Getting to know BREW: Harvey’s Brewery
Breweries have had a tough time over the last year due to the pandemic, especially those that own and operate their own public houses. According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), almost 87 million pints of beer will be poured away due to pub closures. Barrelled beer has by far been affected the most as it doesn’t keep very long when compared to kegged beers. If it’s stored at cellar temperature, around 11C, and the cask is not tapped, then it should last about six weeks. As a result, production is now limited where traditional ales are concerned.
Many breweries have had to adapt to these huge losses and Harvey’s Brewery are no different. They are the oldest independent brewery in Sussex, having brewed beer successfully for over 200 years, and will be looking at ways to combat the uncertainty of the year ahead.
We caught up with Zoe Prescott from Harvey’s Brewery to find out what the biggest challenges have been for them as well as how they look to attract a new generation of Harvey’s drinkers.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area?
Everything about who we are and the beers we produce is locally driven. The water in our beer has been filtered for 30 years through the South Downs (behind us) into our wells below the brewery. The whole hops in our beers are sourced from hop farmers in Sussex (40%), Kent (40%) and Surrey (20%). Our Maris Otter malt is grown down the road in West Sussex. Our yeast has been re-pitched into every weeks brew for over 60 years.
In addition to this we are, quite simply, our community; we employ locally, support and work with local businesses and charities, we work with local artists for our beer designs, send our byproducts off to local farms, and energy from our solar panels feeds back into the local grid. Our Head Brewer is so local he lives at the brewery!
We couldn’t and wouldn’t do it any other way, we support local and thankfully local has always supported us. As we say in Sussex ‘We wunt be druv’.
Q. What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
The beer itself is unique due to the combination of local ingredients. The aforementioned yeast contributes to 50% of the overall flavour, and is discernable to anyone who has tasted any of our brews.
We operate in a traditional gravity fed brewhouse, built in 1881, and everything is done by hand with limited automation. If brewers from that time visited our brewery today, they would find not much has changed and because of the way we brew there’s craft and history in every pint of Harvey’s. We are the oldest, independent brewery in Sussex, family owned, with eighth generation members of the family working here today.
Q. How do you decide on what new seasonal beers to brew?
There is a story behind each of our seasonal beers and how they came to be. Most have been developed from a special occasion brew, and then due to popularity added into the seasonal schedule. Olympia started life out as a celebration beer for our GBBF Champion Beer of Britain win at Olympia, London.
Bonfire Boy was brewed to commemorate the work of the Lewes fire brigade during the 1996 fire at the brewery and was originally called ‘Firecracker’. Others were developed due to seasonal availability of ingredients, like green hops for September’s Southdown Harvest.
Q. Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you haven’t done already?
Innovation is key for us and we’re spoilt for choice with the possibilities of what we can do. We try to balance customer expectation, what we can feasibly brew, and future sustainability; from ingredients to glass, when looking at potential new brews.
I’m not sure we’re looking at releasing any dank DIPAS, but with that being said a venture into vegan beer for our packaged products is on the cards, and we’re consulting on some new styles that we hope could come to fruition due to future developments in the brewery plant.
Q. Do you think collaborations with other breweries are important?
Yes, we have collaborated in the past and would be happy to do it again. There were some plans we had in place for last year that we hope to revisit post coronavirus.
Q. What efforts have you made you to be environmentally friendly?
The way we brew is a symbiotic relationship with our environment, agriculture and community. Our brewing byproduct of spent grain is picked up by tractor and taken to Plumpton Agricultural College, where it makes up the feed of the dairy herd, which in turn contributes to over 2 million litres of milk a year. Our spent hops are sent to local seasonal vegetable nurseries and used as mulch. Through our returnable bottle scheme, we estimate we get an average of 4-5 trips out of the bottles we process, wash and refill – as far as we know we’re the only brewer in the UK that still does this. The 544 solar panels installed on our depot roof 10 years ago generate approximately 92,000 kWhs of electricity a year with surplus feeding back into the grid.
More recently we’re delighted to say that all of the packaging used in our online shop distribution is fully recyclable; using cardboard, paper tape and biodegradable packing chips. We’re always looking at new and better ways of being sustainable ourselves, and supporting others. There’s more information on our website with a full list of our green activities, and maybe an award or two!
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
The last 12 months have been difficult, there’s no doubt about that. As a result of the pubs being required to close, this had an effect on our production and we took part in the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for our team. Like other breweries we have had to dispose of unused beer, replace beer at a financial cost to ourselves, try to plan our production around the uncertainty of the opening and closing of pubs in lockdowns, navigate new legislation when published, and look to how we integrate changes to the brewery and our pubs.
The safety of our staff and customers is paramount and we’re committed to inputting any measures to make better, safer spaces, much like others in our industry we must adapt to the challenges we encounter.
Q. How difficult have you found it to attract a new generation of Harvey's drinkers?
Cask beer is an amazing drink, unique to the UK, and the epitome of craftsmanship, but attracting a new generation of cask ale drinkers generally requires more investment and support.
For our own part, our rebrand has played a significant role in engaging new drinkers. We support our trade directly so that we can be sure that every pint of Harvey’s is in the best possible condition should someone look to try it.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, we like to interact directly with customers and publicans; via brewery tours, in our shop, through digital activity or meeting at events. The more we invest in these relationships the better folks understand our provenance, and how and why we operate the way we do. We hope having engaged on a more personal level has some part to play the next time they’re considering which beer to stock or drink.
Q. What are the biggest problems you run into in producing beer?
At the moment: Lockdown, and seasonal fluctuations – every crop year is different and raw materials impact on fermentation profiles.
Q. Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
In 2000 the brewery was flooded half way through the day and brewing was abandoned . Two, half full, vessels were combined to generate a yeast crop that we could subsequently use, but the resultant beer was 6.5% abv instead of 4.0%. We bottled it as Ouse Booze and it was so popular that we later based our ‘Star of Eastbourne’ East India Ale on it.
Q. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
It is important, your branding is your identity and a reflection of who you are as a business, it’s what customers recognise and a standard they hold you to. We are grateful to have received some amazing feedback and awards for our recent rebrand undertaking where we refreshed and unified our look, without straying from our roots.
However, styles can change whereas substance lasts, we are still only ever as good as our last pint.
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
Yes, as drinkers are looking for healthier options and better choice in the low abv category. We have been producing our Low Alcohol Best Bitter (formerly known as ‘John Hop’) and Low Alcohol Old Ale (formerly ‘Bill Brewer’) since the 80s and have received more recognition for these beers in the last three years than we ever did previously. It’s great to see innovation in this area and providing alternatives for ‘low or no’ drinkers.
Q. How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for the beer industry?
The more drinkers can engage with one another the better, and platforms like Untappd enable drinkers to share their interest in beer on an international scale.
They might have a big part to play in planning for some producers, but chasing online reviews isn’t what we’re about. We appreciate feedback in all its forms, and keep an eye on what’s going on, but we understand not everyone will like our beer.
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
A couple of exciting projects we hope to have up and running, but are dependent on staffing and operations around the virus so we won’t give too much away yet!
About Harvey's Brewery
Address: Harvey & Son (Lewes) Ltd, The Bridge Wharf Brewery, 4 Cliffe High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 2AH