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Hurst Brewery Interview: Getting Back to the Point

I was scrolling through Instagram before Christmas when I came across Hurst Brewery for the first time. Intrigued by the contrast between their nostalgic yellowing photographs of horse-drawn drays and the sleek modern branding, I wondered how this Sussex brewery had remained under our beer-dar for so long.

We made it our mission to try some of their beers, and then conducted a socially distanced e-mail interview with Hurst’s Co-owner and Head Brewer Duncan Lane to find out more about them.

Hurst Brewery is new to us. So for anyone else who hasn’t heard of Hurst, tell us a bit about it, and about you as owner.

I’m Duncan Lane and my wife Fleur and I bought the Hurst brand back in September 2017.  The brewery was up for sale, but the premises was part of a pub and being sold on.  As a long-time Hurstpierpoint family it seemed a shame to us that the village might lose the brewery and the history that had been reinvigorated by the current owners.

The premises weren’t fixed so we brew out of Goldmark Brewery in Worthing. We have our fermenter there, and they give us the flexibility to brew when we need to and store our casks. They have been really supportive to our set-up and it’s nice to have the camaraderie when you’re a solo brewer. As a Cask-only business we produce the more traditional ales, and focus on consistently producing our core range so customers always know what to expect from us.

 

Who does what?

For the past three years I have been a one-man band, however since July 2020 my wife Fleur has joined me. I do the majority of the brewing and run the production side of things and all pub sales/deliveries. Fleur has taken up the operations side of things, all social media, off licence/direct sales and deliveries – and keeps me in check.

 

We noticed on your bottles that the brewery dates back to 1862. That must make it one of the oldest breweries in the region. Can you give us a brief history?

The original Hurst Brewery was established in 1862, operating out of Cuckfield Road, Hurstpierpoint. Unitl 1884 it was run by George Thomas Saltmarsh, who chose the Cuckfield Road site because it was considered to be the source of the best spring water in the area. In the 1920s the brewery building became a cheese factory before ownership passed to sports manufacturer Slazenger. In 2012 The Hurst Brewery name was revived by the Hurstpierpoint Brewing Co. Ltd., 150 years after the original brewery opened. We took over the brand in 2017, and think it is a nice little piece of village life – part of the history of brewing in Sussex.

 

Quite a lot about the brand is the history and local nostalgia, yet you cuckoo brew elsewhere. Are there plans to get the brewing back to premises in Hurstpierpoint in the future?

We are desperate to bring the whole business back to the village. Unfortunately the premises were no longer available when we purchased the micro, so to maintain the brand we had to look for alternatives. We would love to see the business grow enough to be a bigger part of community, be brewing sustainably and employing local people. To encourage the next generation into the industry would be great too – that’s our long-term goal. Covid has definitely slowed this process, but hopefully aftyer the pandemic we can push forward and refocus.

 

You mentioned you’re cask only. Can you take us through the core range…

We inherited several recipes but have chosen to focus on five in our core traditional cask range:

 

Hurst 700 (3.8%) – Initially brewed to mark the 700th anniversary of Edward II granting a charter for the village’s annual St Lawrence Fair, one of the longest-established village fairs in the country. Hurst 700 is a classic, hoppy, blonde ale, 100% session beer, available seven days a week. Boasting light floral, citrus and herbal notes, with a satisfying mouthfeel, it’s a definite thirst-quencher!

 

Founders (4.2%) – Our signature ale and named in honour of the brewery’s forefather, George Saltmarsh. It’s a dark, amber beer that is triple hopped over a malty base, delivering subtle orange and caramel flavours. A firm local favourite.

 

Keepers Gold (4.4%) – This celebrates the tradition of bee-keeping along the South Downs. Hurst lovingly care for their queen bees to deliver a burnished golden ale with hints of
grapefruit, citrus and of course a subtle infusion of Hurstpierpoint honey. A delicately balanced malt profile makes this our go-to beer at the end of a long day.

 

Watchtower (5.5%) – Our year-round London Porter. It’s a strong, dark beer with a distinctive, earthy bitterness, created by intensely roasted malted barleys and generous helpings of traditional English hops. These flavours are complemented by a warming late-hop profile, characterised by winter spice and resinous wood, all
topped-off with a rich, coffee-coloured head. Delicious.

 

Old Acquaintance (6.6%) – Our take on the classic Old ale which provides warmth and vitality through the cold months. It’s a full-bodied beer exploding with myriad flavours including dark fruits, currants, sherry and toffee. This Old ale pulls no punches and is the perfect companion through the long dark winter nights.

 

Are you keeping your beer recipes and ingredients traditional to original recipes, or have you made modern tweaks?

For the most part we do use traditional ingredients and methods in line with our core flavour range. Where possible we use English grains and hops. In 2012, when the brewery was rebooted, the current recipes were developed in line with the nature of the brews. Unfortunately we don’t have any recipe-related historic information, but would be keen to hear if anyone does.

 

There are so many breweries across Sussex now. Does it feel like a crowded market to you, or is there always room for newcomers?

It’s not just Sussex – it’s a nationally crowded market: from micro, through bigger brew houses, to the commercial big boys and all their subsidiaries. We sit in a niche market of traditional ales and predominantly cask, but there is definitely a lot of competition in the more modern progressive styles.

 

What would you say is special about Hurst beers?

We strive to consistently produce the same great flavours we have established over the last few years.  Our customers know that when they come back to us to get their favourite bitter or porter, we can guarantee it will taste like it should every time. Seasonal offerings are great, but day-in, day-out we deliver traditional Hurst.

 

On your website you mention being a member of SIBA. What is that, and what are the membership benefits to a small brewer? What does it mean to be truly ‘independent’?

SIBA is the Society of Independent Brewers.  It gives us a collective voice and an opportunity to share experience and pool resources. Examples of this are the way we are collectively challenging the government to reassess the small brewers duty relief, and giving a voice to lobby the government over Covid-related restrictions and legislation impacting ourselves and our customers. It is regionalised, but also a national body. Competing and judging in its beer competitions also gives some peer-to-peer feedback.

For us, being independent means we can be flexible and creative, and dance to the beat of our own tracks.  There are no men in glass towers telling us what to do and how to go about things – it’s all on us.

 

There doesn’t seem to be an online shop on the website. How can people get hold of your beers, or do you sell exclusively into pubs?

Historically we have been cask centric and therefore a pub offering. However we have had limited runs of bottles, something we focused on later in 2020 after a relaunch of the brand, to bring the five flavours to the market in 500ml bottles for off-sales.  We have recently opened an online shop (https://hurst-brewery-ltd.square.site/ ) with ‘cask to customer’, offering a range of vessels from 1 litre upwards with free local delivery (there’s a small surcharge for greater Sussex). We think it’s important to still be connected in our community and provide a service to real ale enthusiasts in these tough times. A new website is due to be launched any day now at www.hurstbrewery.co.uk which will grow to be a platform for both on and off sales.

 

Can we find Hurst brewery beers in Brighton & Hove pubs (in normal times)?

In ‘normal’ times we can be found in the more traditional ‘free houses’.  We have endeavoured to get involved with the Micropub scene as we think they really offer a great selection of local ales and appeal to our customer base.  It’s been exciting to see the growth in this area along the south coast, and Sussex has benefited greatly.

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Hurst Brewery Interview: Getting Back to the Point

I was scrolling through Instagram before Christmas when I came across Hurst Brewery for the first time. Intrigued by the contrast between their nostalgic yellowing photographs of horse-drawn drays and the sleek modern branding, I wondered how this Sussex brewery had remained under our beer-dar for so long.

We made it our mission to try some of their beers, and then conducted a socially distanced e-mail interview with Hurst’s Co-owner and Head Brewer Duncan Lane to find out more about them.

 

Hurst Brewery is new to us. So for anyone else who hasn’t heard of Hurst, tell us a bit about it, and about you as owner.

I’m Duncan Lane and my wife Fleur and I bought the Hurst brand back in September 2017.  The brewery was up for sale, but the premises was part of a pub and being sold on.  As a long-time Hurstpierpoint family it seemed a shame to us that the village might lose the brewery and the history that had been reinvigorated by the current owners.

The premises weren’t fixed so we brew out of Goldmark Brewery in Worthing. We have our fermenter there, and they give us the flexibility to brew when we need to and store our casks. They have been really supportive to our set-up and it’s nice to have the camaraderie when you’re a solo brewer. As a Cask-only business we produce the more traditional ales, and focus on consistently producing our core range so customers always know what to expect from us.

 

Who does what?

For the past three years I have been a one-man band, however since July 2020 my wife Fleur has joined me. I do the majority of the brewing and run the production side of things and all pub sales/deliveries. Fleur has taken up the operations side of things, all social media, off licence/direct sales and deliveries – and keeps me in check.

 

We noticed on your bottles that the brewery dates back to 1862. That must make it one of the oldest breweries in the region. Can you give us a brief history?

The original Hurst Brewery was established in 1862, operating out of Cuckfield Road, Hurstpierpoint. Unitl 1884 it was run by George Thomas Saltmarsh, who chose the Cuckfield Road site because it was considered to be the source of the best spring water in the area. In the 1920s the brewery building became a cheese factory before ownership passed to sports manufacturer Slazenger. In 2012 The Hurst Brewery name was revived by the Hurstpierpoint Brewing Co. Ltd., 150 years after the original brewery opened. We took over the brand in 2017, and think it is a nice little piece of village life – part of the history of brewing in Sussex.

 

Quite a lot about the brand is the history and local nostalgia, yet you cuckoo brew elsewhere. Are there plans to get the brewing back to premises in Hurstpierpoint in the future?

We are desperate to bring the whole business back to the village. Unfortunately the premises were no longer available when we purchased the micro, so to maintain the brand we had to look for alternatives. We would love to see the business grow enough to be a bigger part of community, be brewing sustainably and employing local people. To encourage the next generation into the industry would be great too – that’s our long-term goal. Covid has definitely slowed this process, but hopefully aftyer the pandemic we can push forward and refocus.

 

You mentioned you’re cask only. Can you take us through the core range…

We inherited several recipes but have chosen to focus on five in our core traditional cask range:

 

Hurst 700 (3.8%) – Initially brewed to mark the 700th anniversary of Edward II granting a charter for the village’s annual St Lawrence Fair, one of the longest-established village fairs in the country. Hurst 700 is a classic, hoppy, blonde ale, 100% session beer, available seven days a week. Boasting light floral, citrus and herbal notes, with a satisfying mouthfeel, it’s a definite thirst-quencher!

 

Founders (4.2%) – Our signature ale and named in honour of the brewery’s forefather, George Saltmarsh. It’s a dark, amber beer that is triple hopped over a malty base, delivering subtle orange and caramel flavours. A firm local favourite.

 

Keepers Gold (4.4%) – This celebrates the tradition of bee-keeping along the South Downs. Hurst lovingly care for their queen bees to deliver a burnished golden ale with hints of
grapefruit, citrus and of course a subtle infusion of Hurstpierpoint honey. A delicately balanced malt profile makes this our go-to beer at the end of a long day.

 

Watchtower (5.5%) – Our year-round London Porter. It’s a strong, dark beer with a distinctive, earthy bitterness, created by intensely roasted malted barleys and generous helpings of traditional English hops. These flavours are complemented by a warming late-hop profile, characterised by winter spice and resinous wood, all
topped-off with a rich, coffee-coloured head. Delicious.

 

Old Acquaintance (6.6%) – Our take on the classic Old ale which provides warmth and vitality through the cold months. It’s a full-bodied beer exploding with myriad flavours including dark fruits, currants, sherry and toffee. This Old ale pulls no punches and is the perfect companion through the long dark winter nights.

 

Are you keeping your beer recipes and ingredients traditional to original recipes, or have you made modern tweaks?

For the most part we do use traditional ingredients and methods in line with our core flavour range. Where possible we use English grains and hops. In 2012, when the brewery was rebooted, the current recipes were developed in line with the nature of the brews. Unfortunately we don’t have any recipe-related historic information, but would be keen to hear if anyone does.

 

There are so many breweries across Sussex now. Does it feel like a crowded market to you, or is there always room for newcomers?

It’s not just Sussex – it’s a nationally crowded market: from micro, through bigger brew houses, to the commercial big boys and all their subsidiaries. We sit in a niche market of traditional ales and predominantly cask, but there is definitely a lot of competition in the more modern progressive styles.

 

What would you say is special about Hurst beers?

We strive to consistently produce the same great flavours we have established over the last few years.  Our customers know that when they come back to us to get their favourite bitter or porter, we can guarantee it will taste like it should every time. Seasonal offerings are great, but day-in, day-out we deliver traditional Hurst.

 

On your website you mention being a member of SIBA. What is that, and what are the membership benefits to a small brewer? What does it mean to be truly ‘independent’?

SIBA is the Society of Independent Brewers.  It gives us a collective voice and an opportunity to share experience and pool resources. Examples of this are the way we are collectively challenging the government to reassess the small brewers duty relief, and giving a voice to lobby the government over Covid-related restrictions and legislation impacting ourselves and our customers. It is regionalised, but also a national body. Competing and judging in its beer competitions also gives some peer-to-peer feedback.

For us, being independent means we can be flexible and creative, and dance to the beat of our own tracks.  There are no men in glass towers telling us what to do and how to go about things – it’s all on us.

 

There doesn’t seem to be an online shop on the website. How can people get hold of your beers, or do you sell exclusively into pubs?

Historically we have been cask centric and therefore a pub offering. However we have had limited runs of bottles, something we focused on later in 2020 after a relaunch of the brand, to bring the five flavours to the market in 500ml bottles for off-sales.  We have recently opened an online shop (https://hurst-brewery-ltd.square.site/ ) with ‘cask to customer’, offering a range of vessels from 1 litre upwards with free local delivery (there’s a small surcharge for greater Sussex). We think it’s important to still be connected in our community and provide a service to real ale enthusiasts in these tough times. A new website is due to be launched any day now at www.hurstbrewery.co.uk which will grow to be a platform for both on and off sales.

 

Can we find Hurst brewery beers in Brighton & Hove pubs (in normal times)?

In ‘normal’ times we can be found in the more traditional ‘free houses’.  We have endeavoured to get involved with the Micropub scene as we think they really offer a great selection of local ales and appeal to our customer base.  It’s been exciting to see the growth in this area along the south coast, and Sussex has benefited greatly.

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Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *