UK brewery resurrects local cave-ageing beer tradition

Pilgrim Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Surrey, has begun its project to age its beer in the local town’s caves, a tradition pioneered by the now closed Reigate brewery Mellersh & Neale in the early 1900s.

Reigate’s Pilgrim Brewery, which was taken on by new owners Adrian Rothera and Rory Fry-Stone in January 2017, has begun its latest project – a cave-aged imperial stout matured in ex-whisky barrels.

Speaking to the drinks business, Rothera said that with the help of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council and local caving society Wealden Cave and Mine Society, the brewery now has six 40-gallon whisky barrels filled with its imperial stout maturing in the town’s cellars.

According to Rothera, the 6.7% ABV beer will be stored at 13°C in the Reigate Tunnel Caves for six months prior to bottling and release in November this year. The barrels are on display and can be viewed on the cave open days held throughout the year.

Speaking earlier in the year, both Rothera and Fry-Stone talked about wanting to further integrate the brewery into the local community following their takeover.

After a successful ‘Pilgrim Ale Trail’ which saw beer lovers quaff 1,550 pints of Pilgrim beer served in nine local pubs, the new owners want to reintroduce something from the past.

Historic brewers Mellersh & Neale once used the east caves to store and mature its beers in the early 1900s. While Pilgrim hasn’t revealed the exact recipe, Rothera did tell db that they based it on Mellersh & Neale’s Oatmeal Stout, with ingredients including oatmeal, whole oats and traditional British hops such as Challenger and Fuggles. The original beer, which had a gravity of 1065, has inspired the name for Pilgrim’s beer.

While the brewery is located down the other end of the High Street, manoeuvring six large whisky barrels did take some planning. Transported via a fork-lift truck into a van, the barrels were then “man-handled on to a purpose built trolley and squeezed through a very narrow gap. The barrels continued their journey on hand built rails, nearing their final resting place”. 

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