Beer & Beef

Fyne Ales and Highland Cattle

Staring out through their thick fringe of hair with cool detachment, Highland cows are the Rastafarians of the animal world. If the pedigree cattle at Achadunan at the head of Loch Fyne seem particularly laid back it may be to do with their diet. In addition to all the grass they can eat, the animals are fed on the spent grains of the Fyne Ales brewery.

Fyne Ales was founded in 2001 by Tuggy Delap and her late husband Jonny who decided to convert an old milking shed into a brewery which is now run by their son Jamie. “The whole area is about food production, so adding the beer seemed very natural,” he says, gesturing to Glen Fyne behind.

It is a typical Argyll landscape – a sloping, patchwork of murky browns and greens studded with sheep and rising to a ridge sharp enough to snag any passing rain cloud. “Our water comes straight off the hill, and if it’s raining today, it’s in the mash tun tomorrow,” says Jamie. “There’s a huge peat moor above the brewery which acts like a sponge.” Using this “very soft West Coast water you get all the fruity notes of the hops, and it gives a nice, soft bitterness to the beer,” he adds, before explaining where the real magic takes place.

“I like to think of the brewery as a little eco-system. You’ve got water, malt and hops coming in and your beers going out, and in the middle, driving the eco-system is the yeast. We have four brewers who do an awful lot to keep the place clean, but basically we have ten trillion yeast cells that actually do the work. All we do is keep them happy, clean and well-fed.”

The original yeast culture came from a brewery in Edinburgh, but after a few months adapting to its new environment, it went completely native. It is all part of what makes the beers unique and roots them to this corner of Argyll. You could almost say it’s the DNA of Fyne Ales, as hefted to the brewery as the sheep to the hill.

This was once one of the biggest hill farms on the West Coast with as many as 20,000 sheep. While the farm was split up years ago and the herd severely reduced, it still provided plenty of jobs when Tuggy Delap was growing up. “When I was kid there were seventeen shepherds, now there’s just one.” Creating a business that could help keep the roof on the farm and sustain a local community was always part of the ethos of Fyne Ales which now employs sixteen people, with the prospect of doubling that number in the next few years as the brewery expands.

These craft beers have been winning awards from day one and you can see why tasting them at the Fyne Ale’s tap room or buying a few bottles for the journey ahead. And, as you leave, you can be grateful that earlier madcap schemes were shelved, not least the one about farming snails.