Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Hastings Brewery Club

The first meeting for Real Ale aficionados

Hastings has hops history! Did you know that hops first came to Hastings from France in 1524? Good old Henry V111. Or that King George 111 had to sleep with his head on a pillow of hops as part of his treatment? No wonder he was mad. Joe Fearn went to the first meeting of the Hastings Brewery Club to find out more – and to get a sneaky pre-taste of the Hastings Brewery Porter before it hits the pubs.

Andy Mason of Hastings Brewery talks Hops

I wasn’t only there for the beer! There was also a presentation by Andy Mason of Hastings Brewery on “That pernicious weed the hop”. We dutifully accepted our free sample (in the name of journalism of course) and learnt about the history of hop growing in England, how hops & hop gardens have been described since Victorian times, the uses of hops past & present, and hop growing in Hastings. There was also an opportunity to touch, smell, and taste the hops in use in the Brewery. After the talk, Hastings intrepid real ale fans were tested on their new-found knowledge about all things hops in a quiz.

So what did I learn? Well, for one thing, hops is used primarily to give the beer a bitter taste, hence “A pint of bitter”. Before hops, the British drank Ale, a malt beverage, which often (but not always) had a sweet taste. It was thick and cloudy and had to be brewed frequently, and did not last long.

Not many people know this, but most beers actually contain animal products – typically a fish derivative called isinglass. Vegetarians will be pleased that Hastings Brewery contains no such additives; all Hastings Brewery beers are made without the use of animal products, meaning that they’re suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.  In 1603, in the reign of James the 1st, an act was passed with severe penalties for the use of ‘spoilt and adulterated hops’.

A fact that tickled my fancy, was that speculators used to regularly gamble on hops, trying to out-guess the government tax duty on hop production. Two quotes from those heady days read “Many a Kentish man has been ruined by hop gambling”. And “The gambling agents in the Wen make the bets for the gamblers in the country; and, perhaps, millions are betted during the year, upon the amount of duty.” This was in the year 1823! It makes my occasional flutter in the bookies look decidedly tame.

There was ample time afterwards to buy a pint or two of Hastings Ales at the White Rock Hotel bar, where I talked to fellow drinkers about the new beers and to the people responsible for the very nice Hastings Porter, the hoppy dark brew in my hand. The beer was taking effect (ABV 4.5%) so I don’t recall who said what now that I’m consulting my just legible notes. A spokesperson told me:

“We’re now able to produce around 22 casks of beer per brew, which is small for a brewery, (about 1400 pints!)  but large enough to run a commercial operation. We sell our ales to pubs within 15 miles of the brewery in St Leonards-on-Sea – think Hastings, Eastbourne, Battle, Robertsbridge, Rye, and the countryside around.”

The two beers launched at The White Rock Hotel have now joined the permanent selection, and Hastings Special Bitter is a strong, warming bitter. I liked that one equally as well as the porter. All Hastings Brewery beers so far have been created by Brett Ross, the head brewer. Andy Mason helps run the brewery side; Kim Clarke is in charge of admin and sales; and Pete Mason does marketing, and runs the business side of things.

Interestingly, Hastings Brewery is powered by 100% renewable energy. Plus they are looking at reusing more and more waste products, from heat to yeast, from spent grain to waste water.


The Future

Although they will always be called Hastings Brewery, the real ale entrepreneurs are looking at a new logo, and a new image. Now that the core range of session ales has been established, they’ll soon be looking to experiment with beers that are a bit, well, different. They are looking across the Atlantic for inspiration from what my source described as “The fantastic, vibrant US craft beer scene.” (Oo-er!). So expect some new beers that’ll be stronger, hoppier, and sometimes using ingredients that you don’t often see in UK ales.

The next Hastings Brewery Club sampling night is planned for March. Check out the Hastings Brewery website for news of the date and venue.


Posted 16:54 Thursday, Feb 2, 2012 In: Food & Drink

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