The Brewery, the Cave and the Caving Club

Reigate Caves – beer cellar restored to use after a century. Photo: Peter Burgess

The caves in Reigate, Surrey, are in reality sand-cut cellars and sand-mines. The caves that were excavated in Tunnel Road in the nineteenth century were, in part, used as a large beer cellar by the local Reigate brewer, Mellersh and Neale, until the early twentieth century. Local publicans Blackiston and Son also had a cellar which was used to store wines, beers and other beverages.

The Wealden Cave and Mine Society has restored the caves in Tunnel Road and opens the caves for public visits under license from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council. The open days, on five Saturdays throughout the summer, are very popular. The caves are run entirely by volunteers from the caving club.

Although the Mellersh and Neale brewery closed many decades ago, a new craft brewery, Pilgrim Brewery, has been established in the town since 1982. Earlier this year, the brewer approached the caving club to discuss the possibility of storing some beer in the caves for a short period. The brewery  specialises in what they term heritage and seasonal beers, and this year hopes to sell “cave-aged” beer as part of their product range.

With the permission of the council, six wooden casks have now been installed in one of the rooms originally used by Blackiston and Son. WCMS restored one of the stillage racks, and added a short extra rack so that all six casks could be stored. Everything is in place for the first open day in May, and already the heady aroma of beer has been added to the atmosphere of the caves.

The beer will be stored for six months, and moved back to the brewery for bottling in the autumn.

With a combination of caves, cavers and beer, what could possibly go wrong?