Tastings School - Hampshire, Kent and Sussex: In the garden of England

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Hampshire, Kent and Sussex: In the garden of England

Andrew Catchpole looks at the brewers of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent

Evidence of brewing among the pastoral landscapes and rolling downs of South East England stretches back into the Middle Ages and beyond.

Even today a visit to Kent and parts of Sussex reveals a very visible reminder of England’s brewing history. The countryside is spiked with old oasthouses and, occasionally, the glorious sight of fields rigged high with hops on their bines can still be seen.

The hop farms, sadly, have dramatically dwindled in number since their Victorian heyday. Barns and oasthouses have been converted into commuter homes on land where once cockney hop-pickers famously pitched down for their working country holidays.

Brewing itself, though, is undergoing something of a dramatic revival in the region, albeit mainly on an artisanal scale. Twenty or so small but high quality operations have sprung up in the last decade alone.

There are brewpubs such as the excellent Swan on the Green in Kent, where you can watch village cricket while downing a Fuggles Pale; or the Kemptown brewery behind the Hand in Hand in Brighton – one of Britain’s smallest pubs with little room to swing a pint of Black Moggy Mild.

Up a notch are many excellent microbrewers. Kent boasts Whitstable Brewery (try the oysters and Oyster Stout), Millis Brewing, Ramsgate and Hopdaemon (which supplies own-label beers for the British Museum, Science Museum and Southwark Cathedral). Sussex counts Filo Brewing, 1648, Gribble, Arundel and Rectory Ales (established in 1995 by the Rector of Plumpton to generate restoration funds for the three parish churches) among its number. And Hampshire’s best include Cheriton, White Star and Winchester.

In a few short years all have developed a strong local following for their bottle conditioned and cask ales.

Of course, the bigger players – Shepherd Neame in Kent, Harvey’s in East Sussex and Gale’s in Hampshire (bought late last year by Fuller’s) – still dominate the local scene. But what each of these brewers’ shares with the micro crowd is a firm commitment to their local roots.

Support for community events, farmers’ markets, food and drink festivals, local produce in their pubs and, of course, the hop industry is typically returned in spades for these brewers who each have a tremendously loyal local following.

Aside from Coors, which brews Carling Black label at a plant in Alton, there is a refreshing absence of national or super-regional brewers in these counties.

Miles Jenner, managing director at the fiercely independent Harveys Brewery in Lewes, points out that this region “is the largest free trade area in the country.”

This might make for stiff competition, but also has the positive effect of allowing small brewers and micro-brewery-sized operations to thrive in a varied and interesting market.

As for the beers in this soft, southern part of the world, it’s always dangerous to generalise, but there is a tendency towards slightly sweeter, well-hopped styles in Hampshire and Sussex. Kent also enjoys hops to the fore, but prefers a drier brew.

In fact, the South East is becoming something of a beer drinkers’ paradise. Its brews have been hoovering up awards at major shows. And with serious beers like Pressed Rat and Warthog (Tripple fff), Pig’s Ear (Gribble), Old Stumpy (Stumpy’s) and Crafty Shag (White Star), I rest my case.


Despite being named Pub Company of the Year in the 2004 Publican Awards this fine Hampshire independent agreed to sell out to Fuller’s late last year. However, the new London-based owners insist that the Gale’s name, beer brands and integrity of the 112- strong pub estate will be protected.

The Gale family began brewing in 1847 when they acquired the Ship & Bell Inn. One George Gale rebuilt the brewery after a fire in 1888 and the family then sold to the Bowyers in 1896 who established Gale’s as a regional force in Hampshire.

Excellent regular beers, including the fruity, malty Butser Bitter (3.4%) and award winning HSB or fullflavoured Horndean Special Bitter (4.8%), are complimented by a regular roster of seasonal brews such as Summer Hog (3.3%) and Christmas Ale (5.5%).

Tours of the imposing Victorian brewery, followed by tasting in the Bell & Ship Inn next door, are by appointment only.


Hampshire Brewery

Click on the website of this dynamic micro-brewer and – aside from the bizarre picture of managing director Les McCall in full Confederate clobber – you’ll discover 24 monthly special brews alongside regulars such as Ironside (4.2%), which took gold for best bitter at the Great British Beer Festival 2004, and the fresh and fruity-rich Pride of Romsey (5%).

Set up by Steven Windess in 1992, the brewery really took off five years ago when engineer McCall came on board. He introduced both a highly flexible micro-brewing machine of his own design and insisted on an overhaul of the packing, boosting sales from the equivalent of 100,000 to 350,000 bottles last year, with strong sales in the United States in addition to wide local distribution.

Expect to hear more of Hampshire soon – Les McCall says he is on the verge of “putting together the first ever British Brewers Cooperative” which will “allow smaller brewers to bring down costs on packaging, bottling and distribution, especially to the multiples, and roll out shops where their beers will be available”.

Remember you read this first here.

Brewery tours, £16.50, take place every Friday night from 6.30- 10.30pm for groups of 12-20 people and everyone leaves with a mixed case of 12 beers.



Two years on from celebrating its bicentenary, Harvey’s remains everything a regional independent should be. From the Victorian gothic brewery tower, which dominates the pleasant Sussex town of Lewes, to the policy of distributing its well-healed beers such as Sussex Best Bitter (4%) and Pale Ale (3.5%) only to its own 48 tied pubs and other free-trade houses within a 50-mile radius, this is a fabulous local brewer.

In addition to frequent CAMRA medals for its brews, Harvey’s was also recently awarded a sustainable business award: something that highlights its strict regional philosophy. “We try to give a local flavour to all our beers,” says joint managing director Miles Jenner. “And we wouldn’t want to sell our beers further afield because we would lose control of distribution and quality.”

Hops are sourced from Sussex and Kent, production is limited to 40,000 barrels a year, and the excellent seasonal beers are given a further local flavour by names like Tom Paine (5.5%) and Bonfire Boy (5.8%) – the author of The Rights of Man was from Lewes and the town easily has the greatest bonfire night celebrations in the world.

The tours, conducted either by Mike and his co-managing director Hamish Elder, are so popular there is a twoyear waiting list, so book now.


Itchen Valley

From small beginnings in 1997 when the CAMRA bronze winning malty bittersweet Godfathers was the first and only beer, the forwardsighted Hampshire-based Itchen Valley brewery has gone on to brew a wide range of seasonally influenced, full-flavour beers.

Owner Simon Brown and ex-Hogsback brewer Rob Dupré say they aim for beers that taste “distinctly different from run of the mill big brews, aimed at local pubs that want to diversify.”

Dupré adds: “The traditional style here is predominantly drier and lighter in colour and you can taste this in beers like Godfathers.”

The 80 barrels brewed and supplied to 150 freetrade houses each week include regulars like the dark and hoppy Wat Tyler (5.5%) and seasonals including smooth and unctuous Treacle Stout (4.4%) and the citrus-floral Easter Bunnies (3.9%).

Tours cost £6.50 Tues/Wed/Thurs evenings, by appointment only.


Ringwood, Hampshire

“We are fiercely independent and, unfortunately, as a result of Gale’s being taken over by Fuller’s, the only independent brewer left in Hampshire,” says managing director David Welsh.

“Our guiding principle remains today the same as when Ringwood was founded by Peter Austin in 1978 – we stay local through and through and only supply within a 50-60 mile radius of the brewery.”

Welsh came on board after “retiring from a career in shipping in the City in 1988” and now runs a tight ship at this 30,000 barrel a year New Forest outpost. In the early 1800s four brewers existed locally, but the last, Carters of West Street, closed in 1923 leaving a 50-year gap until micro-pioneering Austin came along.

To tour the brewery (£6) and sample the beers, including the hop and fruit-driven Best (3.8%), spicy, bittersweet Old Thumper (5.6%) and floral, hoppy Boondoggle (4%), booking is essential.


Shepherd Neame, Kent

Regionality is a much used term among independent brewers and so it’s good to see that the leading brewer in the South Eastern counties lives up to its word.

With its brewery dominating the market town of Faversham and its 370-strong pub estate similarly spread through Kent and the South East, ‘Sheps’ continues to source locally both the hops and barley for its popular Master Brew Bitter (3.7%) and Bishop’s Finger (5%) and makes much of locally sourced food ingredients throughout its estate.

Despite running Britain’s oldest continuous brewer, his talk of local responsibility and his little known hobby of beekeeping, Jonathan Neame is every inch a modern chief executive. He drives the company forward with relentless investment and has unveiled ambitious plans for developing the estate in fast developing North Kent.

In fact, with the brewery established in 1698 – and a history of local brewing stretching back to at least 1100 – Neame’s family are relative newcomers. Originally hop growers, they bought the Faversham brewery a mere four generations ago. Jonathan Neame remains highly optimistic about the future of independent brewing.

“Britain has always been a regional beer drinking culture,” he told me at his Faversham HQ. “In places with strong regional identities like Kent, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Cumbria and London, the independent brewers are thriving. The same is also true of Belhaven in Scotland and Brains in Wales.”

The excellent brewery tours and tutored tastings must be booked in advance.


Westerham Brewery

Robert Wicks, another ex-City boy turned brewer, set up Westerham in 2004 with the aim of “brewing real ales for the local market” and about 60 outlets are currently supplied.

Wicks set about reviving some of the flavour of the old Black Eagle Brewery, which closed during the intense rounds of brewery consolidation in the 60s, but had counted Winston Churchill (at nearby Chartwell) and the ace’s at Biggin Hill among the ardent followers of its beers.

Locally-sourced Kentish hops, plus the original Black Eagle yeast (from the National Collection of Yeast Cultures) and the original source of water, along with the skill of Canadian head brewer Anthony Richardson, conspire to produce a fine range of beers including Grasshopper Kentish Bitter (3.8%), Black Eagle Special Pale (3.8%) and British Bulldog (4.3%).

The brewery, sited in a charming former dairy on the National Trust run Grange Farm, makes an excellent visit though visits must be booked in advance.


Hampshire, Sussex and Kent brewers

Alton Brewery

Ballard’s Brewery
Selected beer: Nyewood Gold (5%)

Cheriton Brewhouse
+44 (0)1962 771 166
Selected beer: Diggers Gold (4.6%)

Hampshire Brewery

Itchen Valley

Oakleaf Brewing Co.
Selected beer: Nuptu’ale (4.2%)

Red Shoot Inn Brewery
+44 (0)1425 475 792
Selected beer: Forest Tipple (3.8%)

Ringwood Brewery

Stumpy’s Brewery
+44 (0)1329 664 902
Selected beer: Old Stumpy (4.5%)

Suthwyck Ales
Selected beer: Liberation (4.2%)

Tripple fff Brewing
Selected beer: Pressed Rat & Warthog (3.8%)

White Star Brewery
Selected beer: Dark Destroyer (4.7%)

Selected beer: Best Bitter (3.7%)


AVS Wines & Beers
+44 (0)1474 537 767
Selected beer: Gravesend Shrimpers (4.1%)

Goacher’s, Kent
+44 (0)1622 682 112
Selected beer: Best Dark Ale (4.2%)

+44 (0)1795 892 078
Selected beer: Skrimshander (4.5%)

Larkins Brewery
+44 (0)1892 870 328
Selected beer: Traditional Ale (3.4%)

Millis Brewing
Selected beer: Oast Shovellers Bitter (3.9%)

Nelson Brewing Company
+44 (0)1634 832 828
Selected beer: Admiral’s Bitter (3.8%)

Selected beer: Gadds No. 5 Ramsgate Best

Shepherd Neame

Selected beer: Trumpeter Best (4%)

Westerham Brewery

Whitstable Brewery
Selected beer: Oyster Stout


Selected beer: 1648 Original (3.9%)

Dark Star
Selected beer: Hophead (3.8%)

Filo Brewing
Selected beer: Ginger Tom (4.4%)

www.harveys.org.uk Kemptown
+44 (0)1723 693 070
Selected beer: Black Moggy Mild (3.6%)

Rectory Ales
+44 (0)1273 890 570
Selected beer: Rector’s Revenge (5.4%)

Rother Valley
+44 (0)1797 252 922
Selected beer: Smild (3.8%)

White Brewing Co.
+44 (0)1424 731 066
Selected beer: 1066 Country Bitter (4%)


Arundel Brewery
+44 (0)1903 733 111
Selected beer: Sussex Mild (3.7%)

Selected beer: Pig’s Ear

Hepworth & Co.
Selected beer: Pullman First Class Ale (4.2%)

W J King & Co.
Selected beer: Red River (4.8%)

Welton’s Brewery
Selected beer: Sussex Pride (4%)


The Bitter End,
Tunbridge Wells & Bromley,

The Cellar Door,

Trafalgar Wines,
+44 (0)1273 683 325

Latin Spirits & Beers,

Little Beer Company,

Southover Off Licence,
+44 (0)1273 600 412

Beer Essentials,

Bitter Virtue,

Hops & Grapes,
+44 (0)2380 333 951

La Vigneron, Bexleyheath
+44 (0)208 303 3534