Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A fine hike about FyneFest: 15th June 2013

I've been to the wonderful FyneFest for the last couple of years; the Fyne Ales people organise a great celebration of beer, food and music in quite fantastic surroundings. However I hadn't actually blogged about it, with the main reason being that there was effectively no walking to be done, and I try to keep the blog 'fairly' strictly to this criteria (although there are always exceptions for some brewery visits and the occasional special beer). This year though, as well as the ever expanding range of fantastic cask & kegged beer available at FyneFest, there was also the possibility of a walk to a (licensed!) Bothy/fishing hut on the Saturday up through the wilds of Glen Fyne, about 3 miles out of the main FyneFest site. This was far too good an opportunity to miss!

View FyneFest in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Glasgow to (just before) Loch Fyne Oyster Bar (Citylink 926)

The 09:41 bus from the outskirts of Glasgow to Campbelltown was pretty busy with a mixture of tourists, walkers & some likely looking FyneFest attendees. It's a stunning journey along the western bank of Loch Lomond, through the narrow isthmus between Tarbet & Arrochar, a climb through the Argyll Forest to reach Rest and Be Thankful, a long straight 'twixt the hills at Glen Kinglas and then finally a drop towards Cairndow and the very head of Loch Fyne. Only 2 things spoiled the journey - a couple of Italian tourists chattering incessantly at the back of the bus (thankfully I found my headphones - phew!), and there were (literally) some dark clouds on the horizon. It has rained overnight and was just about starting up again this morning with a thick mizzle interspersed with the occasional short, sharp shower - disappointing for the organisers and those who had camped overnight but then this is Scotland in June.

The official bus stop is at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar complex, a couple of hundred yards from the roadway entrance to Fyne Ales, but the Citylink driver was good enough to stop almost opposite the entrance - this really helped out the people who were bringing their tents & camping equipment for Saturday night. From here it was only 5 minutes or so to the welcoming sight of the newish Fyne Ales Visitor Centre & Brewery Tap.

This opened just in time for last year's FyneFest and is a great classy place - modern but some nice tradition touches and a distinctive wooden roof. Available inside are a number of Fyne Ales cask ales & guest kegs, loads of bottled beer & merchandise, great food and (most importantly for some people) WiFi! Just after 11:00am this morning it was packed with people chilling out, having breakfast, ordering the odd hair-of-the-dog and also streaming the British Lions game from Australia.

The rear exit of the Brewery Tap opens out to an outdoor seating area (the showers were also here since this is where the main water supply comes in) and also to the brewery yard. Milling around the brewery this morning was the combined brains trust of a good number of brewers who were up for FyneFest - I noted T-shirts from Elixir, Alechemy, Buxton, Hawkshead, Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Siren and, of course, Fyne Ales (apologies if I missed anyone). A collaboration brew had been ongoing for a while and Robbie was on hand to blog about it here.

By now it was time to head off to the main FyneFest site situated in a large field near the River Fyne. The food stalls were doing a pretty decent trade, but inside the marquee it was (unsurprisingly) fairly quiet at just after 11:15am; this was probably the last time the main bar would be so deserted for some time.

FyneFest glass obtained I took a half of one of Fyne Ales' latest IPA Project offerings, Bell Rock (which I preferred to the more bitter Bell Rock 'n' Hop) and sat down to peruse the program. The bothy/fisherman's hut had now been officially designated the Walker's Bar and was only going to open for a relatively small time window (12noon to 2:45pm), so it made sense to start off straight away. To help quench my thirst on the way I first of all filled my trusty growler with the Fyne Ales/Wild Beers collaboration brew made for FyneFest, Cool as a Cucumber; really refreshing with a distinctive cucumber & mint taste and some light saison spiciness (although I had hoped it would be green, drats!), and then I set off with a fellow beer & walking enthusiast to find the Walker's Bar.

To be honest it was a fairly straightforward trek along a mostly tarmac'd path through the stunning surroundings of Glen Fyne. On our way up the glen we passed a good few people heading for the same destination, a number of 4x4s just managed to scrape past and we encountered a group of magnificent beasts sheltering from (or enduring) the rain just off the path itself (if they had wanted to be on the path we would have left them there and found a way around them!).

The path to the Walker's Bar then diverged from the main tarmac'd path (which leads to a dam and reservoir further up the hillside) and took us over a narrow bridge to our destination; all told perhaps a walk of just over an hour. There were quite a few people already there - the hum of conservation and the aroma of BBQ food could be made out from half way down the glen (OK - a slight exaggeration there).

The hut was a perfect size for a number of casks of beer (Rune, Avalanche and one other were available) and we found out that since being roofed as part of a student project, the place has been used for fishing trips, New Year celebrations and the occasional party. We devoured a burger or 2 outside in the fresh air and just generally enjoyed being away from the main festival site for an hour or so. I have to say I thought the Walker's Bar was a great idea and I certainly hope that they can do the same (or similar) next year. Thanks to head-honcho Jamie from Fyne Ales and everyone else who helped out (apologies for the shaky photo).

Whilst Jamie was there I thought I'd take the the opportunity to quiz him about one of the beers that had caused quite a stir back at the main FyneFest site, De Molen Raad & Daad. I'd had a taster of this before setting out on the walk and I really thought it was so sour that I pronounced it as 'virtually undrinkable' to Jamie. Jamie neatly side-stepped this and said that I should take it up with the co-owner of De Molen brewery, John Brus, who was (as it happened) standing right next to him. This was one those 'why couldn't a micro black-hole open up below me and transport me to another point in time & space' moments, but after laughing this off John did mention that he thought the Raad & Daad was probably more sour on keg than it would normally be in the bottle. John & his wife were on a bit of a whistle stop tour of Scotland taking in breweries at Balmaha, Loch Lomond, Oban and River Leven and it was great to chat to him and learn about the philosophy of De Molen and some of their beers - FyneFest is great for these chance encounters.

After promising John that we'd try some other De Molen beers we headed back to the main FyneFest site where the rain had actually stopped - hooray! We'd timed it so that we just had enough time to get a beer at the Brewery Tap and then join the short Brewery Tour that is put on hourly during the day at the Festival. We were just about to select the sessionable Fyne Ales Rune when we noticed a sign indicating that De Molen Amarillo was available on keg (the co-incidences were getting quite spooky!), and after taking a half of this lovely orangey citrus beer with a definite alcohol kick ('seriously drinkable'), we headed into the brewery.

The tour was being taken by one of the Fyne Ales brewers, Jake, and he gave a short but thorough overview of the brewing process in main brew-room going over the mash tun & copper, took us through to the fermenting room & we eventually ended up in the cold store. Jake won 2nd prize in the Institute of Brewing and Distilling Scottish Homebrew competition last year for the magnificent Zombier, and is now working for Fyne Ales full time, a fantastic life-changing opportunity. My American friend couldn't believe that the relatively small size of the brewery (10bbl) could produce the sheer number, quantity (and quality) of beers that Fyne Ales produce - with 7 fermenting vessels they now brew up to 9 times a week. Thankfully plans have been made to turn one of the large cowsheds at the front of the farm into a brand new brewhouse with a 40bbl capacity; this is going to be some change and some investment.

But this was foremost a beer festival and it was definitely time to head back down to the main festival site. In the intervening 3-4 hours this had become very busy (really great to see) and I recognised quite a few CAMRA groups and the unmistakable sight of ratebeer supremo Craig Garvie out with his hyper-active family - see Craig's blog post here.

Some the beers were superb - in particular Siren's Limoncello was a full-on lemon-lime treat which mellowed into orangey bitterness and if I had to pick out one of the many pale-'n'-hoppy beers I did enjoy the bitternes & balance in Oakham's Eugene's Lair. Having to leave fairly early meant that I unfortunately missed a lot of the music, but the covers bands I heard were pretty good and I just caught the Welsh Borders Morris Dancers, complete with backed out faces - interesting & different to say the least.

I really didn't want to leave FyneFest - I'd had some fantastic beers, met some interesting, passionate people and had a good walk in stunning surroundings; not much can really beat that. However the time came when I had to head back to the main road to get the bus back to Glasgow at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar.

I had a few minutes to spare so it's always fun to have a wander through the Loch Fyne Deli. As you would expect the seafood here is quite outstanding, but it's also great to see other local produce such as meat, preserves & biscuits. You can even buy bottles of Fyne Ales beer here but I'd only recommend it if the Fyne Ales Brewery Tap is closed.

And I don't think I've ever actually had a meal at the famous Oyster Bar. Maybe next year, but (more likely) maybe not, if FyneFest captures & holds the attention as much as this year.

Return travel:-
  Loch Fyne Oyster Bar to Glasgow (Citylink 926)


  1. Great review. My wife and I stayed in Inveraray so managed all three days for the second year running. Over the course of that I managed 30 beers, but unbelievably, none of those you have mentioned! I did the brewery tour which I agree was very good, but didn't manage the walk as it was a bit dreich at the time the bothy bar was due to be open. Regretting that a bit now as your review did make it sound very good - there's always next year! To those who say "it's expensive" to me when I mention that I'm going to Fynefest, I'd say, try it as it's worth the money - plus I disagree with it being dear in any case if you go over the whole weekend.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I really must stay for a couple of days next year - Inveraray could be a good option. And if you compare FyneFest with some of the music festivals it's a bargain (+ great beer)!