Words: Adam Harris
Patrick Jones and Matt Johnson are the brains behind Pilot Beer, a local brewery, known for its hazy beers and thinking outside the box. Buzz visited the guys at their Leith-based brewery for a chat about all things Pilot.
Buzz: When did you guys first get started?
Pat: We graduated from the Heriot-Watt brewing course in 2012. I think we incorporated the company that very year because we got excited, which was naive. We got into the building in May 2013, and did our first brew in November. But the way we look at it, we properly started in January 2014. That was when we got things together.
Buzz: What was your first brew?
Pat: The first brew we did was Vienna Pale because it’s an easy one – there are no weird adjuncts or anything. It’s a very different beer now than what it was. We do a lot more dry-hopping on it. Those first few months…I don’t actually think I slept till about April 2014. Every brew, we were just petrified. We were starting at 7 and finishing at about 6, now we’re done at about quarter to 3 on a good day. We’ve honed what we’re doing a bit.
Buzz: Pilot is known for the hazy colour that the beers have, as they are all unfiltered. Is that correct?
Pat: All unfiltered, all unfined. At the very start, we did fine stuff, because it’s what you do. But we were tasting the beers in the tank and going ‘these are great,’ then tasting them in the pubs we were less impressed. So we thought ‘let’s just stop it.’ Because we were doing Blonde anyway which is 50% oats, and to get that clear you’d have to fine it so much, so there’s just no point. We figured since our main beer was a cloudy beer anyway, we would just do it for all of them and see how it goes. And sales just went up. People went for the flavour over the appearance.
Buzz: And not fining the beers makes them vegan as well, is that correct?
Pat: Yeah, everything apart from the ones we use lactose in, for instance Mochaccino Stout, are all totally vegan. We’re not vegans. I think it would be disingenuous to go, ‘hey vegans, we’ve done this just for you’. We haven’t, but the fact that it is vegan is cool. It’s just a kind of happy coincidence.
Buzz: What was the first drink you ever tried?
Pat: When I first started drinking, I didn’t actually like beer. I started drinking in the era of alcopops. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the first thing I ever tried was. When I used to go out it was Smirnoff Ice and there was something else horrific but I can’t remember what it was called. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Matt: *in background* Reef!
Pat: It wasn’t Reef no, it was something else.
Pat: It wasn’t Hooch, no. Actually, it might have been. But yeah, I used to drink them and wake up in the morning with furry teeth. I also have vivid memories of before I went to uni, during sixth form, my dad had this bottle of Appletons 151 Rum (75.5% abv). I had no money and it basically fuelled a summer. It was a massive bottle. I’d be going round to my mates with cocktails made out of Ribena and rum. Awful. Awful! But yeah – I hated beer. Lager just used to make me feel sick.
Buzz: What changed your mind? What got you into beer and brewing?
Pat: I was becoming diabetic with the alcopops. Honestly though I came to uni and decided it was time to start drinking beer. So I got into crappy lagers and then we moved on to the real ales. And I think in reality over here, for a lot of us, BrewDog happened. And we all went, ‘Jesus, that’s different’. It took me a while to come round to the bigger flavours.
I think getting into brewing was… well, everyone kind of does a bit of home brewing and that kind of thing, so doing that I realised how much I liked it. Getting into brewing was more about getting out of what I was doing. It was the same for Matt as well. I was in finance, Matt was in graphic design.
Buzz: That’s quite a weird combination…?
Pat: It’s actually a really good combination. The brewing you can learn, but I was knocking away on various spreadsheets on Excel for seven years, so that kind of thing I can do and Matt can do all of the design. And branding is so important these days, to have most of that done in house is really good. Everything is done ourselves, so having those skills has saved a lot of money.
Buzz: Did you guys just meet at uni and decide “we should go into business together”?
Pat: Pretty much. We met on the first day of the Master’s course. There was a sort of ‘getting to know you’ and I was a bit late so there was a spare seat next to Matt and I asked “can I sit next to you?”
Matt: *In background* No one else wanted to sit next to me.
Pat: That was exactly it. We were the two losers on the course. But we were a similar age – we were a little older than other people on the course; we were both Edinburgh based. Our skillsets matched and we got on really well. Not anymore. We hate each other! But we felt similarly about beer as well. We didn’t just want to be another US-style craft brewery. We saw us pitching somewhere between real ale and craft ale. We don’t really know how to put it into words. But we felt similarly about what beer should be.
Matt: We just wanted to do our own thing and find our own place in the market.
Read more about some of the interesting individuals involved in Edinburgh’s alcohol industry in Buzz Magazine – out now in locations around Edinburgh.