Founded in 2001, Fyne Ales, situated in Cairndow, Scotland is a brewery in the most idyllic of landscapes but with an ethos that is far from defined by aesthetic alone.
Taken straight from their website, when they opened almost 20 years ago, the aim was to bring prosperity – jobs, industry and tourism – to the quiet, isolated corner of Scotland that their founders’ call home. The Fyne Ales story is one I’ve enjoyed reading over the past couple of years with the move to their second brewery increasing their output in Scotland and beyond.
There’s nothing I can say that the guys at Fyne don’t say better themselves so read all about them right here.
This week’s beers
This week we’re focusing on four of Fyne Ales beers from their all year round range. I’ve never had any of these beers so am looking forward to the week ahead.
Jarl – Citra Session Blonde – 3.8%
What a beer. I’ve heard a lot about Jarl before and being an avid “Twitterer” tend to see Jarl synonymous with Fyne Ales. Somehow though, never managed to drink one. The brewery’s flagship blonde ale, Jarl exceeded all expectations as our first beer of the week from the Scotland brewery. A true showcase of how to use Citra in a world where the American hop is bastardised in so many beers, Jarl is on point.
I hear a lot, and am guilty of saying regularly, beers around the 5% and even 6% mark are “dangerously sessionable” and I think that’s largely due to changing drink cultures and the way in which breweries hide the alcohol. This though, is a true session beer. 3.8% ABV and packed with flavour. What strikes me with this is just how balanced a beer it is. The sweetness from the malt offers a beautiful undertone and tastes like a typical English bitter but the Citra makes it a modern marvel. Nothing more needs adding on this; most of you will have drank it and know exactly what you get. Go give it a purchase here!
Billed as a thirst-quenching pale ale, Avalanche is a 4.5% golden pale brewed with Cascade and Liberty hops. I love the name, chosen based on the band I Am The Avalanche and was expecting a lot having had Jarl earlier in the week.
Avalanche is much punchier than Jarl, rather than being a great session this is a different style pale, slightly more hop forward but still traditional in style. It’s ridiculously clean, with a great piney, resinous finish. First brewed in 2007 this beer went on to win best pale at the World Beer awards and you can see why. Light malt notes cascade with the Liberty to create a beautiful, pale worthy of any fridge or bar.
Meet Fyne Ales…Iain Smith
So let’s start with an introduction, who are Fyne Ales and how did the brewery come about?
Fyne Ales is a farm brewery based at the top of Loch Fyne in Argyll, Scotland. We’ve been going since 2001, when husband and wife Jonny and Tuggy returned to Tuggy’s family farm estate and wanted to do something with the land to try and bring a bit of life back to the glen and to our community – something a bit more interesting than cows and sheep.
They converted a disused dairy building, installed a pretty simple 10BBL (1600 litre) kit and hired a head brewer and began brewing a range of fairly traditional, high quality beers – we won heaps of awards in the first few years for our cask ales. As the craft beer movement grew in the UK, so did we. We converted more buildings into a brewery tap & shop, launched our own beer festival in Glen Fyne and most importantly, diversifying our range and building a new 40BBL (6500 litre) brewery in an rebuilt sheep shed.
We’ve come a long way in 19 years as a brewery, but at the core we’re still the same brewery, working hard on a working farm to try and bring life and good beer to our community – it’s just our community is a lot bigger and spread out than it used to be.
You seem to have a great core range of beers currently that are doing so, so well. What’s the ethos behind your brewing and how do the ideas come to fruition?
Our year-round range has been developed over quite a few years. Highlander, our traditional amber, was the first beer we ever brewed and it’s still our biggest seller in our local area. Most of the beers we brew regularly earned their spot in the line-up organically – take Jarl, which is now our most popular beer – we were given the chance to brew with some of the first Citra to arrive in the UK in 2010 and we knew it was a brilliant opportunity, so we brewed it as a small-batch special for our festival. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive so we rebrewed it a few times before eventually it displaced our then year-round session blonde in our line-up and grew to become our flagship beer.
When it comes to small-batch beers, we’ve never been a brewery to chase trends or gimmicks – I’m quite proud that we never brewed a brut IPA. Our team works collaboratively to come with concepts before the brewers flesh them out into recipes and bring them to life. It’s all pretty chill to be honest.
One of your flagship brands is your Origins range – some simply incredible beers including Oak Aged Saisons and wild fruit sours; what’s the reason behind setting up this part of the business?
Our location is such a big part of who we are as a brewery, it’s important to us that we enhance our ecosystem, not detract from it, and happily take on all the challenges that presents – Fyne Ales Origins Brewing came from a desire to showcase our Glen Fyne home in our beers.
That might sound odd – our MD Jamie always says he wants to convey “a sense of place in the glass” and to us that means beers that could only be made by us, on our farm in rural Western Scotland. We brew with the seasons, using foraged ingredients as much as we can, coolshipping to capture native microflora – it’s all about telling the story of where we are and who we are in the beers.
I am so proud of Origins Brewing – it’s still a small part of what we do, but it’s an important part of what we do.
And if you had to choose, what’s your favourite beer you’ve brewed so far?
Since we’re talking Origins Brewing, I should mention Home 3-Year Blend – Scotland’s first gueuze-style blend of aged spontaneously fermented beers. It’s the epitome of what we are trying to achieve with the Origins project – it’s entirely a product of its Glen Fyne environment and we’re really proud of it.
More recently, our first new beer of lockdown was a 5.3% IPA called Daydreamer that we packaged exclusively in mini-casks. It was a bit of a gamble, committing so much of a new beer to the format, but we sold out in record time and the feedback was brilliant. That’s definitely on the list for a brew again this year.
We’re drinking four beers as part of our Brewery of the Week feature, what can you tell us about these four….
I’m really excited that you’ve chosen to spotlight four of our year-round beers for your feature – and four hoppy pale ones at that. These are the beers that have been sustaining us through the difficult period of pub closure – beers you can fill the fridge with and come back to time and time again, so it feels good to have them showcased.
Avalanche actually predates Jarl by three years, first brewed in 2007 with Cascade and Liberty. At the time it was considered quite aggressively hoppy but now it sits comfortably in our year-round page as a ‘modern classic’ pale ale. Despite being situated in a Scottish glen, at the foot of a Munro, where it snows quite often, the name actually comes from the Brooklyn punk band I Am The Avalanche.
Workbench & Easy Trail
I’m going to talk about Workbench and Easy Trail together as they have a shared history and position in our range. Back in 2017 we decided our core IPA needed a revamp – the recipe had gone unchanged since 2013 and while we still loved the beer, it was time for something new. We started the ‘Workbench Project’ – the idea being that we’d explore ideas and riffs for recipes, taking feedback from drinkers and making tweaks before landing on a new year-round beer, which is exactly what we did.
We went through four iterations of a 5.5% IPA, with the final recipe landing somewhere between the first and fourth versions, before launching the final Workbench IPA as one of our first cans at the end of 2018.
How does Easy Trail fit into it? For FyneFest 2017 we decided to take some of the early lessons we learned from the project and make a more sessionable, draft-only IPA that could be enjoyed a bit more casually over a festival weekend, so we made an off-shoot Workbench Session IPA. It was phenomenally popular and became a regular brew until it relaunched as Easy Trail alongside the final Workbench in cans.
Obviously, no Fyne Fest is devastating this year, how gutted were you to not have this and how well did the digital version of this go! I saw so many people engaging on social media.
FyneFest is a huge part of what we do – as I mentioned our location is so important to who we are and what we do as a brewery and being able to share it with 3000 folk each year for a weekend of escapism and awesome beer is amazing. So yeah, no FyneFest 2020 was pretty gutting for the whole team, especially as the planning cycle started back in August 2019. We did everything we could to try and find a way to move the festival until later this year, but with so much uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic, and the need for our team to focus on getting through the crisis in as best shape as possible, we ultimately had no choice but to cancel.
We were a little apprehensive about FyneFest At Home – we weren’t sure what the feeling would be given the disappointment of cancelling the festival, but we felt it was our duty to try and bring a bit of the Festival to folk at home so we put together a wee video playlist with tastings, interviews, a quiz, and shout-outs from our brewery pals and festival-goers. The response was lovely – lots of folk having socially distant garden parties and online hangouts with their pals – it was heartwarming to see people really getting into it.
And have plans started to make next year bigger and better than ever?
Tentatively, yes – we fully intend to make FyneFest 2021 (5-7June) our best ever after missing out on this year’s festival, but our main focus has to be weathering the current storm. The closure of pubs has had a huge impact on our brewery and we’ve had to work incredibly hard to keep things going, so that’s the priority. Luckily, we’ve had a huge level of support through our online shop, which had made a real difference.
If you’re thinking about joining us for FyneFest 2021, trust us that it’ll be worth the wait, and make sure to sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social for the latest festival news.
What’s your favourite beer event in the UK, other than Fyne Fest?
Ah, there’s so many awesome festivals and events, and so many different styles of events – that’s tricky.
I think I have to shout out to Cloudwater for their Friends & Family & Beer, we’ve poured for the last couple of years and they really set the bar in terms of showcasing the best of UK beer alongside the best of the rest of the world, raising money for good causes and making the event as inclusive as possible for brewers and attendees alike. They nail it.
A couple of slightly smaller, more niche events that for me are amongst the UK’s best – Affinity Brew Co’s CASK, which every year gets better at showcasing how good modern and progressive cask beer can be, and Abbeydale’s FunkFest, a celebration of all things mixed fermentation that’s got a real DIY and community ethos to it. It’s great that so many breweries are putting in work to put on creative and exciting events all over the UK – Thornbridge’s Peakender being another great example.
If you could collab with any brewery who would it be and why?
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a pretty special already – we met up with Cigar City’s Wayne Wambles around CBC 2018 and planned a two-headed collab for later that year, brewing an IPA and a big dark beer, Elegy, that’s literally just been released under the Origins Brewing banner after a year of aging in Hazelburn whisky barrels. Wayne’s got an incredible brewing mind – he has so much knowledge and his approach is so meticulous – it was an honour hosting him in Glen Fyne for a couple of brews.
As a team, we’re always open to collabs and we’re excited to pick up on the ones we had to put on pause when we started feeling the effects of the pandemic – so hopefully you’ll see some Fyne X Siren, Cloudwater, Queer Brewing Project and a few others before the year is out.
If you could brew with any ingredients, on one monster brew, nothing’s off limits, what would you include?
I think we’re lucky as a brewery that we’ve got the flexibility to be able to brew with pretty much we want across the two breweries – we’ve recently foraged a load of elderflowers which smell incredible and I’m excited for whatever Origins Brewing blend they end up in.
There’s a guy on Twitter who has been very persistent in suggesting we brew a haggis stout, which I am understandably dead against, but after another brewery recently released a roast dinner brown ale, maybe it’s not completely off the table.
The Covid Round
How much has the current situation put your brewing schedule for 2020 on hold?
For us, like many breweries, it’s been a case of adapting and surviving. We’re obviously brewing less beer, and we’ve massively scaled back our plans for small-batch specials to focus on our year-round beers, but it’s also given us opportunities, such as putting Jarl into can for the first time and brewing new beers for Mini-Cask Club members.
As a brewery we were hugely weighted towards keg and cask, we hope that when we come out the other side of this people will still want to enjoy our beers at home now they know how good they are and where to get them, but time will tell.
We’re looking forward to getting back into when we can – the collabs I mentioned earlier being something to look forward to when we can do so safely.
How can people continue to support you during this time – I can see you’ve just launched your Mini Cask Club, which is very dangerous!
I want to start by saying thank you to anyone reading this who has already supported us – by picking up our beers in a supermarket, bottle shop or ordering from our online shop. It’s really made a difference.
Anyone who is looking to try our beers, head over to our online shop (www.fyneales.com/shop) and you’ll find plenty there, or sign up to our Mini-Cask Club, the UK’s first cask-at-home subscription service to help bring a bit of the pub home.
When we get through it all, which we will, what are your main plans for events and brews in the second half of 2020?
There’s so much unknown and things are changing rapidly, so we’re playing it cautiously for now – we’ll be doing some digital events at the end of July for Jarl’s Birthday and joining Cloudwater for an online chat around the same time, but beyond that we’re hesitant to make too many ambitious plans – just getting our heads down and getting as much beer out as we can to keep us going.
One thing that does look imminent is the reopening of our Brewery Tap in a few weeks – it’s obviously not going to be the same experience, but just having folk up to the glen for some safe socially distant beers is going to be lovely.