Welcome to the Fyne Ales blog—here you’ll find the latest insight into what’s going on with the Fyne Ales team in the brewery, on the farm or on the road.

Fyne Folk – Phil Kemp, Financial Controller

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 finally caught up with our financial controller, Phil Kemp. The elusive Mr Kemp has been a key member of the team in 2020, even more so than in pervious years, as we navigate our way through the Coronavirus pandemic, so we caught up with him about the challenges 2020 has presented, the support we’ve had and, of course, beer.


How has your 2020 been?
Unprecedented [laughs]. I think I got tired of that word about two months into the pandemic yet you still seem hear it every day on the news.

What’s your memories of when everything kicked off back in the spring?
March feels like a long, long time ago, but it was an incredibly busy time. We scaled right back to just a very small team and of course, as financial controller, I was retained to try and figure out the numbers and what the pandemic would mean for the brewery.

Like everyone else who stayed on, I was doing lots of things that I hadn’t been responsible for in the past, as well as my normal role and having to figure out the rules and processes for the financial support that the government made available – grants and the furlough scheme. It was pretty full-on experience for that first couple of months – I was working almost every day to try and keep the wheels on and make sure there was still a viable business for everyone else to come back to.

How was navigating the government support  – I know the furlough scheme has been huge for us in being able to keep our team members going?
It’s funny because I don’t think very many people knew much about Rishi Sunak before 2020 – he’d only been in the cabinet for a few months when things started getting serious, but he very quickly became everyone’s favourite chancellor. At the start, people were terrified of what the pandemic, what lockdown, would mean for their jobs and their lives and he turned up with a big blank check and saved the day. Honestly, so many people benefitted massively from the furlough scheme – I don’t know where Fyne Ales would be now without it – I don’t know where the country would be now without it either.

Does it feel like we’re a bit back to square one, with England in lockdown again and the furlough scheme having been extended?
This one’s a bit more frustrating for me – if you look at the measures that the Scottish government put in place on a regional basis, it looks as though some of them have been working, but south of the border, the tier system wasn’t really given a chance to see if it would have an impact on the spread of the virus. I know the numbers they were talking about in England are pretty scary, but I’m not convinced that another national lockdown was justified, especially so suddenly.

When it comes to the brewery, things are much more difficult now than they were in the spring. We had that huge wave of people who wanted to support us, the weather was so good, there was a bit of a novelty in spending so much time at home and drinking at home. Our online shop was so busy between that first lockdown and when the pubs reopened, but we haven’t seen the same uptick in sales this time.

People are still buying, and of course we appreciate it, but it’s nowhere near what it was in the spring because of the weather, because people are bored of the pandemic now, or because they can’t afford luxuries like craft beer due to changes in their financial situation caused by the pandemic. It’s a lot, lot more difficult now.

Let’s touch on that middle part quickly, when the pubs reopened, because you were at the centre of helping lots of our trade customers getting beer again once they opened their doors?
Yeah, the online shop sales started to go down in July when pubs reopened, but at the same time we started selling to the trade again and honestly, we never expected anywhere near the amount of demand we had from pubs for getting our beers back on the bar again.

I think part of it was the system we put in place for replacing any out of date beer that couldn’t be used due to the first lockdown – it took the pain away for a lot of customers, and I’m happy we were able to support them as much as we did. It was the right thing to do because from our suppliers, to the brewery, to the pubs, to the customers ordering at the bar, it’s a chain, and one link in that chain failing collapses the whole thing – we needed to support our pub customers the same way that the public supported us by buying on our online shop.

The other part is that people wanted to drink in pubs again, which is always a good thing – so cheers to everyone who got a pint of Jarl in that brief summer period where we could all pretend things were a little bit more normal!

Let’s talk a little about your personal experiences of the pandemic – for health reasons, you’ve been almost entirely home-based this year?
We’re recording this in early November and this is my first day at the brewery since August, and maybe my tenth day here since March. It’s been a little strange, but working from home has its benefits, as I’m sure lots of people have found out this year.

I’m not a morning person, so my alarm goes off at least an hour later than it would if I were in the office and I can work later if I need to. Early on I started taking breaks in the late afternoon, around 4pm, an hour walk around the loch where we live to give myself some headspace and then come back and finish what I’m working on and that’s made a massive difference to my productivity.

I do miss being here sometimes – I miss the collaborative element of working in the office, listening to ideas and bouncing things around. It can be a bit negative working on your own as it feels like you’re not part of that positive, creative part of the work and you’re just dealing with issues and solving problems for people.

It’s November now, so I can ask this – how are you feeling about a ‘digital Christmas’?
It’s a difficult one, because so many people value Christmas so much, but I think it’s just the next thing that people are going to have to understand will be different this year.

It’s going to come to a point that we have to find ways and learn to live with the virus – it’s not going away, and even when an effective vaccine is found, it’s not going to have a significant short term effect, so it’s up to everyone, collectively to figure out how to live with the virus and take more social responsibility if we don’t want to be in this endless cycle of tough restrictions and lockdowns.

As time goes on, there will be things that make it easier an allow us to start to open up bits of society like hospitality, events and make it easier to live with the virus – things like quick turnaround tests, effective track and trace systems, support for those who have to isolate, they will make a difference and allow us to keep living, but we’re going to have to keep being sensible, and accept that there will have to be compromises to the way we live our lives for the next little while.

Let’s finish on something a little more upbeat – what have you been drinking this year?
All sorts. I’ve mostly been ordering online from independent retailers as I like to get a good mix of different breweries and different styles. Usually, at this time of year, I’d be putting together a box of 15-20 imperial stouts to see me through the winter, but I’m not this year because I’ve just put 20-litres of Mills & Hills in my boot for the home bar, so that should do me!


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