In a new series, we take a closer look at new and established independent breweries currently making waves in the Scottish beer-making scene.
What's the back story?
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After meeting while studying for an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University in 2011, Matt Johnson and Patrick Jones decided to team up and try their hand at opening their own brewery. Three years later, they've just completed their first brew at Pilot.
A couple of Edinburgh boys then, are they?
Not exactly. Matt's from Croydon and Patrick's from Salford, but both felt that Leith was their spiritual home due to the area's rich brewing history. The hugely successful Younger's brewery - which at the beginning of the 20th century was said to produce a quarter of all Scottish beer - was located nearby until it closed in the 1980s, and now there are several other breweries in the area, including one on the same street at Pilot.
Hold on! The same street? Isn't that a bit close to home?
It doesn't seem to bother Johnson and Jones. Their range of craft beers includes the output of a unique collaboration with The Vintage, a gastropub based in - yes, you guessed it, Leith. The Vintage provided foraged ingredients for the brew which included scurvy grass (a bitter herb with a horseradish kick), laver (a type of seaweed), crab apples; black loveage; sea buckthorn and juniper branch.
I'm not sure I want to drink seaweed beer...
Well, that's where you're wrong. The method - called Gruit - is an unusual European style that uses botanicals and herbs instead of hops to provide bitterness and flavour. The chaps claim that: "the craft beer boom has been a wonderful thing, with drinkers' expanding tastes allowing brewers to experiment with flavours in a way they never have before, which is a spirit we really share - the foraged ingredient collaboration we've done with The Vintage being the best example so far". If experimenting isn't for you, then Pilot's Iced Tea ale (full-flavoured amber beer with amerillo hops and bergamot oil) or the Mochaccino Stout (dark, rich milk stout with cocoa nibs) are just plain delicious.
The equipment looks pretty cool. Where's that from?
After graduating, Johnson and Jones managed to buy the brewplant from McCowan's at Fountainbridge, dismantled, moved it then reassembled it themselves in their Leith base. No easy feat.
So what's next?
Steady on - Pilot released its first brew in the middle of November, and has only been confidently trading since the turn of the New Year. After the stress of that - "12 hours of hellish panic, book-ended by sleepless nights worrying about it" - Jones and Johnson are looking forward to further experimenting and getting to know their kit better, but balancing this against producing beers that keep punters returning to the bar thanks to a fresh, exciting flavour. Which is what it's all about, really.
Pilot, 22 Jane Street, Edinburgh EH6 5HD, 0131 561 4267, @pilotbeeruk