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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
January 27, 2010



A Dark Star shining

Like I said to Dark Star’s brewing genius Rob Jones last night, he’s come a long way from Pitfield Street. In fact, the new brewery that officially opened yesterday is a blooming long way from anywhere. I’ve never felt so relieved to find myself in Hayward’s Heath when the bus finally found its way out of a maze of Sussex country lanes.

On the aptly-named Star Road Industrial Estate in Partridge Green, Dark Star’s new home is surprisingly large, modern and shiny. Doing the cutting-the-tape bit, beer guru Roger Protz only half-jokingly called it a lager brewery as he stood in front of the gleaming conical fermenters.

As for size, Dark Star is now up there alongside small family brewers. And though being in a big metal shed it can’t match the family brewers for pictureque, it’s getting together quite a history, and has a great story to tell.

I first knew Rob Jones in the mid-eighties when he was one half of Pitfield Brewery’s Yeastie Boys who set up what they described as the world’s first brewery-off licence in London’s Hoxton, conveniently close to the Morning Advertiser offices, then off Old Street.

After winning Champion Beer of Britain with an ale called Dark Star (named after the cult seventies sci-fi film) he split with partner Martin Kemp (who kept the Pitfield name and now successfully brews organic beers in Essex) and jobbed around a bit before in 1994 getting a call from another Star – the Evening Star pub in Brighton.

He installed a brewery at the pub, created some recipes, and Dark Star Brewery was born.

It expanded 10-fold when it moved out of the pub to another mid-Sussex site, and has now trebled in size again to join an emerging layer of what you might call super-microbrewers.

Some have predicted that these will effectively form a new generation of family brewers and be the saviour of the British beer industry. Looking around the expanse of Dark Star’s new operation I couldn’t help worrying, though, that this is quite a risk. The market for microbrewery beer is booming, but there has to be a limit, and not all the 700-odd companies in the sector are going to survive.

Hopefully Dark Star will thrive on the back of making good, interesting, innovative beer. That’s how it came to outgrow its last place. But expansion was perhaps not the only option. A retired brewer at yesterday’s do said to me that if it had been him, he’d have stayed small and put the prices up. Worth a thought…

Protz in the limelight

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