I had a lovely day out last Saturday with E. In London for the Beer Writers thrash and with some spare time on our hands and the rail strikes on Southern settled, we went to Lewes for the day - a long time ambition of mine - though E had done some work for the local council there, had been several times, so would be my guide.
The first surprise after a surprisingly long journey from Victoria is how steep the hill is between the station which lies below the town and the town itself. I found that out in a most unwelcome way, as my bad knee literally gave way on the one in ten gradient, or whatever this North Face of the Eiger alike, was. (It is bothering me still on stairs if nothing else.) After planting my nation's flag on the summit, we explored a bit. A long, quaint High St, dotted with individual businesses both to left and right, so on E's recommendation we went left until the town more or less ran out, noting a couple of decent pubs on the way. E explained the more modern part of the town - and that is very relative as it all was entirely delightful - was at the bottom of another steep hill, as was Harvey's Brewery.
After a look at the castle - which dated back to Norman times - of course I didn't pay to go in - £17 my arse - we set off for the bottom of the town down another fearsome hill to admire the brewery and take the customary photo. Very picturesque, but a drink was required, Harvey's of course. A handy sign pointed us to the equally picturesque (both in looks and setting) of the John Harvey, Harvey's Brewery Tap. That'll do very nicely. As we approached on a cold but sunny day, I noticed that the hardy outside drinkers had plastic glasses. I assumed that was because of outdoor drinking and its fleeting mark on my conscious mind was dismissed. Inside the pub is a delight. Low ceilinged, lots of wood, a bar with both hand pumped and gravity fed beer and a good buzz of conversation. I looked at the pumps. "A pint of Mild please" quoth I. Mine host, a cheerful young fellow replied "Is a plastic glass OK?" I'd rather not said I. He looked a bit embarrassed and replied that it was all plastic glasses. Hmm. Now I dislike plastic glasses intensely. I dislike even more those that are so flimsy you need to carry them with two hands. I politely declined and we left. For me it was a point of principle.
Settled comfortably in the Dorset round the corner with a pint of Sussex Pale in a proper glass, we wondered what the reason could be. Now Brighton, just down the road were playing Liverpool at home and we had see the odd Brighton fan waiting for a bus or walking about, but none were in the John Harvey, which frankly was rather a posh gaff with rather a posh clientele. Surely that couldn't be it? Bloodshed, or the potential for it there, seemed highly unlikely and we hadn't seen and didn't see a single policeman in the whole time we were there. A mystery.
After a bit of light shopping and a few more pubs - all of which were served in glass - we made our way to station and a last pint or two. Our destination, just across from the station was the Lansdown Arms, a proper bustling pub of character. It was heaving with returning Brighton fans, still groggy after a good hammering. We found a seat and got into conversation with two philsohical supporters of a similar age to ourselves. We asked about the John Harvey as we supped our beer, again from a proper glass. They didn't know why there was plastic either.
I recommend Lewes highly. We enjoyed the Dorset, even more theeclectically decorated Snowdrop, our "tea" in the Brewer's Arms - a splendid throwback to the seventies in every way including the menu - a quick visit to the old fashioned Rights of Man and our final pints in the Lansdown Arms, but the John Harvey left a note of disappointment which still lingers.
Plastic glasses in a brewery's showcase pub? I don't think so.
The pubs in Lewes are old fashioned in a really good way, though I have to say that the Harveys seemed better in the Royal Oak in Borough. We bought some fancy cheese and E, a devotee of Seasalt, Cornwall, a pair of trousers. Everybody happy then.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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