful new beers.’
The future for the county’s brewing scene certainly looks bright. With business support from initiatives such as Locate East Sussex, the unique combination of tradition and innovation, and what Miles Jenner refers to as,
‘the heritage, the hops, the hope, [and] the dogged determination of the county…,’
it looks set to grow and thrive.
Back on the farm, Bedlam Brewery is ready to embrace that growth. Director, Rob Shepherd says,
‘At the end of the day, the point is not to fight over the pie as is; it’s to make a bigger pie.’
And this pie has to be one of the tastiest around.
Super Sussex Sips
Three Legs Brewery, Brede
The Three Legs Brewing Co. is an independently owned and operated Brewery and Taproom, established in 2015. Their ethos is to brew true to style beers, led by their taste and love of beer.
Brewing Brothers, Hastings
Brewing Brothers is founded on the belief that simplicity is best. Established in 2016 by Ned and Charlie to bring the UK up to scratch in the world of craft beer.
Gun Brewery, Heathfield
Brewing a range of modern beers into cask, keg, and can. They're unfined, mostly vegan, often gluten-free, and all made using Sussex Spring Water drawn from deep below the organic land here on its farm.
Battle Brewery, Battle
Battle Brewery creates natural, vegan-friendly beers with no additives, filtration or chemicals. They produce craft and traditional beer styles, using the finest quality ingredients.
Burning Sky, Firle
Producing beer since 2013, Award winners Burning Sky brew artisan craft beers that take flavour to a new level.
Beak Brewery, Lewes
A small independent brewery and taproom that produce everything from hop-forward IPAs and best bitters to Saisons and imperial stouts.
Bedlam Brewery, Lewes
Fresh, natural, authentic, beer. A Socially responsible, Solar Powered brewery in the heart of the South Downs brewing award-winning beer, recycling spent grain to cattle on the farm.
A family business, Harvey's Brewery is the oldest independent brewery in Sussex.
Long Man Brewery, Polegate
At Long Man, they define craft as handmade, locally sourced, and above all sustainable, and believe this is evident in every pint of their award-winning beers.
Only with Love, Uckfield
Founded in 2020 by Steve and Roger in the heart of Sussex, Only With Love is a new kind of brewery. Sustainably created, packaged, and delivered... they create kombucha and beer for better minds, bodies, and spirits.