We’re thrilled to share our recent conversation with Scottish-based craft brewery, Pilot. We delve into the history of the brewery, explore how Pilot integrates local ingredients and flavours into their beers, and talk about their effective use of social media. So, grab a can of Peach Melba and take a dive with us into the world of Pilot.
Q. Can you tell us the story behind how Pilot came to be?
Co-founders Matt & Pat met on the first day of their Brewing & Distilling MSc at Heriot Watt back in 2011. Collaborating on MSc projects led to collaborating on home brewing projects and, after graduating, continuing to work together seemed like the obvious thing to do. Pilot’s founders shared the belief that there was something to be done in beer that could sit somewhere between traditional and the new wave of US styles becoming popular at the time. After some nerve-racking decision making following an enquiry about a second hand brew kit, a purchase was made and in November 2013 Pilot was born. The brew kit was put together in a small unit in Leith, making it the first brewery to open in the area since the closure of the final remaining brewery in the mid-90s. For the first two years Matt & Pat did everything themselves - brewing the beer, selling the beer, delivering the beer, branding the beer, marketing the beer. Ops Manager, Jordan and Lead Brewer, Jez joined next and now in their tenth year they have a staff of ten full time and two part time employees.
Q. As a Scottish brewery, how do you incorporate local ingredients and flavours into your beers?
We’re blessed with great quality water here in Scotland - it needs very little treatment and gives us great results. We pride ourselves on using Scottish-grown base malt in all our brews. We found out through our malt supplier that the locally grown Scottish malt was being sent to England to get processed with all the malt grown down there so we lobbied them to let us have the Scottish stuff before it got sent away. Nothing against the English malt of course but it’s nice to know our grain comes from local growers and hasn’t travelled very far to reach us. As a base malt, it’s superb - reliable and works perfectly as the foundation for all our beers. In terms of local flavours - we did once make a gruit with locally foraged botanicals from Leith. It wasn’t very nice. We also made deep fried Mars Bar stout with Northern Monk - can’t get much more local than a deep fried Mars Bar.
Q. If Pilot had to collaborate with a non-beer company, who would it be and why?
It’s nice to collaborate with other like-minded small businesses - especially if they make food so we can trade for our beer! We recently did a collaboration with the Beers Without Beards group which aims to create safe spaces for women and non-binary folks to enjoy and learn about beer. Days like that are a great tonic for the stress of owning a small brewery business and serve as a nice reminder of how lucky we are to do what we do. We also collaborated on a beer with local cocktail legend, Iain McPherson. It was good fun looking at the beer making process from the angle of a cocktail maker and we ended up essentially using a fermenter as a giant cocktail shaker, mixing fresh flavours and ingredients in with a beer we had already barrel-aged for the project.
Q. We all love Pilot’s social media. How important is social media in promoting your brewery and engaging with customers?
Social media has played an integral part in the business since day one. Pat has single-handedly manned the (infamous) Pilot Twitter account for all that time and it’s not uncommon in the slightest for people to have heard of our Twitter account before knowing about our beer. The craft beer industry does have a penchant for taking itself far too seriously at times so we’ve just tried to have a bit of a laugh really - usually at ourselves but often at the whole pretentiousness of the wider beer scene in general. Social media has changed a lot since we started and now we’re a bigger business we have to play the game a bit more than we used to but we still try to be as candid and irreverent as we can. Even after ten years in business, we’re still a small team of staff so it’s important to engage with our customers in a way that reflects this - even if it means the more reluctant of us has to get in front of the camera occasionally.
Q. Sustainability is clearly important to Pilot. Can you tell us a bit more about your commitment to sustainability and what you’ve been doing to reduce your environmental impact?
Sustainability is incredibly important to us - both as a business and as individuals, it’s a constant consideration and talking point for us. All our spent grain goes to feed pigs on a local farm, then the manure created goes to fertilise the fields on which new grain and crops are grown. Sustainability around brewery processes can be challenging. We’re looking into funding options for some big-idea projects such as CO2 capture and solar panels but for a small business (who doesn’t own their own land/unit) they’re a real challenge due to the costs involved. We’ve developed some canny ways of using our heat exchanger to maximise our return of hot water and we were early adopters of in-line carbonation which at the time was something that very few small breweries were doing, allowing us to vastly reduce the number of tanks we were having to clean and sterilise - saving on hot and cold water as well as reducing the amount of detergent we need to use. All our boxes are fully recyclable and made using 100% recycled paper and all of our local deliveries are done in our electric van. On top of that, we’re in the final stages of qualification to become a Cycle Friendly Employer - we actively encourage our staff to cycle more by providing a secure bike rack, changing facilities, maps of the local area and offering all staff the Cycle to Work scheme.
Q. How do you engage with the local community?
Engaging with the local community has always been a big thing for us. We’ve always prided ourselves on doing our own deliveries locally as it’s the best way to keep in touch with our customers. We have found that to be a vital way of keeping our finger on the pulse of what we’re doing well and if there are areas in which we can improve. We offer a drop off service for our local food bank and do what we can to promote donations. We also donate 2p from every can sold to our Drinklusion fund which goes to local and UK organisations that all promote inclusivity in one way or another.
Q. Any upcoming releases or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about that you can share with us?
We are really delighted this year to sponsor the Hibernian Women’s team - our local football club. We’re doing a run of cans celebrating their 25th anniversary and have plenty of more fun things in the pipeline. Speaking of anniversaries, Pilot turn 10 this year so we are re-brewing our imperial version of Peach Melba, Idris Melba (we usually steer clear of puns, but couldn’t resist this one). Some of it might even make it’s way into some very special casks we’ve got lying around… So watch this space!
Q. If you could only drink one beer style for the rest of your life, but it had to be made by a different brewery, what style would you choose and who would you want to make it?
For us it would have to be Brooklyn Lager, the biscuity Vienna Lager provided more than a little inspiration for our very first commercial recipe - Vienna Pale - still a pillar of our core range. Way back when we started getting into modern craft beers it was a real gateway beer for us. Also, Garrett Oliver once visited our humble little brewery - he’s a bit of a brewing hero of ours and having him in our brewery was really quite something.As one of our Future Four breweries, we are championing Pilot this year. Sign up for Trade Tasting sessions below where you can try the beers, chat to the team, be in with a chance of winning gifts and receive our exclusive offer! https://www.cavedirect.com/future-four