We Brightonians have a proud reputation as a thirsty lot and need little more than the briefest excuse to partake in a beverage or two. Next week is the 26th Sussex Beer Festival (17-19 March), our annual seaside-style Oktoberfest held at the Brighton Corn Exchange showcasing hundreds of beers, ciders and perrys from the UK and the rest of the world. But before you brush it off as an event for real ale bores, thanks to a stratospheric rise in Britain’s craft beer scene, the festival is no longer the domain of the old, bold and beardy, and attracts a lively crowd of beer hounds who come for the excellent beers and loud, cheery atmosphere.
Tickets start at £5 for a lunchtime session (usually slightly less raucous than the evenings) and include a festival programme, a souvenir glass and access to hundreds of different ales, stouts, IPAs, American Pale Ales and a handful of ciders and perrys all at very reasonable prices. Every year, the festival tickets sell out in record time; however, the organisers also release a number of tickets on the door for each session.
Fear not if you miss out, though; you can sample Brighton’s ever-growing craft beer scene 365 days a year. In fact, Sussex is renowned as a county of serious ale lovers and is home to more than 60 breweries from the Grand Master, Harvey’s of Lewes, our oldest independent brewery, to the Brighton Bier Company in Kemp Town, one of the city’s many independent craft set-ups.
One of the first in the UK to start brewing big flavoursome American-style beers, was the Dark Star Brewer, a true pioneer in Brighton’s beer scene. It started in the cellar of the Evening Star pub back in 1994, when after a trip to the States, the now-chairman, Peter Halliday, smuggled back a suitcase of American hops determined to brew his own. The result was the award-winning Dark Star Original, the former Champion Beer of Britain.
Now owned by the brewery, The Evening Star on Surrey Street has since become a Mecca for ale fans and has around 11 cask and keg ales on offer at any one time, while Dark Star’s raging success has spurred a number of tiny craft breweries to open all across the city.
Another favourite beer haunt is the cosy, spit-and-sawdust-style Brighton Beer Dispensary on Dean Street. A collaboration between the London-based Late Knights Brewery and our home-grown Brighton Bier Company, it serves up an excellent selection of up-and-coming craft beers, plus a couple of label-less mystery barrels as a boozy lucky dip.
While East Street, situated just steps from our famous pebbled beach, is fast becoming craft beer central. The Bison Beer Crafthouse, a craft beer bottle shop which also offers growlers (1.9l flasks) of local draught beer, has just celebrated its first anniversary by announcing plans to open their first pub, the crowdfunded Bison Arms. While the slick New York-style East Street Tap craft beer and cider house opened to a thirsty public last week serving up a healthy range of American Pale Ales along with an NYC-influenced menu to soak it all up.
And now the days are getting warmer, there’s never been a better time to sample the city’s locally brewed beers. No excuse needed.
Ready to get acquainted with Brighton’s craft beer scene? Check out our hotel deals for this seaside city escape.