Harvey’s most famous beer, their Sussex Best Bitter, was first brewed in the mid-1950s, at a time when footballers arrived at English grounds after putting in a full Saturday morning at work, and didn’t think twice about training in lead-weighted boots or playing on in goal with a broken neck. And it’s from this cloth that Harvey’s Best is cut.
In the now corporate world of English football, where the opposition team’s full-backs are worth more than the cost of the barely six-year-old Amex, an ale like this might seem anachronistic. But, as Bob explains, “It’s a perfect synergy between the local football club and the local brewery.”
And it is.
Harvey’s Best is a toffee-rich, uncompromising, stubborn kind of pint that brings together the copper and wood of the brewery with the leather and turf of the pitch. It holds a brief promise of funk from the famous Harvey’s yeast, along with the fruit-sweetness that marks the start of the English football season with overripe plums and russet apples, suggestive of snug scarves, conkers on strings and the fast-approaching, dark-by-teatime chill that accompanies the football results on television. The club and the beer inspire the same loyalty, and it is testament to the fans that they are both here, belonging together, in this patch of English countryside, between the sea and the Downs.
As the match ends, I can still feel the cool bulb of a rushed half-time pint in my gut, and there’s just enough sweetness left on my lips to catch the salt from the breeze. Sadly, of course, Albion lose two nil. But, as the final whistle blows, Bob turns to me and says, “Well, it can only get better.”
And, negotiating that dance between emotion and rationality that fans of English beer and football both share, we head for another pint of Best, and I am convinced that he is right.