Doing just Fyne
A beloved brewery, doing what it does best
Saturday 13 February 2021
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Fyne Ales is one of those breweries that elicits an emotional response when their name is mentioned. “Oh! Jarl!” someone will sigh, imagining a perfectly poured pint on a worn wooden table in their favourite pub. “Fyne Fest!” another person will excitedly shout, pulling their phone out of their pocket to swipe through photos from their last time at the brewery’s famous annual beer festival. There will be one photo of them in a waterproof jacket, arms outstretched as though they are trying to hug the world.
This is how Fyne Ales is embedded within the beer world. People love Fyne’s beers, but there’s a little more to it than that. There seems to be a deeper connection between brewery and drinker, somehow.
“Over the last year we realised the importance of staying as connected as possible to our drinkers,” says Fyne Ales’ MD Jamie Delap. Now out the other side of 2020, he’s bravely, if tentatively, looking at what positives he’s gathered from the previous year’s events.
To say that he’s an optimistic guy is an understatement.
“Not being able to have people come to our festival or engage with us at the tap or the farm was difficult, because that’s who we are,” he explains. “But it forced us to engage with people meaningfully across social media and other channels to tell our story, and to find new ways to resonate.”
And resonate they did. Over lockdown, Fyne’s social media accounts shared calming, often idyllic imagery from their gorgeous spot on the inner-most tip of Loch Fyne in the Scottish county of Argyllshire.
Check their Instagram for a moment. Photos of delicious-looking beer, interspersed with picturesque shots of glorious Scottish countryside and Highland cattle.
“A picture tells 1000 words. We’ve been trying to use great photography to tell our story, and to drop some escapism into timelines that might not be so fun at the moment.”
“Whatever else happens in the world, the animals still need feeding. Our farm offers a sort-of reality or normality check, and we also wanted to share that too.”
When it comes to trends, you wouldn’t necessarily put Fyne Ales at the forefront, but that’s exactly how Jamie wants you to think.
“We hope people come out of this time valuing beer done well,” he says.
“It’s so hard to know what’s going to become or remain popular this year. If anyone tells you that they know what’s going on at all, I’d look at them with a degree of disbelief.”
However, he does seem to share certain opinions with other breweries we’ve spoken to over the past few months, which means… is that a trend forming? Does that count?
“On the beer front, people have wanted to go back to the familiar,” Jamie says.
Fyne Ale’s core line-up of Jarl, their beloved Citra-hopped session blonde, Avalanche, Highlander and Hurricane Jack has proven extremely popular over the past eight months or so. Jamie thinks it’s partially about comfort.
“People can rely on cask. People want to go back to the familiar — and they want beer in a pub. Which is why sales of mini casks have seen a huge rise.
“Another thing that’s specific to us is our venison. On the farm we have our deer and selling venison boxes alongside our beer gives yet another tie to the landscape here, and offers something different and delicious at the same time. It’s that craft, that artisanal side of our brewery and the farm that people love.”
As far as trends go though, Jamie’s not sure things will carry on in the way they had been pre-Covid.
“The constant search for something new isn’t sustainable,” he says, “It’s brutal for the industry. We’ve tried to dial it back a bit. We’re going to try and focus hard on quality over quantity and trend. We want to drop out of variety for variety’s sake, and I think other breweries are feeling the same way.”
He’s also unsure about how the terminology around beer has developed over the past couple of years.
“There’s a tendency now to say that every beer is your best beer ever, that we’re all amazing, wow, incredible. Everything is in superlatives. We should never be afraid to say that even after 20 years in the business we still have things to learn; that innovation drives the industry but actually can sometimes get in the way of dialling in and doing the best we can do.
“Hopping from lily pad to lily pad, onto the next big thing, teaches everyone that getting a jump on the next thing is what’s valuable, when really, the beer really needs to be as good as it can possibly be. Taking the time to ensure that it is — it’s important. We’re trying to take a step back from that.”
But Fyne aren’t averse to innovation done correctly. Far from it. Their Origins Project beers continue to innovate years after their first beers were developed for the project, and Jamie is rightfully proud of how this side of Fyne Ales has evolved.
“We’re at the stage now where after five or six years into this project, we’re only just seeing the tip of the iceberg in what’s being created,” he explains, with excitement in his voice.
“The Origins Project has always been about brewing beer that tells the story of the place it comes from, and uses local fruit and ingredients that help create that picture.”
In a further step towards achieving this lofty goal, Origins Project’s head brewer Paweł Nowak has made a move to make the base beer for each brew from spontaneously fermented wort. This will add an exciting complexity thanks to naturally-occurring yeasts found in the brewery’s immediate landscape. It’s this sort of thing that Jamie says keeps them all going up there in rural Scotland.
“Just as long as we can keep doing what we love, we’re happy,” he says.“Fundamentally change will come, but in change comes opportunity. And I really believe that.”
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