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John Simpson's review of the
2006 Festival

The 29th Festival will be held on Fri 22nd - Sat 23rd March 2019 once again at Brighton Racecourse.

[This article originally appeared in John Simpson's Beer News monthly email - you can sign up for it on his World of Beers website]

This was an excellent Festival and well organised. We particularly appreciated there being a 'Sussex bar' where the products of the county were all assembled in one room. We aim to work our way round the local brewers but this made the task easier, in that they were all in one place, and harder, insofar as there were too many to tackle in one session. This meant we spent the entire time (11.00-15.00) in the Sussex bar and we still had to make some hard decisions on which of 60 local brews to sample. These are some of the beers we encountered. You will see that many were deserving of our 4-tick status (out of a maximum and rarely awarded 5). With several of the established breweries gaining classic status, and the newcomers showing enormous promise, Sussex today is a great place for beer!

Custom Beers of Haywards Heath

For students of brewing history this company should make a nice case study for a PhD thesis and you can start your research using various links within the quaffale website.

It seems that everything started in 1994 when Peter Skinner and Peter Halliday set up a small brewery in the cellar of their pub, The Evening Star, Brighton - at that time they called it Skinners Ales (not to be confused with Skinners Cornish brewery in Truro). In 1995 they were joined by Rob Jones - he was formerly with the Pitfield Brewery (and just to add to the confusion Custom Beers are currently brewing for Pitfield while the latter tries to get new premises!). This new partnership was called the Dark Star Brewing Company and over time the Skinners name was dropped. In 2000 Peter Skinner left the partnership and set up Skinners Custom Brews using the Rectory Ales brewery but production was halted in 2001. Meanwhile the Dark Star brewery set up a larger plant at Ansty and by 2002 all their production was concentrated there. Peter Skinner now brews as Custom Beers (based in Haywards Heath quite close to the Dark Star brewery). Custom Beers started operations in February 2005 yet already has an impressive list of beers to their credit which you can see here. If you can order in sufficient quantity, Mr Skinner will brew beers to order for you. So now we've seen a brief history, let's get on to the beers...

  • Custom Beers - Chinook 4.2%
    This one uses Chinook hops giving a rather different aroma and taste but still leaving a good hoppy bitterness in the taste and finish. We didn't think this reached classic status, so it got 3.5 ticks, but I've included it here because of its individual nature. If you see it, try it, and it may well grow on you.
  • Custom Beers - Dark Roast Porter 5.5%
    This traditional dark porter caused a lot of confusion for the Festival organisers. The printed programme and the sign on the cask was initially 'Honey Porter' and the programme notes assured us it was 'tempered with the addition of honey'. However when the brewer turned up he categorically denied that any honey was added and the cask label was quickly changed to read 'Dark Roast Porter'. When we tried it, we could understand where the confusion arose, as there was a distinct impression of honey in the aftertaste, and this was confirmed by others at our table who tried it. Well, however it's done, Mr Skinner has produced a very nice beer which merits 4 ticks.

Dark Star Brewing Company []

See above for the history of this company which has won lots of CAMRA awards in its short life. Now a confession: considering we are just a short train ride from Brighton, and the Dark Star's brewery tap, the Evening Star is very close to the station, I'm ashamed to say we've never been there, although we have been consistently impressed with all the Dark Star beers we have encountered at festivals. However, it looks like Dark Star is coming to us as they have very obligingly taken over the Duke of Wellington pub in Shoreham so a trip there is a must for the near future.

  • Dark Star - Oatmeal Stout 4.5%
    A nice dense black colour, it's a rich, smooth drink with caramel and liquorice flavours and a good bitterness in the aftertaste. No question, 4 ticks.
  • Dark Star - Nut Brown Ale 4.5%
    Another Dark Star offering which we just had to try. It is a traditional ale with a nice mid-brown colour and nicely balanced malt and hops in the flavour. Another member of the 4 ticks club.

Other Beers Tried

  • 1648 Brewery - Ginger Nol 4.7% []
    This is one of their 6 seasonal beers, being on offer from November to March, and it's a nice winter drink combining smoked malted barley with fresh root ginger - both tastes are discernible individually and yet blend well. Definitely 4 ticks.
  • FILO (First In Last Out) - Cardinal 4.4% []
    We had heard of this Hastings brewpub and were keen to try their products. The website has a nice write up of their brewery, ingredients and procedures. We agreed with their description of Cardinal as 'a dark porter with burnt caramel malt and dry finish' although we didn't pick up the 'coffee' flavour in the finish. A pleasant drink, above competent but not quite special enough for 4, so it got 3.5 ticks.
  • FILO (First In Last Out) - Ginger Tom 4.4%
    Having enjoyed 1648's ginger offering we looked forward to trying this but found it disappointing. The ginger was evident in the aroma but the body was thin, and the ginger flavours were, to say the least, unsubtle. With our background of Belgian beers we are open minded about the practice of flavouring beers, having met some classics of the style. However, trying this one gives you some sympathy with the views of those who say 'Why add anything to beer?' It just made 2.5 ticks
  • Gribble - Pigs Ear 5.8% []
    From the website: 'A fuller bodied Old Ale with a rich ruby brown colour, brewed from a well researched old traditional recipe, which has been handed down from father to son'. The colour is good and although we found the aftertaste did not linger long, it's very refreshing for a beer of this type, and we thought it worth 3.5 ticks.
  • Hammerpot - Madgwick Gold 5.0% []
    Hammerpot only started in August 2005 and we encountered Red Hunter, the second beer they produced, at the Worthing Beer Festival. We gave that one 3.5 ticks and said 'If Hammerpot can continue to produce beers of this quality they will be a force to be reckoned with'. With Madgwick Gold, which received its first outing at the Sussex Beer Festival, they can only enhance their reputation. It is a golden ale, with intriguing flavours of citrus and hints of spice. It is a very easy drinking and refreshing beer, and is an excellent addition to their range, well desrving 4 tick status.

We had a very pleasant session at Hove, enhanced by good company. We were pleased to see Stephen Wallace and Emma, who introduced us to Roy who has the task of arranging the 200+ beers for the Festival. We had also arranged to meet up with Rob Beer, who we had previously encountered only in cyberspace, in the Belgian beer discussion group. One of Rob's main interests is collecting beer cans, for which he frequently visits Japan, so we were delighted to pick up some tips from his experiences over there. And if you'd like to know everything there is to know about the art and science of beer cans, check out Rob's website at

Thanks to John Simpson for kindly allowing us to reproduce this article



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