Could outdoor beer festivals be the new music festival? Most beery events take place in stuffy church halls or conference centres, requiring you to sharpen the elbows and surge towards the bar. Attempting to find a seat can be an impossibility – they are guarded by scowling groups of jowly men, brewery-stamped fleeces draped over every chairback. Instead, Fyne Ales’ FyneFest takes place outdoors, braced by cooling winds. Can’t find a seat? Sit on the grass. Bring a picnic. It’s like every music festival you’ve ever been to, only with amazing beer.
The third annual FyneFest took place last weekend, and it seems like each year is twice the size of the last. In 2010, the original – the entire festival – took place inside the brewery courtyard, whereas this year that space was solely reserved for the shower block. No wonder Tuggy Delap was wandering around beaming like the Michael Eavis of Argyll – the scale of the operation is enormous. Forty handpulls, a dozen music acts, a hundred tents and a million midgies. Avon Skin so Soft really works, however. If they made a moisturiser that repelled mosquitoes, Nobel Prizes all round.
It was still cold, however, and pretty windy. Last year was unfortunately a bit of a washout – so being able to spread out into the fields was fantastic. As ever, a fire was lit on the Saturday night – fuelled by the blasting airstream coming off the hills, it turned the early stages into a flamethrower. Fortunately it was well-marshalled, and after a few minutes the flames became more manageable. Even after harvesting as much heat as we could, the tent was still freezing – a few hours fitful sleep, and up for coffee and venison sausage rolls.
Also included was a tour of the Fyne Ales plant, led by the affable head brewer Wil Wood (centre). He arrived up in Scotland from Oakham, back in 2006, bringing plenty of ideas with him. I’ve been to the Fyne brewery several times – and tried pretty much every major beer they have produced – so to see where it all happens was a treat. The real surprise was how cramped everything there is. Keen to get a new facility in ‘the bigger barn’, that they get so much quality beer out of tiny premises is astonishing. Also, their water source is the burn that flows down from the hill behind the farm, which I love.
But what about the beer on offer? Jamie Delap works hard to get as much progressive beer to the festival as possible – hence the casks from Moor Beer Co, Magic Rock, Buxton etc. The non-Fyne picks for me were the dazzling Hawkshead USPA, and the rustic, warming Marble Brown Ale. As for the homers – the brand new 7.5% Fyne Superior Double IPA was a revelation, packed full of apricot, mango and peach. This year’s FyneFest beer – Rune – was like drinking lemon sherbet, dry and bitter, and the Lismore Red IPA an absolute belter which should be bottled immediately.
I’m not sure if this is secret or not, but Wil’s brewing schedule shows how pushed they are up at Cairndow at the moment. Double brewday, every day, simply to keep up with the insatiable demand. The tour was fascinating – one of the highlights of the weekend was putting my head inside a sack of Citra hops and taking a deep breath. You can almost imagine adding boiling water and creating Jarl, there and then, such was the aroma. Speaking of their crowd-pleasing world-beater – check out how many of those brews are J…
FyneFest might be something of a trek to attend, but it’s still absolutely worth it – even factoring in the four-hour round-trip from Edinburgh. The SRAF may have more beers on, and Paisley a better selection of English beer – but of all the festivals in Scotland, FyneFest has the longest line of beers I really want to sample. It involves a bit of tactical drinking, but it can be done. With the good weather, there’s no other beer festival I would rather be at. Watching the dogs scampering about, kids playing football, and sitting outside with a great beer – isn’t that about as good as it gets?