Pilot Brewery: Ready for Take-off
Craft beer is now cool, and bearded pseuds everywhere are trying their hand at homebrewing, but what does it take to bridge the home-to-work gap? We delve into a world of heavy machinery, belligerent tradesmen and outdated fashion advice to find out
Matt Johnson and Patrick Jones are brewers. They have the ideas, they have the skills, and they have all the equipment. That none of said equipment is actually plugged in, and we’re currently chatting to a guy in a tracksuit top-flat cap combo and his mate in a Cramps t-shirt who’s eating an apple, is another point entirely. “We’re waiting for an old guy,” says Pat, “that’s been the story for the last little while. Waiting for old guys to come and say ‘hmmm.'”
Pat and Matt are the men behind Pilot, a brewery looking to bring beer back to Leith from their industrial estate unit behind a Cash for Clothes warehouse. The unassuming warehouse is home to an impressive arsenal of heavy-duty brewing equipment. With the ability to fire out 20 casks at a time once up-and-running, Pilot will be a proper little brewery. That means hard work, old guys who say ‘hmmm,’ and big red buttons everywhere.
Matt explains: “There has to be emergency switches if you’re working too far from the control panel. The guy who we got the kit from said ‘That’ll let you turn it off if you get your tie stuck in the machinery.’ We looked at each other – ‘We have to wear ties?’”
No ties at Pilot then, and the boys have also instituted a ‘no puns’ rule that looks set to be broken by a beer name that we won’t print for fear of spoiling the horrendous surprise. As for the beers, the plan is to aim for twists on traditional styles as well as experimenting here and there.
Experimentation was the name of the game with the pilot brewery from which they took their name – it’s gleefully described as “a mango chutney pot filled with heating elements from supermarket kettles.” The tropical-tinged kit met a sticky end recently, in an incident whose retelling involved the sentence “worst case scenario, we all die.” “Turns out mains electricity and 30 litres of liquid isn’t a great combination,” says Pat. Maybe all those big red buttons are for the best.
In their defence, Pat and Matt have been getting plenty of practice with dangerous machinery. Their first few weeks in the warehouse were filled with the tasks that tend to get skipped past on the mental road map to becoming a brewing colossus. Tasks like lying face down on a concrete floor “shovelling a metre-and-a-half long trench full of shit with a pound shop trowel,” or a spot of casual angle grinding to remove some pesky concrete.
“We thought it would take a couple of hours,” Matt recalls. “We were at it for a week, non-stop, covered in dust and petrol fumes.” “We didn’t speak much that week,” says Pat, “just gave each other reassuring pats on the back after finishing a bit.”
It’s not exactly been an easy run, all told; even before Pilot’s run-ins with their floor and Edinburgh’s electricians, the apparently simple task of getting the brewery equipment into its new home threatened to descend into farce.
Pat explains: “The kit is from McCowan’s alehouse, and it was a real struggle to get it out the door. We were ready to take one of the windows out and bash through the doorframes to get it out, but we just about avoided that. We did need to use an angle grinder to get some of it out of the place though.”
If there’s a lesson to take from Pilot, it’s that homebrewing and genuine actual brewing are two very different beasts. The romance of making beer, crafting a great drink and laughing along with your mates while the latest indie chart-topper fades in from the background is an illusion – you will make beer, but you’d better be ready for some heavy lifting and to smash up some flooring.
Or, in Pat’s apple-fuelled words: “If one more person tells me I’m ‘living the dream’ I think I’m going to punch them in the face.”
Pilot are on the way, with the merry-go-round of tradesmen nearly at a stop and production set to begin in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the duo have their sights set on the next phase of the life of their brewery – the actual brewing. The casks of other producers’ beer stacked at the front of the warehouse give them a good mark to aim for, as well as keeping up appearances for the neighbours.
“It’s good to have them here,” says Pat, “it creates the illusion of beer. We can’t actually get into these, though...” That’s brewing, folks – you’ll use some heavy machinery, consider some new fashions, nearly kill yourself with improvised equipment, become increasingly irate with non-brewers, and you won’t even get a pint at the end of the day. No wonder everyone’s interested.