Be You! What It Means To Be A Farm Brewery
In the first blog in this series, we highlighted that we were looking to create a new brand image that better reflected who we are, a big part of which is where we are – tucked away on a working farm in rural Argyll.
Being a farm brewery isn’t something that we’ve talked much about in recent years, but in an industry bursting with breweries operating out of industrial estates and railway arches, being a farm brewery is something we’re proud of and want to talk about more. So, let’s start the conversation…
While the story of our brewery starts in November 2001, the prologue to the story extends significantly further back in time.
Fyne Ales is based in Glen Fyne, specifically on the Achadunan Estate, 4500 acres of land with a salmon river on one side and peat-rich hills on the other. The estate has been in the family of our founders, Tuggy Delap and Jonny Delap, for five generations, and used as farmland since before even then, with the farm buildings that now house our brewery dating back to the early nineteenth century.
When Tuggy and Jonny returned to Glen Fyne in 2001 after spending time living in England, they had grand ambitions for the estate – they wanted to bring jobs, industry and tourism back to their land that had not been used to its full potential for several years by starting a new business using the old farm buildings. Among their many ideas, it was a brewery that felt like it had the best chance of success, with the added benefits that it would give Jonny and his friends access to good beer, and Tuggy the opportunity to reinvigorate the estate’s farm heritage at the same time.
With the unpredictable climate, peaty soil and hillside nature of much of the Achadunan land, pastoral farming is the only real option. Tuggy, having grown up with highland cows on the estate, jumped at the chance to bring the shaggy-haired beasts back to the land. We started modestly with four cows and one heifer – just enough to establish the herd and to consume the spent grain from the small brews that were taking place in the converted dairy building where our first kit was installed.
Over the past 16 years, the brewery has grown, and so has the farm’s herds – we now have 27 highland cows and two bulls – one shorthorn beef bull, Freddy, and a highland bull, Seamus, a more recent addition. We also have around a hundred sheep – a mix of North Country Cheviots and Scottish Mules, which are bred with Suffolk Tups to ensure they’re hardy enough for the chilly Argyll winters. Most recently, we’ve established a deer farm with a growing herd of around two hundred red deer enjoying the scenery of the glen and the spent grain from the brewery. If you ask Tuggy, she’ll tell you that Fyne Ales is first and foremost a spent grain production facility for her animals, and that the beer is just a byproduct.
There’s a lot of take pride in, in both our location and our farm brewery status – we’ve always believed that with so much history, and so much beauty in the estate, that it’s important that our brewing activities not detract from the land and that we actually do everything we can to make a contribution to the ecosystem we’re part of.
Being outwith the reaches of mains water supply, our brewing water is drawn directly from the hills adjacent to the brewery, and during the development of our new brewery (a converted sheep shed), we invested heavily in an effluent processing facility to ensure any liquid byproducts of the brewing process are completely neutral when reintroduced to the land.
In recent years, we’ve undertaken a project to restock our River Fyne with salmon, started a woodland creation programme with support from the European Agricultural Fund for European Development, installed solar panels on the roof of the Brewery Tap to power our bar, shop and visitor centre and begun using the meat produced by our farm to not only supply local restaurants, but to be made into pies and pastries by local caterers to serve in our Brewery Tap, amongst many initiatives to integrate our brewing activities with the farm and the land.
In December 2017 we launched our Origins Brewing project – the purest expression of our farm brewery status, brewing farmhouse-style beers that draw inspiration from diverse sources, but are all deeply rooted in our history and location. The Origins Brewing beers are a bold celebration of our provenance, but we want that celebration to also be reflected in all our beers and everything we do.
We’ve shied away from talking too much about being a farm brewery in the past due to potential negative connotations around what it means. For some people ‘farm brewery’ might conjure up ideas of dirty equipment, off-flavours and poor quality products, but over the past 16 years we’ve worked hard to prove that doesn’t have to be the case. At the same time as promoting biodiversity, building sustainable herds of sheep, deer and highland cattle and actively working to enhance our environment, we’re knocking out award-winning beers on a state-of-the-art British brew kit. Rustic, humble origins need not mean rustic, low-quality products.
We’re proud to be a farm brewery in rural Scotland, and the hard work we’ve done to grow our business in this challenging, beautiful and unique setting – at the end of the day, there would be no Fyne Ales without the farm, and there would be no farm without Fyne Ales.
So, over to you to carry on the conversation – did you know Jarl was brewed in a former sheep shed? Does it matter? Have you visited our little corner of Scotland to see our unique location for yourself?