“Our focus has always been on quality, we’d rather work on a beer that’s really special to us than jump on the latest fad.”

We spent a brilliant afternoon getting to know some of our new local Edinburgh friends and creatives at Pilot Brewery in Leith. These guys really know how to craft a good tasting beer without taking it all too seriously because they think, and we strongly agree, that beer should be fun!

We introduced ourselves in the run up to our Edinburgh store opening, and in true neighbourly fashion they kindly offered to supply us with some of their delicious craft beer for our opening event. We found it a real pleasure getting to know these two crafting individuals, and we think you’ll like them too!

Matt Johnson and Pat Jones met in 2011 while studying for a top-class master’s degree in brewing and distilling at the celebrated Heriot-Watt university in Edinburgh, aka every man’s dream. They were both looking for a change, or as Pat puts it- “having a mid-life crisis”. But isn’t it so often the way that these moments lead to something great; as was the case for these two chaps. Soon after meeting they started brewing together in Matt’s garage, experimenting with techniques and flavours. They felt there was a gap in the market “something that wasn’t tried and tested traditional real ales, nor the US-style craft clones”. So, when a brewhouse came up for sale, they quickly moved it into an industrial estate in Leith, just outside Edinburgh, and so began the days of Pilot.

So Pilot was created in 2013, the brand’s name comes from a small kit (a pilot) that big breweries have, it’s used in trialling new brew recipes; “the name makes us think of trailing new things”. This is clearly their USP as a brand, experimenting with flavours and styles of brewing, looking for the perfect balance. They take a very creative view on their brews, not surprising for two such creative and laid-back people. They take the brewing process very seriously but feel strongly that their beer should be fun and enjoyable; there to help create a fun mood, not taking centre stage (unless it’s at a beer tasting of course), nor taken too seriously. Their ‘Upside Down Lager’ is in celebration of their Aussie pals at Yuck Circus who visit Edinburgh for the festival and has the flavour of a pineapple and cherry upside-down cake. ‘Sour Grapes’ is a super-pale sour beer made with lager malt and oats and infused with a premium Italian red grape juice and described as being a little ‘spritzy’. It’s these unique blends that make Pilot a little different, a little more interesting and a lot more fun than most of the many craft beer brands.

“We once wrote a mission statement which is the most embarrassing thing to look back at now, we never wanted the product itself to be too serious, we want it to be fun”- Pat

Matt’s background is in graphic design. His designs, for the branding and the cans themselves, create the overall aesthetic so integral to what Pilot stands for today and making them unique. They have a small very hands-on team, ready to collaborate or jump on any task - be that branding, kegging, canning or sales and social media. This ‘In-house’ approach means they never stop thinking about the range, often getting the whole team together to throw ideas into the ring. They think about where the beers sit with each other in the range, how they complement each other. They gather inspiration from eating out together and considering different complementary flavours, cocktails are another source of artistry. They are incredibly modest to talk to however and play down what seems to us to be a real art! They admit to learning on the job, from within their own brewing ups and downs, and also from other brands, tweaking things until it feels and tastes spot on, all the time keeping it real.

“We didn’t’ want to shoehorn any big branding theme behind us, we’re just Pilot, we’ve always tried to learn from what we’ve seen and keep it free flowing.”

Pilot brew six core beers which they will always have in stock. They then have a well-crafted range of guest brews, or ‘irregulars’ as they fondly call them. These are the flavoured or sour beers and brews they do in homage of other local brands- such as Yuck Circus. Often ideas come when they are out for a meal discussing the flavour combinations they are experiencing- sounds like a good excuse for a company night out! Peach Melba Sour for example, a popular blend inspired by the classic desert.

“Drinkability is at the heart of everything we do, and we put flavour firmly front and centre, shunning finings and filtration to ensure every beer we make tastes supreme”.

It isn’t long before our conversation moves on to sustainability, not just a buzz word for these guys. In 2014 they were the first brewery in Scotland to stop using isinglass finings to clarify their beer. Isinglass is made from the swim-bladders of sturgeon fish; many varieties are now at risk of extinction. Using islinglass in beer production makes it almost impossible for vegetarians and vegans to know which beers are safe for them to drink. They also believe it strips away depth of flavour. So they go for the slower clarifying process, it takes much longer, but they’re ok with that- a bit like Aubin’s slow fashion ethos. The base malt they use is exclusively grown in Scotland, which of course keeps their footprints pretty clean and green. They also brew and package their beer in-house so it’s not travelling the UK before being put in a can or keg. All of this feels very inspiring, forward-thinking, and wonderfully simple, like most good things!

Because of Matt and Pat’s inclusive and collaborative attitude they set up Drinklusion- a fundraising initiative that supports organisations that promote inclusivity across a variety or forms. They give 2p from every can they sell to their Drinklusion fund, this money is then distributed across their partners. Currently they are working with four local charities; Bikes For Refugees Scotland, Stay up Late- they support people with additional needs to get out and enjoy things outside the ‘normal’ working hours of their carers, as well as the Leith Theatre and EHFM- an online radio station broadcasting from Edinburgh’s Summerhall.

So, if right now you’re wondering, ‘what’s not to like’ about Pilot beer, the answer is most likely to be ‘nothing’. That is unless you’re not a beer drinker, but then you might like some of their graphic design merch. Such as the vibrant orange ‘Peach Melba’ football shirt- different product, same infectious sense of humour. 

We look forward to seeing where the next ten years take this fantastic team, the new flavours and infusions they create and the new levels of fun that they can take their craft beer to!

To follow Pilot, order beer to be delivered to your home or to arrange for a beer tour and tasting around the Leith brewery head to their website-