Fyne Folk – Graham Coates, Regional Sales Manager
Welcome to this week’s Fyne Folk, our blog introducing Fyne Ales team members and talking to them about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to introduce you to the folk who make our brewery what it is, and share their stories from lockdown, how they’ve been coping with the new normal and what their hopes are for a post-pandemic brewery and world.
This week we caught up with our Regional Sales Manager, Graham Coates. Graham’s normal job is all about finding the best pubs, and getting them the best (Fyne Ales) beers. Based in Edinburgh, his region covers hundreds of bars across East Scotland, Dumfries, the Borders, Cumbria, Newcastle, Durham and everywhere in between. Some people might describe Graham as a bit of a workaholic, so we sat down for a chat about how he coped when the work wasn’t there to keep him busy.
So Graham, how’s your 2020 been?
It’s been a tough year so far – that’s for sure, and it’s been frustrating. We spent a lot of time last year making big plans for 2020 on how to grow Fyne Ales and use Jarl’s 10th birthday to not only celebrate with our customers, but try and reach new ones, especially down in England. Jarl’s got such a strong following up here, and it’s getting more well-known down south, but 2020 was going to be the year we really pushed our flagship beer and shouted about how good it really is. And well, that obviously wasn’t possible when everything fell apart in March and well, that sucked.
Tell me about your time on furlough and not being able to work?
I’m personally very driven by attainment – I need to feel I’m working hard and that I’m using my time to achieve things and get things done, so having nothing to do for work was quite a challenge, it left a bit of a hole in my life.
The primary way I tried to fill that hole was working on my Dungeons and Dragons campaign, because it felt productive. We kept up our weekly sessions with our friends, on Zoom because we couldn’t meet up, and I wrote 2000 years of history for the campaign – I had a lot of time, and it was a really good escape from the real world. I subscribed to Zoom Pro so we didn’t have to worry about time when we were playing – I love that everyone else got Zoom Pro so they could use it for important business meetings and I got it so I could pretend to be a wizard with my friends.
Your partner is an NHS nurse – it must have been quite tough?
Yeah, so the other thing that I spent a lot of time doing was supporting Sarah and her wellbeing. She was working on a Covid ward and the first wave of the virus back in Spring was brutal and really draining for her – so I was getting her to and from the hospital, making her lunches and just trying to make things easier for her however I could. She’s amazing though, she powered through and never complained including when she tested positive for the virus. Luckily her symptoms weren’t severe, just a little reduced taste and smell – the two weeks self-isolation were probably the worst part of it.
You normally ask what people were drinking – can you ask me about that?
What were you been drinking over the summer?
Cans of Jarl. The 440ml cans of Jarl are the best thing we’ve done in years and I probably got through about a case a week when they first came out. For me, the recipe tweaks the brewers did brought them just a little bit closer to the cask version and that’s all I needed – sitting in the sunshine, cold can of Jarl and it was almost possible to forget how messed up everything was in the world. They are beautiful.
Back in July, the rules were relaxed and you were able to come back to work – how did you feel about getting back into Fyne Ales business?
I was massively energised when the pubs reopened – there were a few days where they were open in England before they did in Scotland, so I drove down to Berwick to get a pint of Jarl at one of our permanent line customers – I was gasping for a proper pint of cask.
Right from the start of the pandemic we knew we had to support our pub customers – we kept in touch with them, we replaced their beer free of charge, we wanted them to know we were there for them, and we had a really good couple of months of sales, all things considered. Not quite a normal summer, but given the limited capacities and table service and all the other things the pubs had to do to reopen, we had an amazing amount of support from the pubs and it was clear that people needed a taste of reality, and a taste of good draught beer again. There’s nothing quite like going to a pub and finding beers you haven’t tried before and talking to the staff to find out the story of the beer and the brewery – I missed it, and lots of other people did too.
How are you feeling now, with new restrictions in place and about the future for hospitality while we wait for a vaccine?
I think the measures imposed on hospitality have been unfair and hospitality is being punished for something that isn’t its fault. I accept that measures need to be put in place to protect people, but the evidence, the science, that hospitality is the cause of the problem doesn’t stack up and now there are so many pubs in the horrible position of having to close, with little support to help them open again when they’re allowed to. I’ve no doubt that many pubs are going to close for good before the end of the year and it’s heartbreaking, especially when you think about how much work they put in to make their spaces safe for people to enjoy.
And of course, there’ll be a knock-on effect for independent breweries like us. Okay, we’re not completely closed and we’ve been so lucky to have had such a brilliant response to our online shop, but closing down hospitality in the central belt basically wipes out two-thirds of our sales – I don’t know if it’s sustainable, but we’ll keep doing everything we can to come out next year as strong as we can.