There’s always a frisson of excitement entering a bar for the first time.
You never know what you will encounter.
The best bars you enter as strangers – and depart as friends.
But in The Bank in Anstruther – I encountered an old friend.
Art Of The Blend #4.
Eden Mill are the next generation of Scottish brewers & distillers. Prior to their own whisky being released they experimented with sourced distillate under the Art Of The Blend label to hone their skills.
I enjoyed the results.
Presented at a stonking 51% this Port Cask finished blend packed a lively punch of sweet stone fruits.
The high ABV led to an explosion of flavour on the palate – yet it didn’t overpower.
A pleasing prickly heat faded gently with warming cherry notes dancing merrily into the distance.
Limited to 1100 bottles – I was glad to encounter my old friend again.
Just how I like to seek out new & exciting whiskeys to taste – I’m also keen to try out new whiskey experiences – especially when they are the inaugural outing for the Fife Whisky Festival in the county town of Cupar.
The atmosphere inside the Corn Exchange building was far more welcoming than the rather ‘drookit & dreich’ weather outside as I made my way to the first warming whisky of the show.
Eden Mill distillery is only a short distance away and I have previously enjoyed their sourced blends in the very attractive Art Of The Blend series. The No. 4 bottle is a port cask finish which displayed that lovely dry yet fruity mouth feel I associate with this style of whisky. Very nice, but the sold out No. 3 still remains my favourite. Eden Mill’s own whisky should be ready for release later this year.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company are independent bottlers of fine repute well known for their distinctive cartoony labels – as well as their award winning showman in the shape of Boutique-y Dave.
How could I not resist the ‘My Lovely Horse’ of Irish Single Malt #1?
It’s a 13 year old unnamed source single malt – although you can always guess – and is a very decent representation of the Irish ‘style’ – if it can be pigeon holed in one bottle. Soft, subtle, fruity & sweet. I couldn’t help thinking there’s better than this released now with all the exciting new expressions & distilleries emerging.
Undeterred I ventured onto 2 similarly unnamed Scottish offerings. Blended Malt #2 & Blended Whiskey #3. Both were delights & highlighted the true masterful work of a great blend. If anything – #3 was probably a far more complex & rounded offering but the peat in #2 won it for me. Gorgeous.
The nearby James Eadie stall also did a fine blend with a bit of history – and peat – by the name of Trade Mark X which certainly pleased my palate.
Strathearn meanwhile were new to me and despite having a display of malts in different cask finishes – the interesting stuff couldn’t be photographed. They had a selection of spirits which represented the history & development of ‘whisky’ throughout it’s long career.
I was presented with a sample that looked like whisky. It certainly tasted like a young & fresh peated whisky with delightfully different notes. Only to be told it happened to be a peated malt aged in chestnut casks for only 6 months!
Totally outside the SWA (Scottish Whisky Association) rules – yet totally tasty & innovative. I just hope Strathearn can come to some arrangement whereby it can be released. I’d be first in the queue to buy it.
I should point out that I rehydrated with water after every sample & rinsed out my tasting glass too to avoid ‘over extending’ myself and contaminating the next sample, which happened to be from Campbeltown distillers Springbank.
They recently released a Longrow Red edition finished in French wine casks which balanced that lovely peaty punch with some sweet fruity notes. Very enjoyable.
I did spot an unusual offering at the other end of the table. A triple distilled Hazelburn! Sadly the soft, smooth & subtle characteristics were a little lost on me after my previous drink – and it was way too sweet for my liking – but a worthy try.
Lough Fyne’s Living Cask – using a solera style maturation with batches drawn off at various intervals – impressed me more than their rather lacklustre blend.
The Islay Boys Flatnöse blend also passed me by. Too much Speyside malt had turned down the Islay peat fire for my liking. The blended malt was a far better offering whilst their Bårelegs Single Malt – from an unnamed Islay distillery – stoked that peat to it’s maximum. I enjoyed it so much – in combination with the attractive packaging & Viking tales – I happily gave it my dram of the day – current release – for the festival.
Oh! The boys were abroad themselves, so one of the mums served me and did a very good job of it too, #whiskymum!
Another Fife distillery recently opened is Lindores Abbey. Famous for the ‘eight bolls of malt’ order from 1494. Their unaged Aqua Vitae infused with gorgeously warming spices is loosely based on what those monks may have been drinking back then. It certainly raised my spirits. What raised my spirits even further was their 70% new make. The clean, crisp & clear taste impressed me very much. Bodes well for intended whisky releases in years to come.
Inchdairnie – another Fife distillery – had the most unusual whisky stand I’ve ever encountered. A black box you’re invited in to be shown the workings & philosophy behind this bold venture. They are using an unusual bespoke Lomond Hill still with unconventional mash filtration along with unusual mash bills containing my favourite – rye. I did get a sample of their new make spirit which impressed me with it’s softly spicy rye & creamy barley mix. I just had to give this my dram of the day – future release – for the whole ‘drama’ of the presentation as well as innovation & taste. I’ll be keeping an eye on the development of this one.
Time was beginning to run out on this session so I had a brief chat with Shilton – the constantly traveling & cheery rep – staffing the only non-Scotch stall of the day showcasing the excellent Paul John Indian whisky range.
To round off this fabulous festival a final couple of drams we’re had at the Ben Nevis stand. Their old recipe based McDonald’s single malt proved peaty, punchy, robust & charming – which made the 10 year old rather soft & subtle in comparison. Give me the bolder character any day over the smoother sibling!
And with that, it was all over!
The bell to clear the hall sounded & happy punters melted out into a wet Cupar warmed by wonderful whisky.
Congratulations to all the team involved in putting this show together.
When over in Scotland earlier this year I popped into a few bars to see what whiskies were on offer.
The very attractive Ship Tavern – which appropriately sits only a stones throw from the picturesque harbour in the fishing village of Anstruther on the East Neuk of Fife – didn’t disappoint.
A pleasing variety of Scottish blends & single malts adorned the shelves – as well as a sprinkling of Irish blends,
Being in Fife – which has a few new distilleries waiting for their own spirit to mature – I was keen to sample a sourced blend for the local Eden Mill distillery near St Andrews.
And being in Scotland – you have to have a bit of tartan!
The Art Of The Blend is a trio – a 4th bottle was released later – of very attractively presented blended Scottish whiskies from unnamed sources that Eden Mill are using to showcase & practice their maturing and blending skills on.
No 1 is a bourbon cask matured blend of malts & grain. It didn’t really do much for me. A fairly soft, sweet standard entry level offering with subtle tones. Approachable I suppose.
No 2 was far more entertaining. Mainly as smoke had been introduced with the use of ex-Ardbeg casks in it’s maturation. This raised the whole character of the blend with distinctive peaty notes I enjoy very much that balanced the sweeter tones.
No 3 offered an even more powerful peat influence and was the most attractive – at least on paper – expression I was keen to taste. Clearly this corresponded with many other whiskey drinkers thoughts as the bartender informed me the bottle they did have sold out almost immediately!
Whilst chatting – I asked how the Irish whiskey was going down.
Now there were only 3 offerings on the shelf from the Emerald Isle – the ubiquitous Jameson Original – which effectively is the brand on which the entire rise of the modern Irish whiskey revival started with – The Pogues Irish Whiskey by up and coming West Cork Distillers in partnership with Halewood Wine & Spirits and West Cork’s Bourbon Cask.
‘Och The Pogues is a great wee dram, canny get enough o’ the stuff.’
If that’s not a testament to the resounding success of the new breed of Irish whiskey companies, blenders, bottlers & distilleries – I don’t know what is.
I happened to be in Scotland over the Bank Holiday weekend & used the opportunity to visit a whisky distillery.
Kingsbarns Distillery is the dream of local lad Douglas Clement who was frequently asked during his golfing caddie days if there was a local whisky distillery to visit.
At the time Fife – despite being the spiritual home of golf as represented by the St Andrew’s Links Course – as well as the spiritual home of Scotch whisky – well, at least the earliest written record as represented by the ‘8 bolls of malt‘ ordered in 1494 from nearby Lindores Abbey – had no whisky distilleries.
Well at least no sexy & sleek single malt distilleries.
Because in Cameronbridge Distillery – which happens to be the largest in Europe – I would argue Fife has the spiritual home of blended whisky.
Originally founded in 1824 as the Haig Distillery, it used the newfangled invention called the continuous still – as designed by Stein & later improved upon by Irishman Coffey – to produce gazillions of gallons of grain whisky. This heralded in the rise of blended whisky which underpins & fuels the wealth of the whisky industry today.
Cameronbridge still produces gazillions of gallons of grain whisky to this day, but like most giant grain distilleries with their industrial style of production, it is out of bounds for whisky tourists.
Kingsbarns Distillery is definitely not out of bounds.
It’s whole premise in fact could be interpreted as a visitors attraction that happens to produce whisky.
It’s early days for that whisky yet however.
Only opened in November 2014 with the first barrel of new make being filled & registered in March 2015 – it can only legally be called whisky in March 2018.
In the meantime there is a lovely delightful Spirit Drink to sample as part of the very informative & enjoyable tour.
Bottled at 63.5% this fresh, bright & clear raw whisky certainly exploded in my mouth with the high alcohol content. Yet it retained some subtle soft sweet barley notes which hinted at good things to come. Adding a drop of water only diluted the overall experience and I preferred the raw energy of the full strength offering.
All the barley used is grown locally with the water being sourced in an aquifer deep underground below the sandstone rock underneath the distillery itself.
Wemyss Malts – a long established & respected family of independent whisky bottlers & blenders also hailing from Fife – or should that be fae Fife? – are also behind the distillery. An eclectic array of their blended malts and single cask expressions are on display in the visitors entrance area.
Talking about Fay Fife – here she is singing her classic hit Top Of The Pops!
As part of the tour I sampled the Kiln Embers blended malt at 46%. A pretty little sweet smoke of a whisky.
I also bought a couple of age statement Peat Chimney miniatures – airport restriction friendly – for later enjoyment back in Ireland.
The Kingsbarns Single Malt however – when it is fully matured – will be a softer, fruity & floral bourbon cask aged single malt. Fife after all has no peat banks but is awash with lush fields of barley & fecund banks of wild flowers & shrubs which attract a rich bio-diversity of wildlife.
Even while sitting outside the well presented cafe – enjoying some locally sourced & produced fare – I was gently serenaded by Skylarks singing high in the sky above me accompanied by Pheasants rooting around in the hedgerows below.
As a visitors attraction Kingsbarns excels.
The long drive into the historic & carefully restored building from the main A917 road well serviced by the St Andrews to Leven 95 bus route. Views of the verdant countryside with the blue sea glimmering closeby. Friendly attentive uniformed staff both in the well appointed cafe & distillery. A highly informative tour that encompassed the history, geology, sights, sounds & smells of both Fife – as well as the process of whisky making itself.
I even surprised myself by correctly identifying a few of the interactive ‘aromatic world’ samples!