Sunday, 10 June 2012


It’s difficult to know what to say about Fyne Ales’ annual festival, now in its third year, that I didn’t already say in previous posts about it. Everything that was true in the past is still true: the scenery is gorgeous, the line-up of beers on offer is a roll-call of breweries who specialise in pale ’n’ hoppy, Fyne is a brewery at the top of its game and currently defines the pinnacle of Scottish brewing.

There are changes this year, as there were last year. The beer tent has moved even further into the fields! There are showers for campers! The latter would be very welcome, but I’ve hurt my knee and wasn’t up to camping this time. I just manage to make it up for the day – it’s an early start on the 0915 bus from Glasgow, returning at teatime; there are only four buses a day in each direction, which makes pre-planning essential.

The first, most noticeable change on arrival is that the former slightly dingy brewery shop has been revamped, extended and transformed into a swish, stylish brewery tap. No less than five cask beers were on when Adam and I roll up shortly before 11; I suspect there may be fewer on offer when there’s not a festival on.

The shop continues along one wall of the bar: as well as items of crucial importance to the festival, spare tent pegs, there are bottled beers, glasses and clothing, including the new Jarl t-shirts, the only brewery clothing I have ever felt inclined to purchase or wear. Unfortunately it has the C-word printed on it, but luckily it’s below the belt-line where nobody will see it.

Wisely, the bar offers wi-fi, an absolute necessity, as we are so far in the countryside that mobile phone signals are decidedly erratic. We get stuck into the first beer of the day, a new one called Rune at just 3.5%. It’s straw-gold and intensely bitter, pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a Fyne beer.

The next beer is quite different – the other beer making its debut at the festival, Superior IPA (7.1%). It’s early for a strong beer still, but the other beers are old favourites and we want to tick the new ones. The heavy body outweighs the hops at first, with some butteriness, with the oily-resiny bitterness not really coming through until the end. It’s their first go at a strong IPA and although good it’s not quite spot on yet; it’s still less than three weeks old.

The folks from AleSela wander in in search of food, preferably involving bacon. I don’t know if they get any bacon but they do get tea served in chunky, expensive-looking Le Creuset mugs. I am a bit concerned these are going to get nicked. Then again, the dogs will catch up with you before you get off the farm, so perhaps the mugs are safe enough.

Now it’s down to the marquee in the field where the real action is. I say action; it’s still quiet, a combination of the first Sunday arrivals and the hungover zombies packing up their tents. One pair of such are Jake and Chris who will be back at the end of the month to brew a special beer with head brewer Wil; they’ve won an Institute of Brewing and Distilling competition with their spectacular homebrew and having their recipe brewed commercially was the prize. Then we run into Dom and Colin who have been here since Friday night.

Somehow we get onto talking about Boddington’s Bitter. It’s only once we’ve parted and I’m finally in the beer tent that I wonder how Dom can possibly know so much about Boddington’s, as he’s far too young to have been drinking it when it was good.

Yes, finally in the beer tent! A Moor Nor Hops has magnificent hop aroma and smells properly beery, not anaemic and one-dimensional like so many new-wave hop-heavy beers. The flavour is underwhelming after that, but it’s brilliant just getting your nose into the glass every time you take a sip.

Then onto Lismore. Fyne are doing a series of IPAs this year, released in pairs: always the same beer in blonde and dark versions. Lismore is the second in the series and comes in blonde and red versions, following on from the black and blonde Davaar. I preferred blonde Davaar and it turns out I like blonde Lismore better too – fruitily sweet with a lingering bitter finish.

The problem with Fyne’s festival, as I’ve noted before, is that their own beers are so good it takes an effort of will to switch to the guest beers they’ve gone to all the trouble of putting on.

Not all the beers have travelled well. Oakham JHB should be dry and lemony, but is biscuity. Marble Pint on the other hand is a damn fine ordinary beer, and unsparkled as God intended. Their Brown Ale is superb too but we’ve reached the stage where notes get forgotten.

There are brewery tours every hour on the hour. Poor Wil is quite hoarse already. The brewery is operating at full capacity to produce enough Jarl for the thirsty and he is looking forward to the construction of the planned new 40-barrel plant. Jarl was introduced as a seasonal at the first festival just two years ago; now it’s their de facto flagship beer. And to think I didn’t want them to make it a regular beer.

We have seen the brewhouse before of course; secretly we’re hoping there will be a rare beer to sample, as there was last year with the two-year-old IPA that just happened to be lying about. (There isn’t; maybe there was and it got snaffled the day before).

Time is getting on and back in the marquee I want to have another go at the Superior IPA to decide whether or not I like it. I wouldn’t have believed two casks of the same beer could be so different. The butteriness has gone but it has an inexplicable coffee taste to it.

A quick last beer in the tap and it’s time for the bus home. Just as well. Can't beat beer festivals in fields.

1 comment:

  1. Dominic, Thornbridge Brewery10 June 2012 at 19:43

    I know plenty of old farts in Manchester who were obsessed with the old Boddies beer, a very dry, hoppy yellow bitter, pre-Whitbread takeover of course. It was their passion for this style that drove us at Marble to perfect our Manchester Bitter recipe. Luckily, I also know a couple of the old brewers from pre-Whitbread days.

    I spent enough time in the shadow of the old brewery building in Manchester to get that weird feeling of 'ownership' that comes with living close to an iconic brewery. See also Tandleman re: JW Lees.

    As an ex-Trafford and Hulme CAMRA member, I also remember when Hydes Brewery took over its cask production and I discovered (by pure sneakiness) they were using their yeast strain and processes to brew the beer, making it an utterly redundant 'brand-name' beer.

    I'm still very disappointed that Ron and Kristen chose to publish the 1987 recipe instead of the stronger 1970s version, which, according to one old Mancunian beer drinker, 'grabbed you by the lapels and ripped the skin from the back of your throat'. He claimed it to be a deeply satisfying beer.