Greg Pilley, Stroud Brewery
PUBLISHED: 11:33 18 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013
Microbrewer Greg Pilley wants to celebrate good beer, good pubs and the best of life here in the Cotswolds. Marianne Sweet went to meet him.
BREWERY owner Greg Pilley is a man of many passions. Mention malt, hops or quality beer and he will wax lyrical for ages, telling you the origins of the plants, how far it travelled, its characteristics. He is equally passionate and vocal about sustainable development, as a local community, protecting the environment, and as a small independent business.
It isnt just talk. That social responsibility is at the heart of Stroud Brewery from sourcing its malt from the Cotswolds to sending its spent grain to a community smallholding to feed the pigs and cattle. It is what sets Stroud Brewery apart from other microbrewers, and has proven to make sound business sense.
Last year Stroud Brewery was awarded a 102,553 grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to invest in the expansion of the brewery. Gregs application was successful because he uses locally grown malting barley. His company supports the rural economy and the diversification of farming and adding value to a local product. With the investment, matched by the brewery of which 65,000 was raised through a further community loan arrangement, Greg is installing a new brewery with four times the current capacity.
It will open this month complete with a small bar and tasting room. That is a long way from the modest beginnings in 2006 when Stroud Brewery was producing just 1,500 pints a month. The 43-year-old says he can trace his interest in brewing back to his childhood. My father was an engineer and we were dragged around the world, moving from one school to the next, he said. In an expat community your social life revolves around the barbecue and beer.
Greg spent time working in Nigeria managing a Wildlife Conservation Project, with the VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) and was again taken by how all threads of life are linked by the social exchange over a beer. I had this great idea of writing a book, Brews of Africa, about the role of alcohol in traditional Africa and successfully pitched the idea to Guinness. Greg spent five years researching traditional brews of Africa. On his return to the UK, having some farming background, he became interested in setting up a vegetable box scheme. He ended up working for the Soil Association in their local food team (who promote organic food and farming) writing a technical guide on how to set them up.
This work brought Greg to Stroud and he never left, getting involved in Stroud Community Agriculture a community owned farming enterprise. One day whilst weeding and chatting to my friend Andy we started to think about how good it would be if Stroud had its own brewery again. I became possessed and was determined to make it happen.
Two years later, Greg opened Stroud Brewery. He raised the needed 13,000 through a local loan scheme with Stroud people investing in the business. The original Stroud Brewery shut in 1969. I thought a long time about whether to use the same name. I was worried about criticisms but the strength of a brewery is its local identity and I wanted to champion the town and the Cotswolds. It was the best decision I could have made. His first brew, Budding named after Edwin Beard Budding of Thrupp, Stroud, who invented the lawnmower in 1830 was named Champion Beer of Gloucestershire by Gloucestershire Campaign for Real Ales.
That gave us the confidence that we had a great product, making it a lot easier to pick up the phone and talk to our local landlords. Since then Greg has never looked back. The brewery went for distinctive yet traditional artwork, and its beers have names that celebrate Stroud Valleys events and characters. Tom Long, an amber bitter, is named after a mythical highwayman hanged at Tom Longs Post on Minchinhampton Common, near Stroud. Stick Stout is named in tribute to the production of parasol handles and walking sticks made in the area from the 1840s to the 1960s.
The brewerys growth was steady. Then the recession kicked in and sales doubled. Our main customers are pubs, and pubs are facing very difficult times, but what does sell well are local and quality real ales. Despite having tighter purse strings people are very supportive of local businesses, and are willing to pay a little more for a high quality product that they value.
Currently the brewery can make up to 6,000 pints of quality beer a week. To make the business more stable Greg wants to diversify its markets including more direct sales, and a greater range of bottled beers. But you will never see his beer carried by a national supermarket chain. I dont wish to undermine my core business, which is the local pubs. These places are often the hearts of communities. I want to see that continue.
Ive got strong social ethics always have. My commitment to the environment is about a commitment to society. I want our quality and ethos to be reflected on the bar in what we brew. The brewery, with the expansion, will be able to grow its range. It brews the only draught organic beer in the county.
Our entire bottle range is organic and egan. We use barley grown in an 11-mile radius from the brewery. It is then malted in the traditional way at Warminster Maltings without high energy use. Cirencester Agricultural College students are working with the brewery to establish its carbon footprint. With the new building our footprint should decrease. We have brought the students on board so that they can measure our current energy use and set a benchmark.
The expansion will make Stroud Brewery one of the larger microbreweries in the Cotswolds. It is looking to expand the number of pubs its sells in and to increase its direct sales. Greg has big plans and scores of ideas. Yet his focus never moves far from that sense of social and environmental responsibility.
I have no ambition to grow any larger, but I would like to see the business big enough to support five or six people, making it sustainable in the long term. We are growing a dedicated team who share an ethos of quality, care and great beer and this commitment is reflected in our products.
Greg is, at his core, a dedicated champion of the local pub. Local beer is important but we would be nothing without our local pubs. They are the vital threads which hold together the very fabric of our community. I want to celebrate good beer, good pubs and the best of life here in the Cotswolds.