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Sunken Knave prepares to reignite interest in historic English ale

Sunken Knave Brewery is launching with the ambition of bringing classic English beer styles to the same level of esteem as Belgian ales.

The Worthing-based brewery’s first beer, a 6% ABV brew named Mumping Ale, is being introduced to kick off the business, set up by Henry Kirk who has previously worked at breweries including: Joseph Holts, Harvey’s, Fullers and Dark Star.

During his tenure as a brewer, Kirk has recreated recipes like 1914’s Strong X Mild, 1909’s Pale Ale, and Prize Old Ale and intends to bring his flair to the Sunken Knave beers.

Speaking to the drinks business about his career in brewing Kirk said: “With my great good fortune, I have been able to encounter wonderful old styles of British beer recreated in the modern age, those flavours inspire me and I now want to specialise in the symphonies of malt, hops and yeast that these beers represent where no particular part overshadows the others.”

Kirk explained: “Worthing ales are a perfect balance of tradition and modernity”, which have been influenced by the history of Sussex and described how each beer is “an homage to the perseverance of Worthing’s knaves and smugglers” and has been “inspired by their legends, by the waves washing up the coast, and the bells ringing through the storm”.

In an effort to reveal more about the plans for the future of Sunken Knave, its beers and how it will be positioned, Kirk told db:“I am making traditional ales in Worthing but as an enthusiast for local brewing history I am developing future recipes that resurrect beers from the Victorian era that have some connection to Worthing from such lost names as Chapman’s, Kemptown and Fremlins amongst others. I want to get a handle on what people were drinking from 1840-1960 because there are some intriguing beers there — nourishing stouts, strong pales, old ales.”

Describing the beer Mumping Ale that launches this week, Kirk revealed: “The beer was brewed in December and it was an old Sussex tradition that on 21 December, St Thomas Day, the poor of the county go around knocking (or ‘mumping’ in Sussex dialect) on the doors of the rich demanding food, drinks and money. I like that spirit of refusing to be denied a Christmas meal and having the wherewithal to get it. I suppose I am mumping on the doors of the pubs of Sussex.”

Kirk added: “I am a cask evangelist so that will be the primary packaging format but there will also be bottles” and added that he hoped “to build up a client base in Sussex and London with occasional appearances further afield”.

Prior to setting up Sunken Knave, Kirk was brewing with Dark Star, which had been acquired by Fullers and in turn the Japanese beer company Asahi, when news was revealed in November 2022 that Dark Star Brewery site is Sussex was to be closed and all brewing would be moved to Meantime Brewery in Greenwich.

Beers created from recipes dating back to historic times are oft-considered luxury items and either rare, or at the very least designed to be  “sipped, savouredand shared” according to beer sommelier Natalya Watson. Looking at what goes into beers deserving of the term, Prize Old Ale was cited by db as one of the greats, along with Fullers Vintage Ale.

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