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Bonfire boys and girls with pints of Harveys supporting the Friends of the Lewes Arms campaign

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East Anglian Daily Times East Anglian Daily Times Logo
November 4, 2006
Brewer feels the heat in pub row

by Laurence Cawley

BOSSES at Suffolk-based Greene King could have their effigies torched as part of Bonfire Night celebrations on the south coast. In recent years, the famous bonfires of Lewes, in Sussex, have seen effigies of George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden engulfed in flames.

But regulars at the popular Lewes Arms, which is home to the World Pea Throwing Championship, are now rattling their matches for the top brass at Greene King amid a heated row over the ales on offer.

And even if effigies are not set alight, pub regulars claim a number of anti-Greene King costumes will be worn on Bonfire Night.

In October, fans of the 220-year-old drinking hole were told a leading bitter brewed by Greene King rival Harveys would be withdrawn at the end of the year.

Despite the threat of a boycott, Greene King stood firm, stating it took customer choice seriously but, alongside guest beers, it wanted its own tipples stocked.

In response a campaign - called “Hands off our Harveys” was mounted to pressure the Suffolk brewer into changing its mind. The petition has been signed by 1,000 people so far.

Greene King managing director Mark Angela yesterday defended the firm's move. He said: “I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to sell our products in our pubs. Harveys is widely available in other pubs in Lewes, it's a nice pint. We also have a healthy guest beer selection and we have lots of reciprocal arrangements with other brewers.

“One of the positive things to have come out of this is that we have all got the chance to talk about cask ales. Our whole business is founded on making sure we have a dialogue with the community. We knew this would be sensitive so we wanted to give people notice of what we are intending to do. If it doesn't work, we will review it.”

Petition organiser John May, of Friends of the Lewes Arms, said there was considerable strength of feeling because 80% of the pub's regulars drink Harveys and warned the pub's future was in jeopardy if it was taken off the pump.

Mr May said: “I am hoping sense will prevail. Both Harveys and the pub have been around since the 1720s. I know Greene King has a long heritage too but imagine how drinkers in Bury would feel if Harveys had taken over the Greene King pubs and removed their favourite beers from all but one pub, and then they threatened to remove it from that one too.

“This pub is a community pub and that is one of the major reasons we are fighting so hard - it's about the survival of a community.”

Mr May has called on Greene King and Harveys to stock each others' beers in their pubs, claiming such a move would prevent loyal Lewes Arms customers from abandoning the historic watering hole.

This idea is something Mr Angela said he was happy to discuss with Harveys on a reciprocal arrangement.

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