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Reigate's Pilgrim Brewery comes of age after 30-year battle for survival

By Surrey Mirror  |  Posted: November 11, 2013

By Jenny Seymour jenny.seymour@essnmedia.co.uk

  • PERFECTED PINT: Dave Roberts with wife Ruth, Jim Rushforth and Andy Biggs at Reigate's Pilgrim Brewery reks20132910b-139 Photo by Kevin Shaw

  • ALE AFICIONADO: Dave Roberts tends a steaming brew reks20132910b-017 Photo by Kevin Shaw

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SPENDING your working days brewing up a perfect pint may be every ale fan's dream job.

But for the owners of Reigate's Pilgrim Brewery, which celebrates 30 years in the town next year, it's been a roller coaster ride of survival.

They're now undergoing a transformation, hoping to win a licence to sell their beer straight to customers from a new outlet at their tucked-away West Street brewing house, and coming up with modern tipples to tempt the 21st century ale drinker.

Capacity has doubled in the past year to 10,000 pints a week, and 200 pubs within a 25-mile radius sell Pilgrim pints.

"Microbreweries are very trendy nowadays but we were the only brewery in Surrey when we started, and the first one in Surrey for at least 100 years," said owner Dave Roberts, who runs the business with wife Ruth.

"For me it was a huge jump, leaving my job in Whitehall."

But his experience of Government helped Mr Roberts, as he went on a crusade to change both the tax system, and trading laws to help small breweries prosper.

It took 12 years, but tax changes introduced in 2002 have allowed an explosion in microbreweries, said Mr Roberts.

In the past, the couple were forced to take on a pub in Epsom to keep the brewery going.

When they lost the pub, the business was "on its knees", but they fought again, and now things are looking up.

"We doubled our capacity in the last year because we just found demand was there," said Mr Roberts.

"I think this is the most exciting period we are going into, because customers are looking for new products in a way they never have done.

"Microbreweries are now accepted, they are not weird things. Pubs that don't stock micro beers are at a disadvantage because customers will drift away.

"It is no longer good enough just buying old-fashioned beers and sticking them on the bar.

"There has been a huge explosion in styles of beer too.

"We brought back porter 20 years ago, we started re-introducing milds. Now, we are creating new styles as well.

"Finally, after 30 years, we can move forward. It's taken all these years of incremental changes, changing the laws, changing the tax system. There have been battles and struggles but now, after 30 years in Reigate, it is a local success and people are beginning to realise we are here."

The brewery has applied to Reigate and Banstead Borough Council for a licence to sell five-litre cans of Pilgrim ales, and bottles of imported German beer, straight from the brewery.

"People want our beer – it's as simple as that," said Mr Roberts.

"I believe we have a fundamental responsibility to the environment.

"I appreciate people like variety, but it seems totally bonkers to me for people to come to Reigate and drink beer from Cornwall.

"Why do we do it?" he added. "For that moment when a customer says, 'this is a great pint of beer', and you see the pleasure on their face."

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