Branch Reports

Branch Pub and Brewery Presentations

(Compiled by John Jasper and Peter Adams and written by them and other branch members.)

In April 2017 the first ever South East Sussex Branch award to a Wetherspoon’s pub was made to the George Hotel Hailsham, when it was voted Cider/Perry Pub of the Year. It carries a varied selection of cask ciders and perries, always offering at least four varieties. The picture shows managers Becky Dunkley and Mitch Lowe accepting the award from Branch Chair, Peter Adams, the former has since moved to become manager of the Picture Playhouse, Bexhill, which was to open later in the year.

Two new Sussex brewery awards were instituted this year, one of which was presented in May 2017 to the Downlands Brewery in Small Dole in West Sussex. Throughout the year CAMRA members from this branch and others visiting from away score beers served in the branch area pubs. At the end of the year these scores are analysed in a form similar to that used to guide branch members as they select pubs for the Good Beer Guide, i.e. to qualify at least four different members will have assessed the beer on at least ten occasions. There are also agreed safeguards to avoid people unfairly favouring a particular beer or the opposite. The beer which came out top of the Sussex brews was Downlands’ Black Seven-Four, and was duly awarded the Branch Sussex Beer of the Year Award at the brewery’s open day. Brewer Widdi commented that this was a real honour, as there are so many good beers in Sussex. The picture shows Widdi, holding the certificate, and his colleagues, holding beer glasses, behind the temporary bar at the open day at the brewery.

In June 2017 a number of branch members made a long awaited trip to Burgess Hill to meet up with the brewers of the Kiln Brewery in a bar, named Quench, a venue which regularly sells its beer and which ensured was stocking Bricks and Porter among others beers. This beer had won the Sussex Micro Beer of the Festival Award at the 2016 Eastbourne festival in the brewery’s début appearance at the festival. After the presentation to Andy and Craig and an enjoyable lunchtime in the bar as shown in the pictures, members were generously provided with complimentary bottles of the beer to take away. As they had to change trains at Haywards Heath on the way home, this gave an opportunity for what was for most a first visit to the newish Dark Star pub just up from the station, an enjoyable end to an excellent day.

Every June the Branch makes its top pub award, the Pub of the Year, decided after detailed assessment of a shortlist of nominated pubs, using the CAMRA pub of the year scoring system. This has a number of factors assessed by members, who for their results to qualify towards the result must submit scores for each of the nominated pubs. For an unprecedented third consecutive year in 2017 the Tower in St. Leonards won the award, ensuring that the title stayed in the Hastings & St. Leonards Borough for the fifth consecutive year. Landlady Louisa, pictured listening carefully to praise, stepped back behind her bar from maternity leave to accept the award, telling the enthusiastic assembled regulars and CAMRA members how pleased she was with three years, echoed loudly by the regulars.

Rapidly gaining a reputation for high quality local beer, the Standard Inn in Rye was visited by members in July 2017 for the presentation of the LocAle Pub of the Year in July. This is awarded to the pub with the best selection of beers brewed less than 35 miles from the point of sale and in the case of business partners Rajh and Tim, was a fitting award, as it was just what they set out to do when they reopened the pub towards the end of 2014. We were delighted with their appreciation when in the unavoidable absence of the Branch Chair and Vice Chair, Area Organiser and previous Chairman, Peter Page-Mitchell made the award, pictured in between the two owners. Later visits found the framed certificate displayed in pride of place in the front window of the pub, where it was pictured on a return visit in September when the pub was unveiled as being in the 2018 Good Beer Guide for the first time since 1990. Rajh and Tim were equally proud of this achievement and are pictured with their copy of the Guide. The pub is a 15th century gem situated in The Mint, in the heart of Rye's citadel, apart from local microbrewery ales it offers high quality meals and comfortable accommodation in five B&B rooms.

Also in July 2017 a branch visit to the Victoria Hotel, Eastbourne, was made to mark the achievement of ten consecutive years in the Good Beer Guide when it made its appearance in the 2017 edition. The picture shows proprietors Garry and Ros receiving their award. During this period there are memories of when the National CAMRA Members’ Weekend was held in Eastbourne in 2009. Such was the popularity of the pub and its Harvey’s ales amongst the visiting members from around the country that the pub ran out of beer and emergency supplies had to be obtained from Harvey’s. Fortunately the brewery had been on stand by for just such an event.

In September 2017 the other new award mentioned above (in May), the South East Sussex Beer of the Year presentation was made to the First In Last Out (FILO) Brewery in Hastings. This is judged in the same way as the aforementioned Sussex award and honours the top beer brewed and drunk in the South East Sussex pubs and for 2016 FILO’s Gold came out highest. A break in the live musical entertainment in the FILO pub was deemed the moment to hand over the award, as pictured.

September is a busy month for CAMRA members visiting pubs bearing ‘gifts’, as the notifications for the following year’s Good Beer Guide are distributed. In addition, in September 2017, two different awards were made on the same evening to two Eastbourne pubs. The Crown in the Old Town was the Runner Up to the Tower, (as mentioned above), in the Branch Pub of the Year competition, having been the ‘unannounced’ third in 2016. This was the third CAMRA award and highest to date made to Andy and Jo since they took over the pub, the picture shows Andy receiving the award.

With the publication of the 2018 Good Beer Guide, the Dew Drop Inn, close to Eastbourne’s town centre in Little Chelsea celebrated ten consecutive years in the Guide. This pub has also a notable tale from the 2009 National CAMRA Members’ Weekend, as landlady Shoes Simes’s efforts to get extra handpumps installed in time for the event soon led to word getting round the members about the beer provision being much greater than published in the Guide. This led to so many flooding into the pub that for nearly an hour not a single lager was sold, there was no room for fans of that drink. At the award Shoes paid tribute to the support CAMRA had given her as and since she opened her two pubs and said that inclusion in the Guide was an important part of this. The pictures show, in Septenber 2017, Shoes accepting the award and her staff and CAMRA members crowded behind the bar.

All the places in the Good Beer Guide are important awards and most are much appreciated by those who run pubs, but some are particularly noteworthy. Apart from the anniversaries mentioned above, these include those pubs which are new entrants to the Guide either for some time, or for the first time for new proprietors, or for some the first time ever. This year there were two pubs in the latter category. The Owl at Camber makes its début. Friendly licensees, Madeleine and Peter are seen here, in September 2017, with Dave Platt, branch member, on the left. Set behind the iconic dunes of Camber's sandy beach, the pub offers meals, local microbrewery ales and accommodation.

The Roebuck Inn in Laughton, a 17th century free house, was re-opened by Dominic McCartan (pictured in September 2017) and Tony Leonard just two years ago. It's now busy serving quality food and quality ales from nearby breweries, generally Burning Sky, Gun and Harvey's. It is not just CAMRA who are impressed as it was named 'best free house in the country' at the John Smith’s Great British Pub Awards, which took place at the Park Lane Hilton in September - despite not being a house selling John Smith's Smooth!

Pubs making a return to the guide include the aforementioned Standard in Rye, but also four others. Three of them are tied Harvey’s pubs, the fourth chooses to sell exclusively Harvey’s ales. One of the oldest pubs in England, the Lamb in Eastbourne's Old Town returns to the guide after an absence of seven years. It made its first appearance in 1976 and featured every year in the 1990s. Now a Harvey's of Lewes managed house its history dates back to when it was originally a clergy house as part of the development of the church then called St Michael's. Now the pub has three bar and dining areas, provides lunchtime and evening meals as well as bed and breakfast. Upstairs the sizeable function room often stages Fringe Theatre productions. In the photo manager Natalie and her partner John, who takes care of the beers, are with CAMRA member Ian Robertson on publication day in September 2017.

Adrian and Annabelle, tenants at another Eastbourne Harvey's house, the Hurst Arms, Willingdon Road, are delighted their pub regained a GBG entry. It was last listed in 2012 under the previous tenants. In the photo Adrian (left) is receiving his GBG notification from Branch Chair Peter Adams in September 2017. The Hurst is a good place to find Harvey's seasonal brews, like Bonfire Boy for November, for a very reasonable price. They were also delighted to be awarded Harvey’s own award in a ‘Silent Customer’ scheme as ‘Best Community Pub’ in the brewery’s estate, the award is also pictured.

Pete Randall, pictured in November 2017, runs the Wheatsheaf, in the Jarvis Brook area of Crowborough with his wife Becky. It has been in the Guide most years in the last decade, just missing out last year, but re-enters again for 2018. They offer great home cooked food and a wide selection of real ales from Harvey's. Do not miss their famous New Year's Day party!

The New Inn, in the village of Hadlow Down is just as deserving of congratulations. It is back in the Guide for the first time in eighteen years and is unusual for being a rural pub not serving food. The virtually unchanged Victorian pub is included on CAMRA's national inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.

In October the Albatross RAFA Club, Bexhill, was once again voted the Branch Club of the Year. This has become somewhat a regular event with the Albatross winning the national competition and making the top four in previous years. At the time of the presentation it was known that the club had won the Sussex competition and the Regional competition, but it was decided to make those presentations at a time when people from beyond the branch borders would be visiting the club. This took place later in October 2017 and the pictures show the Branch Chair, Area Organiser and Regional Director Chris Stringer making their respective awards. Accepting the awards are Karen, the head steward of the club, and her deputy Peter. Despite past awards filling up the walls, Karen said that she did not take any of them for granted and that the continued appreciation of the club, now up to five handpumps, by CAMRA was very important to them.

In October 2017 the Bull’s Head in Boreham Street was presented with the Branch Community Pub of the Year. Landlord Mike, pictured behind his bar receiving his award, much appreciated this second CAMRA award for the pub. Along with CAMRA, Harvey’s values the work Mike and his staff do in their original tied pub, but which being in a thinly populated area has meant previous landlords have had less success. Mike has placed the pub at the centre of its community and this has generated a loyal bunch of regulars, while the pub’s reputation in the wider area and its campsite have brought the essential extra custom it needs.

November 2017 brought an event which was both sad and celebratory at the same time. After eleven successful years, Roger of the Beachy Head Brewery decided to retire from brewing and in the event has closed the brewery. Fittingly the punters at the Eastbourne Beer Festival the month before voted his beer, Legless Rambler, the overall Beer of the Festival 2017. At the brewery in East Dean at a farewell drink of the award winning beer, invited guests and CAMRA members toasted the brewery and the festival award. The pictures shows Roger outside the now closed brewery, celebrating his award in front of his guests and the Branch Treasurer showing how to pour a half pint.

Because the Branch Pub of the Year was awarded to a town pub, the Branch votes for a second award to a country establishment. Just down the road from the Beachy Head Brewery is its ex brewery tap, the Tiger Inn which is the 2017 recipient of the Branch Rural Pub of the Year. This was awarded at the end of November 2017, the second consecutive year in which this award has been made to the proprietor Rebecca Vasey. The pub offers a selection of six ales from local breweries, from further in Sussex and beyond. Its attractive location in the coastal area of the South Downs and particularly on the corner of the peaceful East Dean village green makes it popular with walkers and car drivers alike.

Finally in 2017 there were beer festival brewery awards to be made to Brass Castle in Malton near York and Oakham in Peterborough which were made in early December 2017 by a group of five branch members. Originating from different areas of the branch, they met up at King’s Cross for the midday train to York and after checking in at their B & B continued on the short journey to Malton. We had a warm welcome from director Phil, operations manager Kev and head brewer Alan. The brewery is a short walk from Malton station; the first two pictures show the group outside it. Brass Castle’s dark beer Bad Kitty won the Beer of the Festival award at Eastbourne 2016 in its debut year at the festival, following this up with the Beer of the Festival (Sussex Exemption) in 2017, picture 3 shows our group with Kev and Alan and the awards and picture 4 Kev and Alan in their brewery. We were given an opportunity to check the quality of Bad Kitting being brewed, (keep it steady Howard), before Kev awarded us one of Brass Castle’s signature emblem plaques for making the journey up to Yorkshire. Returning to York we spent the evening exploring the city centre’s best pubs before turning into our B & B.

After a late breakfast the next morning there was time to return to our favourite York pub of the night before, the Blue Bell for excellent beer and pork pies, a small pub with a fascinating history, where we were again warmly welcomed by the proprietor. A late running train south meant that we had more time in the York Tap at the station than was expected, but also made us late for our next appointment, to meet Nigel, the marketing manager at Oakham Brewery, Peterborough to present the Eastbourne Beer of the Festival (Sussex Exemption) award from 2016 for Green Devil IPA. We had been due to meet him in the Brewery Tap, near the station, but being nearly an hour late meant that Nigel had had to move on to his next appointment, so the manager of the pub accepted the award on his behalf. That being completed, it was a train to London, from where we dispersed back to our home towns.

Visit to Franklins Brewery, Ringmer in December 2017

As it became clear that Franklins Brewery at Pebsham, Bexhill, could no longer keep up with volumes required, beer was being brewed in a number of locations which made things difficult for brewer Steve to keep tabs on everything. So it was imperative that suitable new premises were found quickly. Meanwhile, we in this CAMRA branch were anxious that Franklins should not move too far away, as it is a valued local brewery. So there was slight disappointment with the news that the new premises were to be those vacated by Turners at Ringmer, but relief that the destination was not to be too far out of the branch area. Even better news, because the new host CAMRA branch, Brighton & South Downs, has so many breweries with which to liaise, they asked that Mac, our branch BLO for Franklins, should continue in the role for the foreseeable future, so our close links with the brewery would continue.

As soon as they had moved in, Andrew at the brewery had issued an invitation to the branch for a brewery visit, once everything was installed and organised in the new home in Ringmer. This was confirmed early in Autumn 2017 and once the branch had completed its work at the Winter Garden for the Eastbourne Beer Festival, a trip was arranged for the afternoon of 1st December. It had been thought that the number 28 bus, which makes its way through Lewes on its route to Ringmer’s Broyle Estate, passed the brewery, so for most participants it was suggested that a journey to Lewes, a break in one of the town’s pubs and then a bus journey was the way to go. Just before we went, it was realised that the bus only passed the brewery at certain times and when we needed it, it stopped short, so we ended up with a brisk walk along a grass verge, with one member’s knee ending up a casualty of this final part of the journey.

All this was forgotten when we arrived at the brewery and found that among other beers, we were being treated to a new brew, a dark bitter beer, a combination of the two styles, which was perfect for just before Christmas. Our tour of the brewery gave us an insight into how much work the team had done to update and improve the premises vacated by the previous brewers. Much tidying up had also been done and the bar area built and smartened up. We were interested to hear from Steve about the trials and tribulations of having beer brewed in a variety of locations in the interim, of the work done to improve the brewery and getting the brewing back to a consistent standard once properly settled into the brewery. The new location means that different and larger population centres are in easy reach, but that old accounts are still within range.

All too soon and after some excellent beer and some mutual ‘back slapping’ by Steve on behalf of the brewery and the Branch Chair on behalf of the Branch, both appreciating the efforts of each other, it was time to wend our way home. Those with cars kindly ran a shuttle to get those on the bus back to the bus stop and then those who had not consumed sufficient beer stopped off in Lewes for further sampling. A day enjoyed by all, for which thanks to Steve and the team for giving generously of their time and beer.

Pictures: 1. CAMRA members toasting the brewery. 2. Branch Chair and Brewer toast each other’s organisations. 3. Brewer Steve behind his bar with the brewery scrapbook. 4. Branch Treasurer and Vice Chair find Franklins beer to their liking.

Eastbourne Beer Festival 2017

The fifteenth Eastbourne beer festival was held at the Winter Garden from the 5th to 7th October, it had been expected that there would be no festival this year due to the redevelopment of the Devonshire Park, but a change in schedule means that this will be the case in October 2018 instead. However due to building works this year’s maximum capacity was reduced from 1200 to 1100 people and when it reopens, hopefully in time for October 2019, we do not know how the capacity will have been affected by the redevelopment. The fifteenth Eastbourne beer festival was held at the Winter Garden from the 5th to 7th October, it had been expected that there would be no festival this year due to the redevelopment of the Devonshire Park, but a change in schedule means that this will be the case in October 2018 instead. However due to building works this year’s maximum capacity was reduced from 1200 to 1100 people and when it reopens, hopefully in time for October 2019, we do not know how the capacity will have been affected by the redevelopment.

The total number of tickets sold was 3534, with Friday and Saturday evenings sold out as usual, but fewer people attended on Thursday evening and Saturday lunchtime, meaning about 300 fewer drinkers overall. Less beer was provided, a choice of 160+ ales was reduced to 140+; 9701 pints of beer were consumed and 2456 pints of cider and perry, a drop in the former but an increase in the latter.
The festival accommodation was divided into two, one area having a stage from which bands with a local following perform and the other was a quiet space which accommodating popular pub games such as Toad in the Hole.

Three awards are voted for by those attending. The Beer of the Festival was Legless Rambler, by Beachy Head, the closest brewery to the festival with a keen local following. This was its second such award, but it will be its last, as brewer Roger Green retired in late October and the brewery is no longer operating, the presentation of the award by South East Sussex CAMRA Branch was the last event at the brewery. The Beer of the Festival from a. Sussex Microbrewery was Gun’s Imperial Whisky Stout, a second Eastbourne award for the brewery, but the first for the beer. Gun is at Gun Hill, 14 miles from the festival. The third award, for the best beer brewed outside Sussex, went to Brass Castle, a brewery from Malton in North Yorkshire for its Bad Kitty. This was a second consecutive award for the beer, as it was Beer of the Festival in 2016.

CAMRA holds an annual Champion Beer of Britain competition. Members nationwide vote for their favourite beers in a number of different categories. When the votes are totalled up, the top beers in each region are tasted by panels of judges at various beer festivals. The top two go through to the next round from where the winners are tasted in the final at The Great British Beer Festival in August. A tasting heat was held at Eastbourne, for Bitters up to 4% alcohol by volume. The top two were Old Dairy Brewery’s Red Top, from just over the Kent border in Tenterden, with runners up Reunion’s Opening Gambit, the brewery from Feltham, Middlesex, which was founded in summer 2015.

PoTY Trip 2017

On Saturday 13 May we had our annual minibus excursion to visit the Pubs of the Year (PoTY) of the other four Sussex Branches as our contribution to deciding the overall PoTY for Sussex, for which a standard and detailed CAMRA scoring system is provided, capturing the whole pub experience, not just the beer.

The minibus started at 9.30am from our PoTY, The Tower in St. Leonards, but not before an initial drink there, having persuaded the pub to open very early in honour of this special occasion. Others joined the minibus at Bexhill, Eastbourne and Lewes but had to remain thirsty until nearly 12.00 before we arrived at our first destination, The Inglenook Hotel in Pagham. Various beers were sampled, from the five on offer, all in very good condition. We also enjoyed a very pleasant lunch there, sitting outside in the sunshine. Quite unusual to find a hotel offering such a good range of real ale.

Next up was The Anchor Tap in Horsham, a Dark Star pub. The owner, Horsham Council, wanted very much for the building to be preserved as a pub, rather than being converted to another use as often happens. Consequently after many years as a shoe shop and coffee shop it was reverted back to its original use as a pub in Spring 2016 and now offers 6 hand pumps plus 10 keg taps. Our stay there was shorter but again several of their beers were tried, from the extensive offerings, detailed on the prominent board on the bar wall. However, we stuck to the cask offerings, again finding them all in fine condition.

Traveling back South, we next visited Anchored in Worthing, a micro pub just off the sea front. By now it was middle to late afternoon and we made our selections from the three or four ever changing local Sussex beers. Not surprisingly, for a Saturday afternoon, it was standing room only but we weren’t bothered as conversation flowed freely between everyone there. There is no bar as such but the owner, Nigel, provided a very efficient waiter service from the casks in the back room. Again the beers were in very good form.

Our final pub was the Brighton Beer Dispensary. There are 9 hand pumps, 6 for beer and the others for cider. In addition there are 9 keg taps. Another very good beer choice but this time national as well as local and for the location, very reasonably priced. All beers tried were pronounced in very good condition and it was with some regret that we finally left the last pub on our trip. Thanks to our guest Barry for taking the photo as we waited for the minibus.

Particular thanks goes to Bill for organising the day and the transport and also to our driver Brian. He not only managed to negotiate narrow side streets and drop us off outside most of the pubs (only exception being Horsham where we had to walk all of 100 yards through a pedestrian precinct) but also drove nearly 200 miles in the process. We now await the results from the other four Sussex Branches before learning the overall Sussex PoTY.

Battle Brewery open day and formal opening

The first official open day was Saturday 25th February. Very many people came to the brewery, to have a taste, chat and to buy the first production batches of Conquest and Abbey Pale. The pilot porter brew, that Greg was brewing during the day, is progressing well and should be ready for sampling early April. Keep an eye on the brewery site for info. The brewery is open every Saturday from 10.00 to 3.00, plus there is an on-line shop via their site, The two pictures are of Greg, the brewer, with Mac McCutcheon, CAMRA brewery liaison officer.

On Friday 3 March, Huw Merriman MP, Battle Mayor David Furness and Mac McCutcheon officially opened the brewery. Huw, David and Mac all enjoyed the samples on offer before Huw and Mac cut the black ribbon across the doors. David Furness said, "What a wonderful business to have in Battle, marking the history of our Town, with such a special product. The beer, both the Conquest and Abbey Pale brews are wonderful and I am sure will a first choice for customers when buying a truly great beer, with a wonderful provenance. I know that this Business will go from strength to strength and I wish the owners the very best of luck in the future".