Tastings School - Southern style

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Southern style

Dominic Roskrow gets to grips with the breweries of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

If you’ve been reading too much about brewery closures and the depressed state of the beer industry in the United Kingdom, then perhaps you should treat yourself to a trip down to the corner of England round London.

While the Home Counties have a significant number of casualties and some great names have fallen by the wayside, the region remains a fertile hunting ground for quality beer, for brewers with an eye on the future and a production line in the past. And there is a wonderful mix of old, oldish, newish and new, suggesting that quality can still win through but passion and enthusiasm are helping to ensure that the beer drinker can continue to look forward to new and challenging brews.

In fact so vibrant is the South Eastern region that we have divided it in two.

So where to start? We decided to highlight two of the region’s more iconic breweries and a couple that have reached the milestone of 10 years brewing.

HARVEYS, LEWES EAST SUSSEX Some breweries reach a semi-iconic status where everyone from enthusiasts to the managing directors of rival companies acknowledge their outstanding contribution to the brewing world and the qualities that make their beers special. So it is with Harveys, the Sussex brewery with a history stretching back some 200 years.

The business was first established by John Harvey in Lewes and has been part of the landscape ever since. And it secured its future in the 1980s when it expanded to double its brewing capacity to 50,000 barrels.

Today it remains an independent family business, now in the hands of the seventh of Harvey’s descendants.

Harveys prides itself on producing quality ales using Kent and Sussex hops and local spring water. Its core range of ales include Sussex Best Bitter (4%), Sussex Pale Ale (3.5%), Armada Ale (4.5%) and Sussex XX Mild (3%) but the brewery also produces a range of seasonal ales, with a different one being produced most months and the highly popular dark Old Ale (3.6%) available from October to May.

The brewery also has a shop.

BALLARD’S, NYEWOOD WEST SUSSEX Set up in 1980 by Carola Brown, a founder member of the Society of Independent Brewers, Ballard’s produces more than 75,000 gallons of beer a year, all of it without sugars, colourings or additives beyond isinglass finings to settle the yeast sediment.

Its beer brands include Midhurst Mild (3.4%), a lightly hopped dark mild, Golden Bine (3.8%), Best Bitter (4.2%), dark porter Wild (4.7%), Nyewood Gold (5%), and the highlyacclaimed Wassail (6%), a full bodied fruity beer.

A range of seasonal ales are also produced including one that goes by the name of Old Bounder, a strong barley wine with an alcohol of 9.7%, and designed to ward off the cold in December and January.

ITCHEN VALLEY, NEW ALRESFORD, HAMPSHIRE Itchen Valley celebrated its 10th anniversary during 2007, and has enjoyed a highly successful decade. Its first launch was Godfathers (3.8%), and after picking up bronze in the Champion Beer of Great Britain the beer was its only release in the first few years. It has since expanded and now produces a range of core beers that include Fagins (4.1%), Pure Gold (4.8%) and Wat Tyler (4.8%).

The brewery also produces beers for corporate customers as well as a range of seasonal ales.

It supplies more than 300 outlets both within England and to other European countries. Its beers are now bottled and supplied to a mixed range of supermarkets and off licences. The brewery offers tours, often culminating with lunch at a nearby pub.

TRIPLE FFF, HAMPSHIRE Triple FFF celebrated its 10th anniversary in November 2007 and in that time it has picked up more than 50 Campaign for Real Ale Awards, testament that it has managed to live up to its mission statement to brew ‘real ale that real drinkers drink.’ It started with a five barrel plant producing two beers, Moondance (4.2%) and Comfortably Numb (5%).

Both remain core to its business but have been joined by brews with intriguing names such as Stairway to Heaven (4.6%) (there’s a trend here – do we spot an old rocker in the brewery?) and personal favourite, Pressed Rat and Warthog (3.8%).

A range of seasonal ales are on offer, and overall the brewery is growing its reputation nationally.