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Highland brewery owners cheers to selling over 40,000 pints and building business from ground up

Fergus Findlay Stokes.
Fergus Findlay Stokes.

The owners of Highland brewery Ardgour Ales have had much to celebrate since selling their first craft ale in November 2020.

Building the business from the ground up, Fergus Findlay Stokes and his wife, Lizzy, have not only sold over 40,000 pints in less than 18 months but have also received accolades for one of their beers.

Lizzy and Fergus, who was brought up in Edinburgh, relocated to Ardgour in 2011 “with the brewery in mind” and went on to draw up plans to bring their joint vision to life.

Beers by Ardgour Ales.

Ardgour Ales sits on the grounds of the village’s old manse on the edge of the remote Morvern and Ardnamurchan peninsulas, and is based in a brewshed which was built on the grounds of their home.

It has seven (soon to be eight) traditional ales in its portfolio.

Place, beer, life

Fergus, 62, said the couple has three loves – life, beer and the Highlands.

He added: “We had holidayed in the West Highlands all our lives and never found really good beer, like what has been brewed in the North of England.

“When we decided to live here full time it was with a view to bringing our loves together in a creative way, hence our strapline – Àite, Leann, Beatha (meaning place, beer, life).

“Whilst living in Lytham, England I attached myself as unpaid labour to a local real ale brewery and learned the craft.”

The beer tent.

Making beer in the West Highland peninsulas seemed like an unlikely but attractive challenge to work on during the last part of Fergus’ working life.

Ardgour Ales products are brewed using malt, hops, yeast and water and are all naturally carbonated in the cask or in the bottle without extraneous carbon dioxide, sterilisation, hop oils or other technological means.

Pizza and pints

The brewery has its own outdoor seating area with a beer tent that is open from noon to 9pm Monday to Thursday, noon to 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 6pm on Sundays for drinks and snacks.

Here, visitors can tuck into nuts and scampi fries, as well as a gourmet meat or meat-free burger, and Lorne sausage and bacon rolls.

There is also a pizza night every Friday, to which guests are treated to a selection of made-to-order 12-inch stone-baked pizzas that are also available to takeaway.

The premises is just over 1,000 square feet in total and the business boasts a team of four full-time staff, including Fergus and Lizzy.

The portfolio

In terms of the portfolio, it features seven styles of beer, some of which are seasonal so may not always be available.

This figure is set to grow in the very near future, with Ardgour Ales currently designing a low carbohydrate and light-bodied real lager.

Fergus said: “All our products are named after the feral goats of Ardgour (Gaelic Ard Ghobhar – the height of the goat), who can still be seen roaming around the peninsula.”

Fergus Stokes.

From lowest in alcohol upwards, they produce: 

  • Boc Beag (a little buck) – 3.6 % ABV – a lightly hopped summer ale
  • Gobhar Shamnha (a Halloween goat) – 4.1 % ABV – an Irish red
  • Gobhar Odhar (a dun-coloured goat) – 4.3 %ABV – English best bitter style
  • Bainne nan Gobhar (milk of the goat) – 4.5 % ABV – milk stout
  • Boc Bàn (a pale buck) – 5.1 % ABV – IPA style
  • Boc na Braiche (buck of the malt) – 6.4 % ABV – their whisky companion and Gàidhlig pun beer
  • Gobhar Reamhar (a fat goat) – 6.5 % ABV – award-winning Irish stout

“We continuously read up about hops, new grains – malted and unmalted – and yeast strains,” Fergus added.

The beer line-up.

“The sector is very innovative and also very generous. Many brewers share their knowledge, recipes and expertise with each other.”

‘Tourists love the Gaelic names’

Reflecting on their time as owners of Ardgour Ales, Fergus said overall feedback has been “very positive”.

“Some pubs which have not regularly served real ale before are now doing so with ours,” he added.

“Tourists love the Gaelic names, and the colourful branding looks good on the shelves of local stores from Fort William to Kilchoan.”

In October, Gobhar Reamhar won Gold in its category and Silver in Overall Champion Beer at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Scotland Independent Beer Awards 2021.

Fergus alongside one of the brewery’s accolades.

Fergus said: “It was a great surprise. We have always thought our beer was good, but it’s nice to have that validated in blind tasting by the beer community at large.

“We are really proud of the branding, with the help of Lizzy as artist and my stepson, Ross, as the graphic designer.

“But most of all we are proud of being able to establish something which brings people and money into this beautiful place and contributes to the fragile economy of the peninsulas.”

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