The Pilgrim Story So Far
The Early Years 1982-1984
We started brewing in 1982 in the tiny village of Woldingham which for a couple of years revelled in the fact that it had a brewery but no pub! These were very difficult years as the pioneers of the micro-revolution found there was no support structure for their fledgling industry: we were literally re-creating an industry. I had my first attempt to use a brewing consultant.......lovely chap of the "old school" but he couldn't figure out what was happening with my fermentations so I turned to young blood and employed a brewing graduate from Heriot-Watt.
It was then I realised I was alone, very alone. Nobody could help me...I had to start thinking----fast!
I brewed just one beer and sold it all in 18 gallon casks...there were very few free houses, no guest beers, no Progressive Beer Duty, no possibility of borrowing money, no real interest in new breweries, no technical back-up and very few light commercial vehicles able to transport my beer: those were the days! But I was young, fit , strong enthusiastic with time on my side. I didn't know it then but the times, they really were a'changing.
Moving to Reigate 1985
It had become clear that the first premises were unable to sustain any major expansion and the fact that clouds formed when our copper boiled and it rained inside the tall building was dispiriting! We moved to our current premises in the Summer of '85 and a later took the lease of the offices above the brewhouse. We brewed Crusader for the first time and discovered quite how difficult it was to sell a golden bitter....now everyone does.
The MMC Investigation
The 80's were an exciting period when many breweries started and a new representative body was formed, SIBA (Small Independent Brewers Association) as these new companies realised that no matter how good their beers were it was almost impossible to get them to market. On one route every week I would pass 34 pubs owned by Allied Breweries before reaching the first free house. This inevitably lead to me becoming involved with SIBA has I realised that I had entered an industry which was almost completely closed to new entrants. Together SIBA and many others including CAMRA pressed Government for a review of the industry from which the seminal report on the "Supply of Beer" emerged. The report damned the industry at just about every point: the phrase "against the public interest" occurred repeatedly.
The Guest Beer Years 1991-1996
One of the recommendations enacted was that of the "guest beer" which whilst no longer existing in law still exists in concept in the market place. This small opening of the market lead to a surge in new brewery openings. We grew and employed at one time 8 people including Head and trainee brewers as well as sales reps, telesales and a delivery driver.One problem we constantly faced was the almost impossible task of raising capital to expand so our potential at that time could not be fulfilled. Added to that was the massive burden of high beer tax payable at the point of production which mitigated against expansion. But as we slowly overcame these problems we found our available market shrinking as the pubs able to offer guest beers were bought by breweries excluded from that legislation.
Following the growth in the early 90's we saw many of our outlets being re-tied as pubs entitled to stock guest beers were sold to brewers outside the size limit set by the Government. As the brewers expanded into different areas we also found them buying freehouses, loan tieing clubs and restricting our marketplace once again. We were forced to shed staff in order to survive. The idea of supporting local producers did not exist.
The Rising Sun
During the time we watched our available trade slowly ebb away we became convinced that gaining a stable outlet for our beer was the only way to survive. Several attempts failed, mainly as a result of the difficulty in obtaining capital, but as the pubco's looked at their burgeoning estates they also looked for entrepreneurial types to invest time and money into them. In late 1998 we were offered the Rising Sun in Epsom by Punch Taverns. Naturally we grabbed the opportunity and it was with the pub that Ruth joined and for the first time in her life had a life without an income! We had many happy years at the "Riser" running it as a community pub completely free of tie. It was great fun until it was sold to Young's brewery: but that story is told elsewhere.
and now folks for something completely different....