Each year Fyne Ales brew a lot of new beers – testing recipe ideas, exploring new ingredients, collaborating with friends etc. Most of these small-batch specials come and go with little fanfare, but sometimes a one-off brew deserves a bit more spotlight – this is one of those occasions.
Introducing JSD a 6% amber ale, brewed in collaboration with Lacons, in memory of Fyne Ales founder, Jonny Delap (1941-2009). JSD is a reworking of Jonny’s favourite beer, Highlander, amplified to export strength and given a liberal dry-hopping using Celeia and Mt Hood.
The idea for JSD originated from Wil Wood, former Fyne Ales head brewer, now at the helm of the Lacons brewery in Norfolk. He reached out to the team late last year to see if there was any interest in working together on a beer to mark ten years since Jonny’s passing – a tribute to the great man who founded and managed our brewery alongside his wife Tuggy from 2001-2009.
“It felt important to do something to remember Jonny as he was such a brilliant man,” explains Wil. “Highlander was always Jonny’s favourite, partly because it was the strongest beer we brewed, so doing a bigger version in his honour feels very appropriate – I think he would have loved it.”
But this blog isn’t just to introduce the beer brewed in memory of Jonny, it’s a chance to remember the man himself and share stories about him from those who knew him.
Jonny’s story obviously started long before Fyne Ales. Born in Kenya and raised by his great uncle (his father threw him out when he was six years old), Jonny first came to the UK when he was 13 to complete his schooling, before returning to Kenya to work on his uncle’s farm. His goal was to gain enough experience to qualify for further study at Devon’s Seale-Hayne agricultural college, but there were a couple of bumps in his road back to the UK. Firstly, his father tried to have him kidnapped because he thought Jonny was wasting his time with farming and should join the Kenyan army. Fortunately it was thwarted when Jonny bought the would-be kidnappers a pint and convinced them it would be a bad idea. Secondly, the college wouldn’t admit him based on his time working in Kenya, demanding instead that his practical experience be undertaken in the UK.
So, returning to England, Jonny spent a year working on a dairy farm, successfully gambling his wages each weekend using tips from the farmer’s brother who trained race horses, before securing his place at Seale-Hayne. He loved his time at the college, spending his term times learning the farming industry and his summers picking hops at a friend’s farm in Kent.
On completion of his studies (with a ‘reasonable’ pass mark), Jonny was recruited by an animal feed company who put him through a management training course while he worked, giving him time with each part of the business and learning how the corporate side of it worked.
“His favourite story from his time training was when he was working with the sales team,” explains Jonny’s wife and Fyne Ales co-founder, Tuggy Delap. “He found himself in a pet store selling dog food at the same time as another salesman, so the store owner opened both of their tins, handed them both spoons and told them to prove they believed in the product. While his rival refused, Jonny wasn’t too proud to show there was nothing wrong with his product and secured the sale.” At the end of his training, he was offered a position with the company’s sales and marketing team working out of their head office in central London, where he would soon meet a young Tuggy Noble.
“I met Jonny when I was 18, at my very first party in London. My sister Marya was organising a dinner party before the dance and was quite short of chaps, so she invited Jonny as her guest,” shares Tuggy. “To everyone else, it was perfectly obvious that Marya and Jonny were never going to work, and while it perhaps wasn’t love at first sight between Jonny and I, there was definitely some obvious attraction.”
Despite sharing a lovely evening full of mischief and laughter, Tuggy and Jonny’s blossoming relationship was nearly curtailed after just one evening, as Marya warned Jonny off of her little sister the following day and Tuggy didn’t hear from him again.
“I wasn’t going to give up that easily, so I called him. On the night we met, Jonny had asked me to an upcoming ball, so I told him that I was going home to Scotland but if he was serious about us going to the ball together I’d come back to London for it” explains Tuggy. “He said ‘no, of course we’ll go together’, and that was it really – we were always together after that.”
“We got married a year later in 1967 at St Paul’s Knightsbridge, it was a beautiful service with a wonderful choir – they asked what we’d like them to sing and we told them to sing whatever they enjoyed singing best, because that’s what they’d perform best at our wedding. I remember arriving at the church with my dad, and him turning to me with a very loud stage whisper to tell me ‘it’s okay darling, he’s come’.”
Jonny and Tuggy were married for over forty years, the majority of which was spent living in England, with a brief time in Glasgow when Jonny’s work took them back to Scotland. They raised two sons, Jamie and Mungo (Michael), and lived happily and healthily until 1999, the year that Jonny was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the Delap family’s lives took a fairly dramatic turn.
“My dad was told he had maybe five-to-ten good years left after his diagnosis” remembers Mungo. “He and my mum had always planned to retire to the glen to do something with the land, his illness just expedited the plan – his attitude was that if he only had ten years left, why spend them working for someone else when he could spend them working for himself to build something to leave behind.”
Jonny and Tuggy moved back into the Glen Fyne farmhouse in 2000 and set to work finding a new use for the farm’s historic buildings. Their initial plan was to rent out the old dairy barn to a man looking to set up a smokehouse, but this fell through. However, a permit for food production had been approved and so starts the Fyne Ales journey. “The boys and I were in the house, having a pint in front of the fire before Sunday lunch, debating what to do with the barn, and I suggested we could open a brewery,” remembers Tuggy. “Their response was ‘we might as well humour her’, but the idea took root and that’s where it started. We spent a lot of time researching breweries down in England, and building relationships with potential customers in Scotland, talking to them about what we were planning to do – some told us we were completely mad, others just told us we were nuts, but lots of them also said they’d be willing to give our beers a go if we went ahead with it – so we did.”
“Who gets diagnosed with something like Parkinsons and decides it’s a good time to start a new business?” Mungo’s reaction to the project echoed many others at the beginning. “But, they threw themselves into it wholehearted from day one – Jamie and I used to laugh and say that we didn’t know if it was killing dad or curing him, but it gave him a purpose, it gave him life back.”
The early days of Fyne Ales were a whirlwind – the word ‘chaos’ comes up fairly frequently talking to those who were around at the time. Success in local and national beer competitions meant that demand grew quickly, with the brew team handling production on a refurbished second-hand kit shipped up from England, Jonny doing his best to keep the accounts in the black and Tuggy using the farm’s Land Rover to deliver beer around Scotland.
As the brewery grew, so did the team, both Head Brewer Wil and a new brewer, Malcolm Downie, joined the team in 2005. “I took a liking to Jonny straight away – he was an old-school gentleman – very charming, very calm, very proper. He seemed to take everything in his stride, and it was very rare to see him lose his temper,” Malcolm reflects. “The closest I ever saw to Jonny getting angry was when we lost [Fyne Ales drayman] Archie in Edinburgh. The four of us, Jonny, Tuggy, Archie and I were at a CAMRA festival in the Assembly Rooms – I was staying in Edinburgh, but Archie, who was a bit worse for wear, needed a lift back up the road, so when Jonny and Tuggy decided to go for some food before going home, Archie went with them. Fast forward a couple of hours and Jonny and Tuggy come back to the festival, without Archie who’s apparently vanished. After an hour of trying to get a hold of him and looking for him, they decide to head off – if he turned up, I was to make sure he was okay. Five minutes into their journey, who do they see staggering along the Glasgow Road and trying to hitchhike his way home? Young Archie, kebab in hand. It was always funny hearing Jonny swear because he was usually so proper – he gave me a good few laughs that night.”
Former Head Brewer Wil’s had an immediate affinity with Jonny when he started at the brewery in 2005 – they not only shared a birthday, they shared a love of flavour. “The thing about Jonny was that he had an incredible palette. He obviously had always appreciated the finer things, especially his wine, but when I started at the brewery it quickly became clear he really knew his way around flavours. If something wasn’t right with a beer, he didn’t hesitate to tell us.”
“Jonny was very kind, very generous with his time,” Fyne Ales Office Manager Elaine reflects on her time working with Jonny, joining the team in 2007 in a part-time accounts role. “He took responsibility for all the admin side of the business, not because he enjoyed it, or because he was particularly good at it, but because running a brewery comes with a lot of paperwork, and he was the best person to do it. It was a huge amount of work for someone with his condition, but he took it on and got it done. He was determined not to let it get the best of him.”
Despite his deteriorating health, Jonny refused to step back from the brewery business, insisting on maintaining the personal relationships that had helped get Fyne Ales off the ground years earlier. “Dad was a character, maybe a bit of an eccentric, and he liked people like him – people who were unique, a little quirky. Luckily, there’s a lot of unique characters in beer, so he was right at home running a brewery and loved spending time with them,” shares Jamie. “People would regularly come to the brewery pick up casks or cases of bottles and he’d happily spend hours chatting to them, finding out where they were from and what had brought them to the glen, listening to their stories; he always had one more question to ask about you. The people who wanted to buy our beer weren’t just customers to him, they were much more than that – he cared about them.”
Jonny passed away in May 2009, aged 68. His legacy is not only in the brewery he and Tuggy founded and the beers he helped create, it’s also the relationships he forged that became the foundation for Fyne Ales’ success today.
“I don’t think my dad could have imagined the brewery getting the size it is now, but I know he’d be happy with what we’ve built in terms of securing Fyne Ales’ future,” concludes Jamie, now Fyne Ales Managing Director. “He put a lot of years, and a lot of energy into the brewery, and the fact that we’re now bringing good beer and pleasure to so many people and have established something that will give purpose to Glen Fyne for many, many years to come would make him immensely proud.”
If you have any memories of meeting Jonny or visiting the brewery in the first few years, please share them with us on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) and If you’re keen to join the celebrations of Jonny’s incredible life, seek out J.S.D on a bar near you and raise a glass to the man who helped start it all.
Thanks for reading.