By my reckoning, we have just reached the figure of 75 breweries in Scotland (I’m trying to get hold of the rumoured Bangour Brewery in West Lothian to run a feature – if they exist, they’ll be the 75th). That number includes 59 production facilities, 8 brewpubs and another 8 that contract elsewhere to make their beer (so, you could argue, we only have 67 breweries in Scotland). At any rate, the numbers are growing – small micros open seemingly every other week. With more to come, and the increasing availability of beer from the rest of the UK and overseas, you need to do something a bit special in order to stand out.
In 2012, one brewery did just that.
Fyne Ales have been going for eleven years, and have, for a long time, been renowned for their session ales. Avalanche, Piper’s Gold, Highlander, Vital Spark and Maverick are a core that any up and coming brewery would aspire to – and when they added the all-conquering citrus behemoth that is Jarl a couple of years ago, people took notice even more. I’ve been to Fyne Ales and watched (then) brewer Wil Wood tear open a bag of Citra and stick his head in. That’s what Jarl smells like – it’s the closest beer I know to that head-in-a-blister-pack experience.
So, they have a track record. But, rather than resting on the laurels, in 2012 Fyne went into overdrive, ideas rampaging off the flipchart and into the pint glass. In the Spring, they released the first of their IPA Series – Davaar – the same beer made blonde and black (the latter with dark malt extract), and served side-by-side on the bar. I think this is a fabulous idea, producing the same base starter (a 5.5% IPA) and over the months releasing new pairs, each showcasing a different hop. It’s the next step for the hop series – embraced by a bespoke, classy pump clip.
Named after lighthouses of the Argyll coastline, each iteration of the IPA series encouraged the in-pub comparison of beer usually reserved for tasting groups with notebooks. Of the three releases, I ended up preferring the darker version on each occasion – but that’s just my preference. Davaar Black and Blonde were very different, whereas Sanda Black and Blonde complemented each other very well indeed, one being chalky and dry, whilst the other sweet orange citrus. The other IPA Series release was Lismore – a thumpingly juicy hop combo of Simcoe, Citra, Summit and Bullion. The Blonde version was big on sticky tropical fruit, and with German Carared malt, Lismore Red had the extra sweet, woody toffee edge.
It was a great concept – undoubtedly my favourite idea of the brewing year. However, on top of that, Fyne Ales managed to stage an even more successful brewery festival than last year – at which, they debuted ‘the new Jarl’ – Rune. They also released one of the most under-rated stouts of the year (Cobbler Stout), a great amber (Cloud Burst), and help the IBD Scottish homebrewers runner’s up release Zombier. Oh, and they came up with Superior IPA – one of the best beers to come out of Scotland for a long while. They also started another series, this time of standard hop trials – currently resulting in Fladda Rock (Calypso) and Ruvaal (Polaris).
As if the beer releases weren’t enough, Fyne Ales also took a quantum leap and upgraded their on-site shop to a fully-fledged brewery tap. Anyone making the long and winding trip along the A83 now has no excuse not to turn off at the head of the loch and bounce along the farm track to the brewery. People go there from Glasgow for days out. Being ten miles out of Inveraray, it also gives the locals – and others from around Argyll – a great reason to pay a visit to their local brewery.
Plenty of other producers – from both sides of the border – have brewed great beer, experimented, and improved their facilities over the last twelve months. But, for me, Fyne Ales have done it with class – there are no gimmicks, they don’t try and grab headlines. Instead, in 2012 they released over a dozen fantastic beers, increased their fan base with FyneFest (and other events), and added one of the smartest brewery taps in the country. No other brewery I can think of has done all this with that degree of consistency and quality. Fyne Ales are, deservedly, our brewery of the year.
This is our last blog post of 2012 – so many thanks to everyone for reading the BeerCast this year, particularly those who commented on the posts, or followed us on Twitter or Facebook. We’ll be back at the start of 2013, and will be naming some of our breweries to watch for the coming twelve months. Until then, have a very happy and beer-filled Christmas and Hogmanay! Cheers!