Pilgrim Brewery takeover such a success it almost ran out of beer

The new team at Reigate’s Pilgrim Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Surrey, has said that demand has been so strong since they took over that they almost ran out of beer.

Rory Fry-Stone, John Fridd and Adrian Rothera.

The two families now running Pilgrim Brewery are not lacking ambition. Having purchased the brewery from its former owner and founder, David Roberts, in January 2017, they officially took over at the beginning of September last year.

Since then, they’ve opened a new taproom, re-designed and upgraded the brewhouse, and rebranded, changing the logo to one which features three stars, each representing a different beer range.

Pilgrim is believed to be the oldest craft brewery in Surrey, having been established in 1982.

Getting together for New Year’s Eve in 2015, owners Adrian Rothera and Rory Fry-Stone discovered that they shared a passion for beer and began discussing the possibility of setting up a brewery. Having heard that their local brewery was being sold, Rothera called Fry-Stone and the rest is history.

“I immediately went round to the brewery,” Fry-Stone told the drinks business. “I only went in to buy some beer and I left having made an offer on the entire brewery”.

Since taking the reigns, Rothera and Fry-Stone, both supported by their families who also help to run the business, have simplified the brewery logo to include three coloured stars.

Representing the three wise men, a reference to the original pilgrims, each colour refers to a different beer range.

“When we took over, the original founder had amassed lots of different recipes and had countless beers in his repertoire,” said Rothera.

“For us, it was very important to preserve the heritage of Pilgrim, but we wanted focus and to introduce some new things of our own.

“The red star is our heritage line and represents our core beers. We’ve kept the old favourites such as Progress, Surrey and Quest and introduced a new beer – Exile – a 5% IPA.

“The green star represents our seasonal beers while the blue star stands for ‘progressive’ – a selection of one-off beers. It’s possible that some of these one-offs may become part of our seasonal or core range in the future”.

The first beer to come off the progressive line will be a 4.5% American pale ale, due to be produced in a limited run of 46 casks. Pilgrim will also be releasing a craft lager.

“We don’t want to upset the traditional ale drinker but we also want to do things a bit differently – keep the tradition but follow market trends,” said Fry-Stone.

In line with this methodology, they’re releasing an American style beer with a beer clip designed by a local tattoo artist. However, unlike many beers of this style, they’re keeping the alcohol content relatively low.

“Our beers will mainly range from 3.6% to 5% ABV. We’ve spoken to local pubs and that’s what their customers prefer,” added Rothera.

Increasing their local presence has been particularly important for the new owners.

“We’ve spoken to people that live in Reigate who didn’t realise it had a brewery,” said Fry-Stone. “We want to start off locally and then very gradually expand our presence”.

Since September, they’ve been very busy. Pilgrim beers can now be regularly found in around 22 local pubs within five miles of the brewery, including The Black Horse, The Blue Anchor, The Admiral Inn, The Red Cross, The Bell, The Hatch, The Red Lion, The Garibaldi, The Plough, The Joshua Tree, The Home Cottage, The Queens Head, The Station, The Well House, The Pheasant, The Seven Stars, The Fox Revived, Fifty Four, The Old Bell, The Haycutter, The Queens Head (Dorking) and The Watermill.

The taproom

In December last year, the new Pilgrim team converted a former office space into the brewery taproom. It has proved a runaway success with the owners having to stop people coming in as it was too full. They also almost ran out of beer over the festive period.

“Due to the taproom and the extra publicity we had over the proceeding months, sales of take-homes grew massively, I estimate we doubled last year’s figures easily,” said Rothera.

“At one stage we could not rack the beer quickly enough to meet the demand coming from walk-ins. We also got dangerously close to running out of beer between Christmas and the New Year, which would have been embarrassing!”

The taproom is open on Thursday and Friday from 4pm to 9pm and on Saturdays from 12:30 to 9pm.

As well as beer, it serves gin from local distillery the Gin Kitchen, English whisky, and cider from Surrey courtesy of Garden Cider based in Chiddingfold.

The taproom

The brewhouse

John Fridd, formerly of The Cottage Brewing Co. in Somerset, joined Pilgrim in July 2017 as its new head brewer.

Fridd has helped to re-design Pilgrim’s existing brewhouse “to make better use of the space”.

Since taking over, the team has put in a new floor, installed proper temperature controls on all of the equipment, bought a new copper and purchased new ‘cleaning in place’ (CIP) technology.

The brewery can now run four 12 barrel brews, producing 8,000 litres or 200 casks of beer a week.

Future plans

It doesn’t stop there. Pilgrim has a busy programme of events scheduled for the warmer months and has just unveiled its ‘Ale Trail’ – a beer pilgrimage encompassing 10 local pubs. Beer pilgrims earn a stamp for each pub they visit, picking up a free t-shirt at the Pilgrim taproom when they finish.

“There has already been quite a buzz on social media about the Ale Trail – a group of upper sixth from Reigate Grammar School (all over 18 and out of school as it was a snow day) have been posting their progress, which is quite funny,” added Rothera.

The brewery is hoping to increase its range currently sold in bottle from two beers to around four or five.

In the future, they hope to extend the taproom and have plans to use the famous local caves for a secret project. Upcoming events include morris dancing and beer to celebrate St George’s Day and a pop-up barber shop in the taproom.

Pilgrim Brewery, 11 West Street, Reigate, Surrey, RH2 9BL

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