On 6th and 7th October 28 Phoenix Masters and their consorts together with our Vice President Christine Rigden and her husband Stephen visited the East Sussex county town of Lewes for their first weekend outing.
The principal purpose was a visit to the Harveys’ Brewery at the invitation of Past Master Brewer Miles Jenner, the Joint Managing Director and Head Brewer of Harveys. Miles personally acted as our guide and gave us a fascinating and accomplished description of the history and chemistry of brewing in general and his own company in particular. Harveys has been in business since 1790 and is a fine example of a craft brewery that has seen much bigger brewers come and go. It prides itself on local sourcing and buys its hops only from farmers in Sussex, Kent and Surrey.
We toured the Brewery from bottom to top and back again so that we could see how the production is laid out on different floors to take advantage of natural gravity. The water, known in the brew-house as ‘liquor’, is drawn from an artesian well some sixty feet below the Brewery, and that is replenished by rainfall which has filtered through the Sussex chalk downs over decades. They brew with Maris Otter malted barley, the product of a long programme of cross selection dating back to the early 1900s and much prized by cask ale brewers. We were invited to bite into a grain of barley to see how biscuity it tastes.
Their yeast is unique to Harveys. The crop from each week’s brewing is re-pitched into the following week’s brew. Miles proudly told us that they were about to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the launch of this particular strain so thousands of generations of yeast cells from that original consignment have passed through their fermenting room.
We, of course, finished with a tasting. We first tasted ‘Sussex Best Bitter’, a classic prize-winning bitter of 4% strength, with a fine hoppy flavour. Then we tasted ‘Old Ale’ of 4.3% with a slightly sweeter taste and finally ‘Imperial Extra Double Stout’ at a formidable 9% ABV.
From the brewery, it was a short step across the road to the John Harvey Tavern for a two-course meal with wines. Our Chairman Mark Chambers gave a short speech thanking John Nugée and Bill Mahoney for their organisation of the weekend but most of all Miles Jenner and his wife Sally for their hospitality. To underline this Mark presented them with gifts on behalf of the Association. Mark observed that while several of us had been Masters of our Livery Company but not really Masters of the craft with which it was associated, himself included, there was no question that Miles was both.
On Saturday morning, we reconvened at St Thomas à Becket church for a Service of Harvest Thanksgiving. The beautiful 12th Century church was packed and the congregation all joined in the lusty singing of perennial favourites ‘All things bright and beautiful’ and ‘We plough the fields and scatter’. This short annual service is organised by the Brewery and the church was festooned with hops. Miles Jenner welcomed us and Mark Chambers and Miles read the lessons.
After the service, we returned to the Brewery for a performance of Morris Dancing in the Brewery Yard, a celebration known as ‘Dancing in the Old’. Despite inclement weather, the Yard was packed with hundreds of people and it is clear that the Brewery plays a central role in the life of this fine old town. Throughout the performance freshly brewed ‘Old Ale’ was served free of charge to all spectators, and the Phoenix group took full advantage of Miles’ excellent hospitality.
In the afternoon Miles took another group of Phoenix Masters and their consorts round the Brewery as they had been unable to join the rest of us on Friday.
Everyone agreed that this first Phoenix weekend trip had been a great success. It was a most relaxing type of occasion with plenty of opportunities to get to know one another even better. The Committee will have a tough task to match it next year but everyone is welcome to pitch in with their ideas. Cheers!
More photos can be seen here!