Harveys Brewery

Harveys’ chimneys towering above Cliffe Bridge and the River Ouse provide Lewes with its top postcard view. But it’s no stagnant museum set-piece; it’s a highly efficient working factory.

Although parts of the site’s original Georgian building survive, Harveys Brewery is best known for its distinctive Tower and Brew House, built in 1880 in a Victorian Gothic style. Thankfully, modern additions have been built so sensitively that only their stone plaques give away their age. Two wells beneath the building – one 20m deep, the other 28m – provide the most local of the beers’ ingredients – fresh spring water. Hops are sourced from Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Barley and sugar comes from further afield but still from sources much closer than those used by the big brewers. Holes in the doors – like large cartoon mouse holes – once allowed cats to roam around freely, keeping precious ingredients safe from rodents.

Like any proper factory, there is steam, bubbling liquids, hot pipes, open stairs and whirring machines – a health & safety nightmare, as confirmed by Ian Burgess, our excellent tour guide and the Brewery’s health & safety officer. On the tour, I learned that Harveys is actually an extremely green company and won SEEDA’s Sussex Green Business Award in 2004. Due to the nature of the business, it’s a CO2 net user, not producer. Bottles are reused, old tools are found new roles and even the new £48,000 ‘copper’ (a processing vessel where it all starts coming together) was paid for by melting the old one down and selling it off as 5,000 Harveys-branded bracelets!

Cask-conditioned and bottled ales are produced by Harveys in both all-year and seasonal varieties ranging in strength from 0.5% to 9.5%. I turned up a little early for my tour and accidentally joined the end of the one before in the tasting room. This resulted in me tasting all of the beers twice – obviously not deliberately! Today, 50,000 barrels are produced each year and around 50 people are employed. The team spirit is immediately evident and goes some way towards explaining how a fire in 1996 and floods in 2000, each causing £2 million of damage, were overcome with the minimum of fuss.

Harveys is a truly great local family business of which we should all be proud but its continued success relies on us using it. Considering the nature of the operation, that shouldn’t be a chore!