With roots extending back to the 18th century, today Harvey’s Brewery (Harvey’s) is renowned across southern England for its great beer, fine wine and sound business principles
Priding itself on serving its local area, nearly all of Harvey’s Brewery (Harvey’s) business is undertaken within 60km of the brewery. However, the business has also branched out through distribution channels and is now being stocked in restaurants such as Bills, helping to introduce its delicious and interesting beers to a new audience further afield.
Today Harvey’s employs over 75 people in the brewery, but remains a family business, with a member of the eighth generation still firmly involved with the operation. The term ‘eighth generation’ gives a good indication of the long history that Harvey’s can look back upon – records dating back to the 1790s are where the first mentions of a John Harvey and wine trading are reported in Sussex. Over the decades that followed its foundation, the company went through not only growth and development, but also some tumultuous times. However, thanks to some critical business decisions and inspired recruitment undertaken in the 1920s, Harvey’s survival and long-term prosperity were assured, and the firm revived its fortunes.
It is primarily its traditional cask ales that have made a name for Harvey’s throughout the south east of England – these ales are unpasteurised and are known as the ‘champagne of beers’. Sussex Best is the company’s most famous beer, and it is described as ‘a superbly balanced bitter with prominent hop character’. Finest Maris Otter malted barley is supplemented with a dash of Crystal malt for balance, while the hops are a blend of four different local varieties, to give a distinctive hoppy finish. The beer has won the Champion Best Bitter of Britain title at CAMRA’s Great British Beers Festival twice, recognising the success of Harvey’s approach of selecting only the finest raw materials and combining them with unique ‘local’ conditions, and creating the final beer within a traditional brew-house environment. Alongside Sussex Best, Harvey’s cask ale range also includes Armada Ale, Wild Hop, IPA, Dark Mild and Old Ale, as well as a range of Seasonal Draught Brews – each available for roughly a month.
Alongside cask beers, Harvey’s also offers keg beers, with these being reintroduced to the range in 2016 after a 15-year absence. “We wanted to make a range of new brews that people wouldn’t necessarily expect to see from Harvey’s but that still maintained our reputation for producing quality beers,” spokesman Bob Trimm explained. Two beers, Gold Bier and Malt Brown, were the beginning of the new keg offering, with Black Stout and Wharf IPA also now added alongside them. “As a company with a 226-year history we’ve always kept evolving, while ensuring we maintained our integrity and passion for producing world-beating beers,” added Bob.
Investing in the future
The investment in the kegging line was made alongside additional spending on the in-house bottling line, which means that 26 of Harvey’s beers are now available in bottled format. While the beers’ taste is what makes them exceptional, in order stand out on the shelf and tempt customers to put them to the test, Harvey’s has created particularly eye-catching labels, which have become renowned for their individual designs. In a clever move to appeal to beer fans, the company is now even able to create bespoke labels for customers who wish to custom design a beer label for themselves, a loved one or a particular event.
Indeed, special events are an area where Harvey’s is adding value to its business, and as part of this philosophy it has created its own Harvey’s ‘Hop Bar’ mobile bar units, which are now available to hire for events and functions. The Hop Bars are finished to an extremely high specification with oak topped bar and shelving throughout, and all dispense equipment built into the units.
It is clear that beer is at the heart of Harvey’s operation, but it is by no means the only string to the company’s bow. It also owns 49 public houses in London and the South East operated under tenancy, and while its Tied Estate Houses are run independently, they benefit from Harvey’s reputation within the community. Harvey’s thinks of its tenants as freelance ambassadors, and has expectations that the highest quality standards will be maintained at all times.
The business is also a Fine Wine merchant, selling a selection of carefully sourced wines from around the world. In fact, its origins are in the wine trade, and following two centuries of unbroken experience in this area, Harvey’s today offers wines from some of the most prestigious traditional estates of Europe and an excellent range of bottles from around £6.
It sources small amounts of well-crafted wine direct from a small producer and endeavours to find stocks of characteristic local styles or regional grape varieties. This philosophy means it can offer great value (at every price level) because the wine comes directly from the winemaker without the profit margins of ‘middle men’.
Finally, Harvey’s also wholesales factored drinks brands to the licensed trade, and sells its ales, wines and a wide selection of premium and unusual spirits through its shop in Lewes and online.
Multiple award winners
The Harvey’s motto is that ‘we are only as good as our last pint’ – given the company’s string of award wins in 2017, it seems a safe assumption that its last pint was extremely good! In September, Harvey’s was named ‘Best UK Brewer’ at the International Beer Challenge finals, and a month earlier it gained seven awards at the World Beer Awards 2017, as well as five awards, including four golds and one silver, at the British Bottler’s Institute 2017 competition. Furthermore, in July, Harvey’s and Burning Sky Brewery’s collaborative brew, Anglezarke IPA, was awarded CAMRA’s ‘Beer of the Festival’ accolade at the South Downs Beer and Cider Festival 2017.
This impressive list of references is a reflection of the skills of the team at Harvey’s, with individual members also receiving recognition – for example, Joint Managing Director and Master Brewer Miles Jenner was installed as Master of the Brewers Company in 2015, which is a highly prestigious award, and as Miles stated at the time, is a ‘tremendous honour’.
Given its history, team and achievements, Harvey’s credentials as an extraordinary brewing company cannot be denied. As a member of the British Beer & Pub Association 41(BBPA) and the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (IFBB) it upholds not only its own standards but recognised industry standards. It even has a Royal connection, with a visit from the Queen in 2013 highlighting its importance to the UK market. This reputation is continuously maintained by a vigilant machinery replacement policy and a dedication to continuous improvement – for example, Harvey’s is looking to move further forward into the canned beer market in the future.
After an extensive rebranding exercise in 2016, Harvey’s is set to enter 2018 with a solidly established new look, and a passion and drive to continue to deliver outstanding products to both existing customers and a new generation of drinkers. Proud of its heritage, but with a modern and forward looking approach, Harvey’s is looking forward to its next two centuries of brewing.