Tag Archives: Harvey’s

Harveys’ Old Ale and the end of the summer

Rev Godfrey Broster of Rectory Ales (left), Edmund Jenner and Robin Thorpe of Harveys (behind the bar)

In my last post I mentioned it was the autumn equinox a few days ago. This is the moment when day and night are the same length. And now the nights are, officially, getting longer. We’ve had a fairly poor summer here in southern England. May and June were lovely, but since then it’s been unsettled, frequently cool. After my two and half summers in Rome, where summer generally runs from April to October, I feel somewhat cheated.

That said, there is one bright side to the nights drawing in and the prospect of dark and damp from here through to March: Harveys’1 Old Ale.

I love Old Ale. It’s quite possibly my favourite of Harveys’ 20-odd beers (I think I’ve tried them all now; nearly at least). It’s dark and sweet and warming. If a beer can be cosy and reassuring, it’s Harveys’ Old Ale. It’s a beer that’s perfect to drink in a warm pub, preferably with an open fire, on a long winter evening. Robin Thorpe of Harveys called it the “classic winter beer”, and added that as September has already turned so cool and wet it’s fine to be drinking it already. Which suits me.

We got to try the first of this year’s Old Ale at a Harveys tasting last night, hosted by Robin and Edmund Jenner. The evening was billed as a Seasonal Beer Tasting, and was a highly informative run-through of the beers – and how and why they fit with certain seasons.

A trend of the past 30 or 40 years may have seen a diminishment of seasonal beers, with many ill-informed drinkers just quaffing the same generic industrial brews all year round, but Harveys is among the heritage breweries that maintains the tradition of varying production through the year.

The evening started, however, with Wild Hop, a 3.7% ABV light ale that’s a perfect light summer drink. I mentioned Wild Hop back after my tour of the brewery in June 2014, but Edmund told us more about the gestation of this beer, which they first produced in 2004 “in response to what we now call blonde ale.”

It’s made with Fuggles and Goldings hops in the boil, then dry-hopped with English grown Cascade, which are more modest in flavour and aroma than their New World counterparts. It also contains Sussex variety hops – which are a recent domestication of a wild variety, first discovered on the Sussex-Kent border. Ed explained how most wild hops simply don’t have the qualities required for brewing, but this hybrid proved perfect.

Fran, in her usual unique way, said the Wild Hop reminded her of Sindy dolls or Tiny Tears. Something in the aroma reminded her of nuzzled dollies as a child. I can’t say I could relate; maybe Action Man smelled very different.

Harveys beer tasting

Although Harveys vary their production during the year, their main year-round brew is their Best Bitter. It accounts for about 90% of their production now. Bitter and Best Bitter are quintessential English beers, and it would be easy to imagine we’ve been drinking them here for centuries. But Ed gave us more history. Harveys’ Best wasn’t produced in 1945 (instead they brewed 75% mild, 25% pale), only accounted for 7% of their production in 1955 and 45% in 1965. Today’s Best Bitter, in fact, only “re-evolved” after the Second World War.

Two wars seriously threatened Britain’s grain supplies, with convoys from North America harried by U-boats. When grain did get here, the priority was food, not booze. So barley wasn’t used in brewing so much and what was produced had lower gravity, and alcohol by volume. Brewers were required to keep gravity low, and indeed, the wars even resulted in the introduction of licensing hours to keep the war effort population more sensible in their booze consumption. Trends and tastes in beer change – mild is way out of fashion now – but war and law have also played a significant role too.

At the end of the evening we had a blend2 of Best and the Old Ale, and it was a cracker. I may be asking for this again, see if I can help encourage some pubs to start this practice again. Blending was the norm in British beer drinking until fairly recently.

As much as I love the Old Ale, the most pertinent beer we tasted last night was the South Downs Harvest. Like the wheat sheaf in my previous post, this is a celebration of the harvest, of autumn. It’s a light, biscuity golden ale – which is made with green hops, just harvested. As Ed said, it contains “something of this year’s summer.”

Among the other beers we tasted was Armada Ale, which was first brewed in 1988 to commemorate 400 years since the Spanish Armada. Harveys are great at such commemorative brews. Among their recent ones was the fascinating Priory Ale, brewed last year for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes. I talked about this herby, historical brew here.

Last night Robin raised their Celebration Cocktail – with Priory Ale – and said it was to celebrate numerous things happening in 2015: 800 years since the Magna Carta, the birth of Anne of Cleves (who had a house in Lewes, which you can still visit, and was born 22 September 1515), 75 years since the Battle of Britain, 50 years since the development of the famed Maris Otter malt and even Harveys’ own 225th birthday.

So much history, mediated through the medium of beer. Harveys’ production of such beers encapsulate various elements of local and English history. Furthermore, as Ed reiterated, their beers get their character from their yeast, the same strain since 1957, and the water, taken from a borehole into the chalk aquifer. It’s rainwater filtered through chalk and as such has a unique mineral character. Have a pint of Harveys and that liquid is our history, our heritage and our environment. It’s a wonderful thing. With all this on offer, how anyone can drink characterless industrial beers I don’t know.

Notes
1. They’re called “Harvey’s”, though it’s more generally rendered as “Harveys” these days. Luckily, as a double possessive apostrophe is a bit painful: Harvey’s’.
2. I’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Blending beers is also out of fashion, but not at The Jolly Tanners in Staplefield, West Sussex, where Ed says they call the practice “tosspotting”. For those who don’t know this minor English word, a tosspot is an idiot or a drunkard. With “to toss” British slang for “to masturbate”. Apparently tosspot has its origins in the 1560s.

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Harveys Bonfire Boy Strong Ale 2014

Bonfire Boy 4

It’s been a busy week here on the building site, so escaping the frenzied activity of plasterers, plumbers, window fitters and carpenters this morning I went into town – and had to visit the Harveys brewery shop, as their famed Bonfire Boy had just appeared. In fact it was bottled just this morning, the batch prepared to accompany the annual Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night, celebrations, 5th November. They didn’t even have a button set up on their till, so I reckon I was the first customer to buy it.

Since I was a kid in the 1970s, when we used to run through the embers of the massive fire on the site of Oram’s Arbor in Winchester, Bonfire Night has become a sorry, much diminished thing in many parts of the country, local council regulations banning the actual bonfire in many places. It’s pathetic. What’s Bonfire Night without a bonfire? Luckily, Lewes is the world capital of Bonfire Night. It’s a very, very serious business here, with neighbourhood Bonfire Societies, dressed in colour-coded striped Guernseys, white trousers and various themed costumes, holding their own processions, burning barrel races, fireworks displays and bonfires in a continuation of traditions that date back to the 17th century, or earlier.

The Lewes Bonfire historian – with whom I share a surname – Jim Etherington says “Any account of what form 5th November celebrations in Lewes took in the years immediately following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 remains conjecture” but writes about solid accounts from the year 1679. “The rolling of blazing tar barrels through the High Street is recorded for the first time” in 1832. Years of tension between the Bonfire Boys and local authorities continued until the Bonfire Societies began to form in the late 1840s, giving the anarchy some organisational tethers. As with many British folk traditions, consolidation and honing took place in the Victorian era, and over the intervening decades the events have become world famous – with a reported 80,000 people sometimes packing the town, which normally has a population of around 15,000.

Bonfire Boy 2

Harveys first brewed Bonfire Boy in 1996. It was then called Firecracker, and commemorated the work of the fire brigade and their work fighting a blaze at the brewery in July of that year, but it subsequently became the annual Bonfire Night brew.

It’s a delicious beer, a dark amber colour, very little head and an aroma of apples and toffee – appropriately enough, given that toffee apples (aka candy apples in American) are for many Brits a treat closely associated with Halloween and Bonfire Night, both arguably modern incarnations of the Celtic Samhain. The beer also has a taste of apple and toffee, along with a deep maltiness, like well-baked bread or warming porridge with golden syrup, and hints of Prunus genus fruits like cherry and plum. It’s a smooth, full-bodied beer, confident in its 5.8% strength. It’s one of those beers that feels really substantial when you roll it around in your mouth, almost like eating an autumnal stew followed by a hot fruit pudding.

I’m looking forward to having a few more come The Glorious Fifth.

Bonfire Boy 3

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Sweet Sussex stout chocolate muffins

Sweet Sussex and chocolate

Today, 16 June, is Sussex Day. It’s probably not a festival many people celebrate – especially as it was only invented in 2006. Though it is based on the saints day of St Richard, patron of Sussex, the land of the south Saxons. Richard de Wych was a 12th century bishop of Chichester, now the county town of West Sussex. I’m over here in Lewes, the county town of East Sussex. The historic county of Sussex, based on the ancient kingdom of the south Saxons, was divided into two modern, administrative counties in the 1860s. Chichester and Lewes are very different, notably because the former is a cathedral city of about 24,000 people, while Lewes only has about 14,000 people, and the only “cathedral” is Harveys brewery.

Later on today I plan to head down to Harveys and check out the new St Richard’s Ale, which they’re launching on Sussex Day, but in the meantime, here’s recipe made using another Harveys, county-themed ale: Sweet Sussex.

Ye olde stout vs porter
On the label and site, Harveys says Sweet Sussex is a “lush, sweet stout named after the county in which it is brewed.” It has an ABV of just 2.8%, which raises the interesting question of what truly defines a stout. Well, in linguistic terms “stout” originally meant proud, brave and courageous, but this segued into meaning physically strong, well built. As a description of people it evolved again to start meaning bulking, then fat, but in beer terms it stuck with strong. Specifically it was used to describe strong porter, the type of beer that emerged in London in the 18th century as a refreshing, nutritious, fortifying drink of hardworking porters

Dark brown or black ales, porters were made with well roasted malts, which lent them a sweet, charcoally flavour. Eventually, the term “stout porter” shifted again, with stout becoming its own town for a rich, dark ale – though not necessarily a strong one. Indeed, today, the terms stout and porter are fairly interchangeable.

Sussex Sweet may be called a stout, but it’s certainly not stout in the sense of strong. Indeed, it’s so weak, compared to those old historic stout porters which will have been 8% ABV or so, that it’s more defined by its sweetness. It’s almost like a kind of charcoal milkshake. And just the thought of thing that goes well with dark chocolate.

Muffin

Muffins vs cupcakes
I wanted to bake something chocolaty yesterday, but didn’t want something as rich as a full-on cake (like I made here with dark ale) or iced cupcakes, so I made some muffins instead. Like stout and porter, the terms muffin and cupcake have slightly blurred meanings, though broadly I’d say a muffin contained less sugar, less butter, and were broadly a tad healthier. A lot of muffins, of course, contain bran, or fruit, or are even savoury. These ones are only vaguely sweet, and have a hint of that charcoally flavour from the beer.

20g cocoa
230g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g butter, melted and cooled slightly
70g sugar (I used caster, but you could use a dark muscovado say)
150g dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Sweet Sussex or other stout or porter, or a mixture of stout or porter and milk

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Light cacao
2. Sieve the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
4. Add the eggs, vanilla and beer, or beer and milk mix, along with the melted butter, to the flour mix.
5. Beat to combine.
6. Fill about a dozen muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes.
7. Cool and enjoy, with a cuppa or perhaps with a stout. Or porter.

Muffins, baked

A note on the cocoa
There’s only a little bit of cocoa in here, but I was also using a very light-coloured type of cocoa powder, hence the results aren’t very dark. This cocoa powder I’m using is actually the Raw Chocolate Company’s Raw (organic, Fairtade, thoroughly right-on) Cacao Powder. See here for more info.

Cocoa? Cacao? Whaʼ? Don’t worry about the difference. There isn’t really one. The English word cocoa is basically a synonym for the cacao, with Theobroma cacao the scientific name for the tree that yields the beans that produce those all-important chocolate products, with “cacao” coming from the Mayan and Mesoamerican language word for the tree and “Theobroma” from the Greek for “food of the gods”. Beer and chocolate – both worthy of that name I’d say.

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Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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A tour of my local brewery: the famed, historic Harveys of Lewes

Harveys chimney

Anyone who’s read my blog before will know I’m an advocate of local produce. And a big fan of real beer. For me, “local plus beer” means Harvey & Son Ltd (aka Harveys, Harveys of Lewes) – a traditional brewery that is a mere 800 metres as the crow flies from my house in Lewes, East Sussex.

Harveys also has an emphasis on local. The brewery gets uses water from a borehole, using local rain – or more specifically, as Edmund Jenner explained, local rain that’s been filtered through the rocks over the past 30 years. Locally grown hops and barley for their malt are the main other ingredients, and most of their beer is consumed within 60 miles of the brewery. Head brewer and joint managing director Miles Jenner has said ubiquity “diminishes the product”. It’s also an eminently sensible attitude in an era where the fuel burnt when transporting foodstuffs is a major contributor to climate change.

Shop poster

Shopaholic
Harveys also has an excellent shop in the centre of Lewes, where I buy my Harveys beers, then take the bottles back for reuse. I really am lucky to have this operation on my doorstep. And as I keep going and asking questions when I’m buying beer (and wine) from the shop, I got invited on a brewery tour – something that otherwise has a two-year waiting list. Even luckier!

The aforementioned Edmund is the son of Miles. As well being a member of the family that’s been brewing at Harveys for since the 1930s and a man who knows his brewing, he’s also a historian: which is ideal when talking about a firm that was established in 1790.

The original John Harvey was a wine merchant – hence the shop has an excellent selection of wine alongside the Harveys beers. (My favourite currently is from Danebury Vineyards – which grows on the flank of an Iron Age hill fort where I used to play and picnic a lot as a child.) Since medieval times, Lewes had been an important port, despite being about seven miles inland. Wharfs lined the banks of the Ouse in the centre of town, and John Harvey used these to bring in wines, spirits, and even coal – indeed, Harveys is still technically a coal merchant too, despite a spat with bureaucrats in 1948.

Danebury wine

Flood waters and liquor
The current brewery yard, alongside the river, used to contain a pile of coal – previously used as the principle fuel for the brewery. They were still burning through the pile when the floods of October 2000 hit Lewes, overwhelming the flood wall – then in construction – and rushing into the brewery. There’s a mark on the doors into the yard indicating the height the flood-waters reached. I’m more than six foot tall and it’s near my eye-level.

Ed explained they had just filled the hopbacks on the ground floor with 50 barrels (about 8,185 litres) with wort when the Ouse rushed in. They were used to flooding in the brewery, as indeed the whole of this stretch of the Ouse valley has a long history of it, but this inundation was atypical and extreme. Yet two days later, the hopbacks were intact in situ, the weight of the liquid holding them in place, despite damage to other equipment. The insurers said they wouldn’t be back in business for nine months, but they were actually brewing again in nine days, in part thanks to the help of other breweries like Kent’s Shepherd Neame. The beer that had been in fermenting upstairs during the crisis was saved and sold as the renowned “Ooze Booze”, with profits going to the flood appeal.

Back to the 1830s
John Harvey had acquired the Bridge Wharf site in 1838. Three of his offspring, Henry, Edwin and William, developed Harvey & Son. John himself died in 1862, while Henry and Edwin died in 1866. William, no brewer, brought in a chap with the wonderfully Victorian name of Henry Titlow-Barrett to handle the growing brewery business. The borehole that supplies the water  was one of T-B’s developments. His incentive? Well, Ed said there was a typhoid breakout, which was traced to the local utility company. That’s a pretty good motivator.

Any brewer will tell you of the importance of the water, or the “liquor” as it’s known by many British brewers, but Ed says that, “along with the yeast strain, it defines the character of the beer.”

Another of T-B’s major contributiuons to the history of the brewery was the redevelopment of the Bridge Wharf site, with substantial new buildings constructed in 1881, designed by famed brewery architect William Bradford.

The brewery still utilises Bradford’s energy-efficient tower design to this day, though a second tower was added in 1985 – just before the building acquired a Grade II listing. The building certainly has a memorable roofline, with its towers, flues and even a brick smokestack – part of the old coal-burning plant, which was half-demolished in the 1950s, then rebuilt in the 1970s, and is graced with a slight curve. I’ve read that some people call the grand old brewery building “Lewes Cathedral”, though I’ve yet to hear that.

Harveys malt room

Grains of truth
After a quick jaunt into the yard, to appreciate Bradford’s oriel window, we headed back inside and upstairs to the malt room. A grand chamber, it’s wood-lined and packed with sacks of malt, notably the popular Maris Otter.

Ed described the malting process, though I won’t go into too much detail about that here – suffice to say, the grain is tricked into germinating to unlock its sugars. The sugars are essential to brewing, as the fermentation involves feeding the yeast. And what does yeast like to eat? Sugars.

Ed also talked about the “extract potential” of grain – that is, how much sugar it will be able to yield. This has a bearing on brewing as strong beers need more sugars to feed the yeast, which then produces the alcohol. So either you have to use more malt, or use malt with a higher extract potential. Speciality malts – chocolate, roast, caramel, biscuit, crystal malts etc – are used to give beers colours and flavours but generally have lower extract potentials. So while Harveys’ Sussex Best Bitter, their flagship brew and what I was drinking in the Lewes Arms last night, contains just two per cent speciality malts, their Imperial Extra Double Stout contains up to a third.

Ed Jenner in hop room

The green stuff
Next door to the malt room is the hop storage room, with contains wooden alcoves resembling stalls for seriously truncated horses.

Here we got into the fascinating discussion – about the historical difference between ale and beer. Although these days both terms are used fairly generically, with ale meaning “not lager”, originally “beer” was a Dutch drink – made with malted barley and hops. The older British styles of drink were made with malted barley and potentially other herbs for flavouring and preservation (see my post about Harveys’ Priory Ale). English brewers were fairly prejudiced against hops, seeing them as foreign muck, but within few centuries of them arriving (c1500), most British ale was made with at least some hop, for its preservative qualities. The term “ale”had come to mean a “less well-hopped brew”.

Ed also described some of the key qualities of hops for us, notably their alpha acid characteristics. Whereas hops, and specifically home-grown hops, were used in Britain more for their preservative and certain bittering qualities, these days, many craft beers contain New World hops that are much more overtly flavoursome and stridently aromatic.

Flavour and aroma distinctions are largely defined by the hops used, and the alpha acid levels of those hops. So while British hops might have alpha acids of about 4-6%, and give arguably more subtle bittering, New World hops might have up to 16% alpha acid (or higher). This higher alpha acid doesn’t just result in more explicit bitterness, but can also bring more overt aromas of tropical fruit, citrus and pine. Though it’s not just a question of the provenance of the hop variety, it’s also a question of where it’s grown, as the climate and terroir have an influence. Cascade is a classic American hop, originating in Oregon, though when grown in Britain, it will have different qualities – and indeed, Harveys use British Cascade in their intriguing Sussex Wild Hop, alongside a hedgerow variety discovered nearby in 2004. (This is a story I want to get to the bottom of; watch this space.) Hop essential oils are also significant for aromas.

Harveys copper mash tun

The mash tuns
Moving sideways and down a bit, we reached Harveys’ mash tuns. I always love any mention of mash tuns, as my the main pub of my teenage years was named The Mash Tun. Not all the memories are good – notably as it was the 1980s, when bad lager really dominated, and I was too ignorant to know anything about real beer – but I still have a fondness for these large vessels where the malt, ground into grist, is cooked up with liquor. I like the feel of the words in my mouth – as well as the promise of their product.

Harveys has two mash tuns one copper, located in the old tower, and one stainless, put in in 1985 in the new tower. The copper one was from a design patented in 1853 and was made in 1924. It was used by Page and Overton brewery in Croydon and in a 1954 auction, Mr Jenner had to go up against scrap merchants – who deferred to his bids when they learned he actually wanted it for brewing.

Each mash tun holds 120 barrels, that is about 19,650 litres. They’re first warmed by steaming to 70C (158F; Ed did everything in Fahrenheit, which is a foreign language to me). After the enzymes have worked the mash, freeing up more of those sugars, half the husk from the grist settles to a false floor in the vessels. The sweet wort is then gradually drained, lautered. It’s then sparged, sprayed with more water to get out as much of the goodness as possible.

Near the mash tuns, on the other side of the head brewer’s office, the brewery still contains two old steam engines, one of them, a small eight horsepower machine, is from the old Beards brewery. Beards was one of the dozen or so other Lewes breweries that didn’t survive the ebb and flow of the industry.

Harveys copper no 1

Flowing downhill
The wort then continues its journey, into receivers, then into the coppers, or boiling kettles. Harveys has two – Number 1 is copper, and looks very Jules Verne, but was actually made in 1999 in Scotland. Number 2 is stainless steel.

Here, hops are added at two different points, and the heating izomerises them – changing the atoms in the molecule into something that gives a bitter flavour . The liquid from the kettles then flows on downstairs again, into the abovementioned hopbacks. The journey continues with the liquid pumped through heat exchangers, cooling it enough for the addition of the yeast – for the next, perhaps most important stage: the fermentation.

After the wort is cooled to 15C (60F), yeast is added – Ed said at a rate of “one pound per barrel”, so that’s about 454g per 164 litres. (164 litres is more or less the size of a UK barrel, 36 imperial gallons. A US beer barrel is 31 US gallons, or 26 imperial gallons, about 117 litres. And that, folks, is why I like metric.)

Harveys, barm in fermenter

So if the day’s brewing starts at 6am, it takes until 4.30pm to get the liquid into the fermenters, which Ed also referred to as tuns. Once the yeast is added, this all-important organism, which I’ve previously made the argument for being man’s true best friend, gets to work. As ales are made using mostly top-fermenting yeasts, it diffuses through the liquid but mostly settles on the top. Anaerobically, it metabolises the sugars, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide – bubbles. To encourage the yeast to reproduce (asexually), the fermenting mix is aerated, the temperature kept low and steady.

The fermentation continues for three days, the yeast forming a thick crust on the top in an “intestine or brain pattern”, which protects the beer, keeps it pure.

Harveys, fermenter brain crust 2

Harveys has been using the same yeast culture since 1957, with Ed explaining it “gives us our flavour, our brand identity.” Before then, their yeast was supplied by the Burton Pure Yeast Company. When it went bust, Harveys had a scramble to try and find a replacement source of the same strain. The sample Harveys received was wrong, so they asked for further samples from breweries all over the country. They eventually received one from John Smiths in Tadcaster that was right, enabling Harveys to keep on brewing consistently.

Or almost consistently. Ed says that the yeast culture itself is changing subtly with every brew, every generation and he conjectures this “little variation stops it being dull to the palette”. I certainly like this idea – it’s like a sourdough culture that might be decades old, but colonies of yeasts and bacteria evolve and change slightly with every use, every generation.

Fermenters

The right temperature
After fermentation, the beer is cooled to 60F / 15C again: closer to cellar temperature, which CAMRA defines as 12-14C, and the optimal temperature for serving many ales. Descending, we reached the racking cellar, where some of the final steps take place – notably the clarification of the beer, using finings – that is, derivatives of fish swim bladders. Quite how anyone ever discovered they had this effect is bewildering, but long molecules of the finings sink through the liquid, collecting sediment.

The beer will undergo some secondary fermentation in the cask, adding some extra fizz. This period of cask conditioning varies depending on the beer in question. So their Old Ale is conditioned for four weeks, their Porter for six, and their Imperial Stout for 18 months.

Not that Ed is entirely staunch about just drinking cask beer. Like me, he agrees that good beer is good beer, if it’s made with knowledge and skill, if it’s served properly. So if it comes in a bottle or a keg, that can be fine too. I drink a lot of Harveys in bottles at home, as I mentioned at the start. Though I do prefer a hand-pumped cask beer, I’m not averse to real beer from a keg. In the meantime, we ended the tour by trying several of Harveys’ classics brews – from a handsome row of casks in the cellar.

All in all, a wonderful experience, and a fascinating compare and contrast with some of the other breweries I’ve visited the past few years, notably Mastri Birrai Umbri in Umbria. The latter is purpose-built, but relies on traditional knowledge and values from a family with a similarly long tradition of food production. And both have a not dissimilar output: Harveys produces 45,000 UK barrels per year, which in new money is about 74,000 hectolitres, while Mastri produces 100,000hl.

For more information about Harveys, their website is comprehensive – about everything from their beer to their history to their environmental credentials, though this doesn’t even mention that their new depot, a few hundred metres away over the river, has a roof covered in PV solar panels, which generated 98kW of power. Again, eminently sensible. What a great company.

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Harveys’ Priory Ale and the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes

Harveys Priory Ale, 11 May 2014

Harveys of Lewes, my local brewery, founded in 1790, has just released a new brew: Priory Ale. Although I drink Harveys Best often in the pub, and I’ve been enjoying working my way through their bottled beers, this is a novelty. The 6% ABV ale has been brewed especially to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, which is being celebrated this weekend.

For those who don’t know their English 13th century history, the Battle of Lewes was a clash between the forces of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, and those of King Henry III. The royal forces outnumbered those of Simon (10,000 versus 5,000) but he won anyway, and as a result he and his allies were able to force a reduction in the king’s autocratic powers.

The battle for democracy
Although you could see the battle as a squabble between Norman aristocrats, idealists instead couch it as an important step in the journey towards parliamentary democracy in England. That’s certainly the line taken here in Sussex and in Lewes, a town with strong links to the history of democracy. (Thomas Paine lived here for six years before heading to America in 1774, where his writing and philosophies contributed to the American Revolution and helped shape the ensuing nation’s democracy.)

The Priory Ale is the most interesting beer I’ve drunk in a while. Harveys’ head brewer and joint managing director Miles A Jenner and brewer Peter Yartlett have created a fascinating concoction, a kind of historical recreation of a 13th century-style beer. (I love this kind of thing – check out my efforts to make a bread using beer barm, as they would have done for centuries in Britain before yeast became something that could be cultivated in the late 19th century.)

The label says the ale “is brewed using ingredients that were available to the Cluniac Order at the Priory of St Pancras in Lewes in 1264, where a brew house was known to exist.” Which is nice, as we visited the ruins of the priory on Sunday too – or at least all that’s left of it, mostly just the foundations of massive medeival toilet blocks. The rest, including a vast church (128m long internally) was knocked down in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Interestingly, Henry employed an Italian engineer – who was presumably a catholic. Surely he must have had his doubts about his path to the afterlife being employed by an excommunicated reformer to knock down catholic houses?

For centuries, the site was used a quarry. Then the Victorians topped the vandalism by ploughing a massive railway cutting through the middle. Much as I love railways, I probably love historical buildings more, or at least am shocked at their mistreatment. I thought we didn’t do that anymore in England – certainly the local authority here is fussing about us building an extension, saying we have to have an archaeologist present. But then my mum and dad, whose house’s foundations are on the Roman walls of the city of Winchester, told me developers up the road were allowed to demolish a stretch of those walls to build some new flats!!!!!! My jaw genuinely dropped when I heard this.

Anyway, I digress.

Priory Ale label text, 11 May 2014

Harveys’ description of the Priory Ale also says, “Fermentable sugars are produced from a mash of barley, oats and wheat prior to being boiled with hops and yarrow to impart bitterness.” Though hops (Humulus lupulus) were not used in British ales in the 13th century. Chatting to Ed Page in the Harveys shop, we concurred on the notion that hops didn’t become commonplace in British brewing until the 16th century, with him saying they probably came over with Flemish workman. He also said these workmen probably invented cricket around the same time too. Ed explained Harveys used hops in the Priory Ale as their modern yeast strains simply couldn’t cope without some of the chemicals provided by the hops, the fermentation wouldn’t work.*

Hops in England
On this question of when hops arrived in Britain, Martyn Cornell gives his usual levels of detail and research into the history of the plant in brewing here. They were being grown in the Netherlands in the 14th century, and “The first import of Low Countries ‘beere’ into England seems to have come in 1362/63”. Though he continues, “However, the first brewer of the hopped drink in England does not appear until 1412.”

He corroborates what I’d been chatting about in the Harveys shop, saying, “The English beer trade seems to have stayed in the hands of immigrants from the Low Countries for the next century, as the conservative-minded natives stuck to their unhopped ale. As a result, the first beer brewers in England apparently imported all their hops from across the Channel, with no attempt to cultivate the plant here until early in the 16th century.” Hop growing in southeast England became established in the middle of the 16th century and had spread to “at least 14 English counties” by 1655.

As for other plants used in brewing, Cornwell says, before hops brewers “had been using a huge range of other plants to flavour their ale in the meanwhile: the bushy, aromatic moorland shrub bog myrtle, for example, the grassland weed yarrow, the hedgerow plant ground-ivy, even rosemary and sage.” He later mentions “bitter hop alternatives such as broom and wormwood”. Harveys are using yarrow (Achillea millefolium) alongside hops in the boil. They do use other herbs for flavouring, though: “The resultant brew is conditioned in vats with ale cost, also known as tansy, rosemary and thyme.”

The Lewes Priory ruins include a wonderful herb garden now, where all these herbs can be found, emulating the site’s original, somewhat larger herb garden.

Strangely, the resulting beer has a somewhat ginger-beery taste, though I would say the thyme (Thymus vulgaris) provides the dominant flavour. Or more likely the thyme essential oil, thymol, which lends a distinctive herbal-antiseptic odour.

What is “ale cost”?
I’d never heard of “ale cost” before, so that got me investigating. A couple of Google book searches specify “alecost”, “ale-cost” or “ale cost” is specifically a name for the herb Tanacetum balsamita, also known as costmary. It’s related to the abovementioned tansy, which is Tanacetum vulgare.

Tansy

‘Breverton’s Complete Herbal’ (2011), an updating of ‘Culpeper’s Complete Herbal’ (originally published 1653) says, “‘Cost’ refers to costus, a spicy Asian plant related to ginger, which has a slightly similar flavour. … ‘Alecost’ translates into ale-cost or ‘spicy herb for ale’ as it [Tanacetum balsamita] was once an important flavouring of ales.” (Link here.) This is confirmed by the wonderfully titled 1823 ‘Universal Technological Dictionary Or Familiar Explanation of the Terms Used in All Arts and Sciences Containing Definitions Drawn From The Original Writers’, here. The costus in question, also Costi amari radix or costus root, which the costmary or alecost is reminiscent of and partly named after, was apparently an important trade item for the ancient Romans. It’s been identified as a member of the Saussurea genus, S. lappa.Which isn’t related to ginger at all.

So, yes, Harveys, I very much enjoyed your Priory Ale, both as a striking, slightly strange ale and as a historical experiment. And as a stimulant to learn more about random old herbs and plants and the term “ale cost” – which arguably Harveys are using with some poetic brewers’ license.

Oh, and among the info boards at the priory is this one, explaining the sign language used by the monks when eating in their refectory. It doesn’t include the sign for “ale”, surprisingly, as this was of course made at the priory, a hugely important drink and quite possibly somewhat like a murkier version of Harveys’ Priory Ale – but without the hops. Perhaps they just used the same sign we do – imaginary glass held up in front of mouth, hand tilted back and forth slightly.

Monastic sign language

* Since writing this, I’ve been ruminating about it, and chatting to brewers. I can’t really understand how yeast – which feeds on the sugars in the wort, from the mashed malt – would be affected by the presence, or not, of yeast. I hope to try and ask Ed Page in Harveys to clarify this. Addendum 2: I spoke to Ed again yesterday and he reiterated that their yeast does need a bit of hop in the fermentation. He said they’ve had the same yeast culture for 60 years, so at about 300 brews a year, that’s about 18,000 generations of yeast – and he said it’s become so used to the hop in the mix that while it will still ferment, “it doesn’t function to its best without it”.
Addendum 3 (24 May 2014): So I met Edmund Jenner, son of head brewer Miles Jenner. He’s called “Beer ambassador” on the Harveys site, and is certainly very knowledgebale – as you’d expect from a member of this renowned brewing family. He called their yeast “hop dependent”, explaining they need the alpha acids from the hops “to perform”. For the brew, they use a small amount of Alsace-grown Savinski Goldings hops (which I believe are Styrian Goldings, a Slovenian form of the British Fuggles hop.)
Addedum 4 (7 June 2014): Ran into Edmund again, and he said that although he’d talked about hop dependency of yeast at Brewlab, when he mentioned it to the brewing team at Harveys they weren’t convinced. So now I’m confused. Again. Ed says he’ll look into it further and I’m sure we’ll discuss it further next time we meet.

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There and back again

This blog is still alive. As are we – perhaps against the odds, as Britain has had the worst winter storms for 20 years and we arrived home right in the middle of them. We touched down at Heathrow 22 December, when large swathes of our fair isle were already flooded, and repeatedly buffeted by high winds. We even managed to get down to the southwest of England on a train, then across Devon for Christmas (with no water on Xmas morning – but hey, between me, my dad on the phone and my father-in-law we fixed it), then back up the country to my folks’ place, then across to the southeast, to finally settle in Lewes, Sussex.

We haven’t got any proper internet yet, but before I even think about complaining about the two and a half week time between ordering and connection I have to remind myself it took us five months – five whole flippin’ months – to get internet in Italy’s great capital.

So in the meantime, here’s one of my last drinks on our travels, in Singapore. It’s a lager made with spirulina from RedDot (or Reddot, or Red Dot) brewery. We also visited Singapore’s other key brewery, Brewerkz, that night. It all seems like a very very long time ago, but it’s only just over three weeks.Monster Green lager at Red Dot, Singapore

And here’s me back in wet, wintry Blighty drinking ale (cask Old Ale, then bottled IPA) from Harvey’s, the small-ish, traditional family brewery that’s survived here in Lewes since 1790.

Drinking Harvey's at The Swan, Lewes

I’ll probably talk more about Harvey’s, but sadly I don’t think I’ll be on a brewery tour any time soon. Apparently they’re booked for two years.

Having posted those pics, however, I’m not actually drinking that much beer at the moment. My tipple of choice is currently hot chocolate, and I’ve been trying various varieties, and making biscuits to dunk in it. I’ll report back on my findings soon. Via the miracle of real – indeed fibre optic – internet. Fingers crossed the installation goes without a hitch tomorrow. Touch wood. Touch cornicello. Make inverted mano cornuta gesture. Etc. Not that I’m superstitious.

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