Retro Bottles from Harvey’s

Harvey's bottled beers: Sweet Stout, Blue Label, IPA, Brown.

A £37.50 mixed case from Harvey’s of Lewes brought us a selection of 24 gloriously old school beers in tiny 275ml bottles.

They look as if they’ve been pulled from a dusty shelf behind the bar at a pub that closed in 1983 – not ‘faux-vin­tage’ but evi­dence that, if you wait long enough, most graph­ic design starts to look cool again. Here, we’ve focused on four that belong to styles pop­u­lar in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry but which have long been aban­doned by most oth­er brew­eries.

Blue Label (3.6%) sends all the sig­nals of ‘light ale’ – a type of beer that all but dis­ap­peared with the arrival of ‘pre­mi­um bot­tled ales’ in the 1990s. Being based, how­ev­er, on the almost uni­ver­sal­ly adored Sus­sex Best – the brown bit­ter even the most des­per­ate hop-hounds con­ced­ed isn’t bor­ing – turns out to be rather good. The car­bon­a­tion is arguably too low – get­ting a head on the beer was tough and it slipped away instant­ly – except that this seems to give it a hop-oily, tongue-coat­ing rich­ness. The core flavour is tof­fee, yes, but it’s heav­i­ly sea­soned with dry­ing, grassy hops that leave a final twist of med­i­c­i­nal bit­ter­ness on the tongue. In short, it’s good beer in its own right, and much bet­ter, or at least more inter­est­ing, than many over-cooked bot­tled bit­ters avail­able in super­mar­kets.

India Pale Ale (3.2%) is sim­i­lar – amber-gold, caramelised sug­ar, stewed tea hop­pi­ness – but watery with it. We reck­on it’s a pret­ty good exam­ple of what IPA meant to British pub drinkers 30 or 40 years ago but how many beer geeks trained on Goose Island and Brew­Dog Punk have been let down by it in the last five years? It was­n’t any effort to drink but we’ll have anoth­er Blue Label next time, thanks.

Blooms­bury Brown (2.8%, AKA Nut Brown) is anoth­er type of beer that used to be a sta­ple in pub fridges but is these days sad­ly rare. Like light ale, it’s usu­al­ly employed as a mix­er for enliven­ing dodgy pints, or for turn­ing one type of beer into anoth­er (i.e. sim­u­lat­ing draught mild in a ‘brown split’). Har­vey’s exam­ple is at tax-break strength (or rather, weak­ness) but actu­al­ly man­ages to squeeze plen­ty into it: milk choco­late, bit­ter burnt sug­ar, and just a touch of sour­ness – bare­ly enough to reg­is­ter con­scious­ly, but suf­fi­cient to pro­vide a sub­tle pep­pi­ness. Unlike Man­n’s, which isn’t all that much fun to drink on its own, this made for a pleas­ant, unde­mand­ing sip­per, like boozy cola. (Here’s a note we scrib­bled down which might or might not con­vey some­thing to you: ‘Tastes like an Austin Alle­gro looks.’)

Sweet Stout (also 2.8%) is a Mack­e­son sub­sti­tute and, again, is just a bit more inter­est­ing than the big brand name it resem­bles. In the main, it evokes cold cof­fee, served with a good tea­spoon of demer­ara. There’s also more of that almost acrid caramel flavour. (Per­haps from caramel…?) The car­bon­a­tion is the high­est of the three beers pro­duc­ing a sol­id, off-white head which hangs around, but it is still quite restrained, giv­ing the beer a cer­tain silk­i­ness. Man­n’s fans (there are some) should check it out.

If you’re try­ing to cut down or pace your­self these would be excel­lent beers to have in the pantry. Equal­ly, they’re just the thing if you’ve got the urge to host a par­ty with a retro feel, or want to humour rel­a­tives who miss old-fash­ioned bot­tled beer this Christ­mas.

6 thoughts on “Retro Bottles from Harvey’s”

  1. pub fridges …” you jest. Most pubs did­n’t even have a chilled shelf in the bar until about 1975. And that would have been used strict­ly for bot­tles of Harp.

    1. Com­ing in 2016 from acclaimed beer writer Mar­tyn Cor­nell: ‘Chilled: the sto­ry of the pub fridge’.

  2. I hope you’re going to soak off the labels and save them. Nev­er know when they might come in handy. There are a few images in my book that I acquired that way.

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