Fyne Folk – Tuggy Delap, Founder
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 and what their hopes are for a post-pandemic brewery and world.
This week’s Fyne Folk, we ventured to the farmhouse for a catch-up with Fyne Ales founder, Tuggy Delap. While Tuggy’s no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the brewery, she continues to run the estate’s farm and lives in the farmhouse adjacent to the original brewery and courtyard, so had a natter about farming, brewing and everything in between.
We usually start these chats by asking about your memories of the start of the pandemic, when lockdown measures were announced and the brewery was effectively shut down – what was it like up here back in March and April?
The brewery was a sad place – we’re so used to having people around and suddenly, not only were the staff not around, but even worse there were no visitors coming up to see us.
I didn’t go out into the world at all, my health means I am considered part of the vulnerable group so I was under strict instructions from Jamie [Tuggy’s son and Fyne Ales MD] and my dear sister to be sensible and safe. I was well looked after and I was never lonely – even during lockdown there always seemed to be someone coming to the door to check I was okay and if I needed anything, but it was a very different place in the glen during those early days of lockdown.
But in terms of the farm, things had to keep going?
Well, the big difference between the brewery and the farm is that the farm never closed. Nothing really changed – the animals still had to be looked after, silage had to be made, so it was all go on the farm all summer. The calves arrived as they were supposed to and the deer had their fawns – they all looked so wonderful in the sunshine, and watching the stags regrowing their antlers and shedding their velvet is always a treat.
The only real worry we had was food for the animals. We had a very wet winter and spring, and then so much glorious weather when the summer came around and unfortunately the grass forgot to grow. Then with the brewery closed there was suddenly no spent grain being produced for the animal either so we were really scraping – using everything we had down to the last bale of last summer’s sillage, and the last bag of grain from our reserves. Luckily, things started back up again and we didn’t have to buy in much food from elsewhere and we were able to keep all the animals happy and fed.
Back in May, we trialled selling meat from the farm on the Fyne Ales online shop – what was the thinking behind bringing the brewery and farm together in that way for the first time?
It’s been a very hard year for farmers – when all the restaurants closed, the demand for everything went down and prices dropped like a breezeblock, never mind a stone. We’d normally sell the animals to the butchers and they’d take it from there, but that all had to change and it was up to us to figure out what we were going to do with the animals and the meat.
Fyne Ales has such a strong following and we were able to tell the story of the farm and the animals and use the online shop to get orders for the venison boxes – we weren’t sure how it was going to go, but it worked remarkably well and the feedback was excellent.
And we’ll be putting the boxes on sale again very soon?
Yes of course – we’re doing it again now, and we had lots of people last time saying “do let me know when the venison is available again” so I hope it’ll do as well as it did in May.
While you’re not directly involved in organisation of FyneFest, you and the farm are obviously key parts of it – how are you feeling having missed a year?
Well usually all the farm house is overrun at that time of year – every bed is occupied by a member of the team, the shower is constantly running, bacon is always being cooked up. I remember a couple of years ago coming down to start breakfast and finding a member of the crew curled up in Simba’s [Tuggy’s dog & Fyne Ales legend] basket in the corner of the kitchen, which was quite surprising, especially for Simba.
It’s sad that we weren’t able to support the event staff this year, so many of them are self-employed and it’s been a nightmare for them when you think it’s not only FyneFest that was cancelled – the whole events industry collapsed.
The festival is a lot of work for everyone, but it brings a lot of people a lot of pleasure and we love having so many people enjoying themselves in the glen. I’m sure we’ll make up for it next year.
Has it been good to start to see some normality coming back to Glen Fyne?
It’s good to see people back in the glen – obviously Jamie’s been up to the office every week, but we’ve had his son Hamish up helping with some IT for the brewery, and Mungo [Tuggy’s son and Fyne Ales director] and his wife Dara have been up regularly, helping sort out the courtyard, and their son came up and helped paint the new tables we put in under the big tent – it’s been a real family effort, everyone pitching in.
The courtyard and shop setup seems to be working and when the weather is lovely you see everyone sitting outside enjoying the weather and the beer. It feels so much better when there are people around the place – we love our friends who come to see us and it’s obviously such a support for the brewery for people to come and have a pint and take away some bottles with the pubs not being back up to speed yet.
How will you look back on 2020 and the pandemic?
It’s been a challenge and learning curve for everybody, I think it’s been surprising to learn what you can live without and what you can’t live without – and based on our online shop sales it seems a lot of people couldn’t live without our beers when the pubs were shut, which has been a saving grace for the brewery over the last six months.
I think 2020 will be remembered as the most difficult year any of us have lived through – and we’re not there yet, the pandemic isn’t over and the vaccine is still maybe a long way away. Saying that, there’s a will to keep things going, to keep working, to find a way to get through. Everyone at the brewery has been supporting each other, Mungo and Jamie have been doing everything they can to keep the brewery going. We’ve just got to keep working hard.