My recent Scottish trip allowed me to indulge in a spot of whisky auctioneering – which is a new method for me to acquire some tasty whisky.
Just Whisky hold monthly online auctions. Any successful bids can be collected from their Fife based warehouse in Dunfermline – only a short drive across the River Forth from Edinburgh where I picked up my airport car.
Now I’m not looking for a Macallan at 30 grand – I’m looking for some bargains I can crack open & enjoy.
I did spot some candidates.
Who would be bidding for a bottle of English whisky in a Scottish auction?
And I bagged it! Along with a few other choice spirits – of which more later.
It stayed unopened until tea time where over a meal of fish ‘n’ chips – well, it was Friday – glasses were poured & tastings began.
Initially the colour appeared rather dark. But it is aged in ex bourbon casks as well as re-charred red wine barrels.
The label also states non chill filtered & natural colour – music to my ears.
A suitably rich & warm charred cask influence of vanilla & caramel greeted me along with a hint of fruit.
The taste was a little punchy – but mellowed as the clean crisp fruit flavours shone through leaving a lovely dry prickly heat on the finish.
At barely over 3 years old this is lovely.
The barley is grown locally to the distillery & traditional floor malting is done nearby too.
Provenance & terroir in your first bottle.
Whoever thinks good whiskey is the domain of only a few chosen countries really needs to wake up and smell the roses – or double cask maturation in this instance.
When out and about I enjoy popping into bars I’ve not previously visited on the off-chance of finding a gem.
The Masonic Arms in the picturesque East Neuk village of Anstruther sits at the end of the West Pier and is more of a rough diamond.
It’s easy to get sucked into conversation in this character driven pub – both from behind the bar as well as in front of it – but the main attraction for me – aside from the gently warming fire – is a great selection of whiskies.
A plethora of single malt Scotch, the usual big brand blends, assorted Irish & some bourbons adorn the back wall.
My tipple of choice however was a local offering – Cameron Brig Single Grain.
Cameronbridge Grain Distillery was among the first to utilise the new technology of the Coffey Still back in the 1830’s.
Irishman Aeneas Coffey failed to find many backers in his native land for his controversial invention – yet the Lowland Scottish distillers took to it with gusto. They effectively kick started the rise of blended whisky which went on to ensure Scotch as the biggest selling whisky in the world.
Over 180 years later, Cameronbridge is still pumping out 120 million lpa (litres of pure alcohol) per annum – making it the both the largest and oldest grain distillery in Europe.
George Roe used to have the largest distillery in Europe – but he (and other Dublin distillers) campaigned against grain whisky calling it ‘silent spirit’.
It’s rather ironic George & his friends are no more – yet Diageo – who own Cameronbridge – are currently resurrecting whiskey distilling on the old George Roe distillery site in Dublin.
So what does this ‘silent spirit’ taste like?
Well being a bourbon cask matured single grain it has that sweet vanilla & caramel nose going on. I wouldn’t rule out added caramel too.
A soft smooth inviting palate with a pleasant depth left a gentle warm glow in the mouth.
Nothing special really. An easy drinking dram ‘hard to find outside of Fife‘ my fellow barmate informed me – along with the anecdote he often enjoyed it mixed with Scotland’s other national drink – Irn Bru.
I didn’t check the veracity of either statement – but did enjoy a quiet half hour out of the wet & miserable weather to raise a glass to Aeneas Coffey & the Irishman’s contribution to the rise of Scotch.
I visited Daftmill Distillery back in August 2017 along with some family members who happen to live nearby.
The visit left me somewhat confused and perplexed, as well as being very impressed all at the same time!
Daftmill is a fully functioning whisky distillery specialising in producing Scottish single malt matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks. There is no visitors centre – arrangements have to be made with the owner to gain access to the farm on which the distillery sits.
The farm itself is off the main A91 Cupar to Auchtermuchty road, but there are no signposts pointing the way. When you do find the right farm track to enter, an impressive array of attractive stone built buildings – along with an almost obligatory glass fronted still house – greet you – as well as a welcoming Francis Cuthbert himself.
Our party of 4 were treated to a thoroughly full & informative tour of the premises. From the fields where the barley is grown to the bins used to introduce the malt to the mashtuns. Through the workings of the Forsyth stills and finally into the dunnage warehouse to sample the gorgeous whisky.
Francis was very open & honest about the whole operation and his passion for whisky shone through. Especially in the still house where I noted the squat bulbous stills and suggested the spirit would be heavy & rich because of that shape.
‘On the contrary’ I was rebuffed. Francis countered with a marvelous explanation of the distillers art that rather than still shape dictating the spirit style & flavour, it was down to the distiller by careful use of charge times, temperature control as well as the crucial spirit cuts that influenced the final distillate.
My praise of ‘farm to bottle’ distilling also took a bit of a knocking.
Originally Francis sent his farm grown grain to a local maltings in Kirkaldy. Sadly due to ‘rationalisation’ that plant closed & the grain had to go further afield. The new plant only accepted bigger batch amounts – which put more pressure on the farm – rather than batches from individual fields – it became batches from all the fields.
I mentioned Mark Reynier‘s plans for different malts from different farms providing a degree of terroir as well as differing taste. This was somewhat dismissed as a marketing ploy.
I don’t wholly agree.
Yes – it is a marketing ploy – but one that should be aspired to.
I haven’t tasted whisky from different barley – but I have tasted bourbon from different corn.
Widow Jane Distillery in New York used a variety of colourful corns to produce 4 bourbons with the same mash-bill, distilling process & maturation regime as possible. The only difference being the corn variety. I must say I was extremely skeptical I would notice a taste difference. But I was proved wrong – it did make a difference – and a very enjoyable one at that too!
We moved into the still room. A magnificent shrine to copper, wood, glass & the mysteries (or not as the case may be) of distillation. Francis was in his element here. I was just a little perplexed that he clearly focused so much passion & attention to detail in this area of production as opposed to other areas.
Maturation in oak barrels is the final piece of the whisky jigsaw – or at least it was when I visited.
Now the wood policy at Daftmill was taken care off by a cooperage who supplied Grade A casks of ex-bourbon barrels from America & ex-sherry casks from Spain. What this means in practice is that the bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in America. There didn’t seem to be attention taken as to the source distillery for each individual barrel which would again result in slight taste differences.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact by the time we got round to entering the bonded warehouse for that all important tasting, the 11 year old ex-bourbon single cask simply blew me away with it’s winning combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes combined with a lovely oakiness – as well as that gorgeous dry mouthfeel associated with cask strength whisky.
A similarly aged ex-sherry cask impressed even more with a soft sweetness contrasting with the oaky tannins of over a decade in wood. Francis suggested there was a musty note on the sherry cask – which I found appealing – which should disappear with further ageing.
But here was the conundrum.
Daftmill is a wonderfully attractive distillery. It sits in the middle of a farm that grows the barley used for distillation of it’s stunning single malt whiskies, there is at least 12 years worth of stock AND it is run by the farmer that grows the barley who has a passion for that whisky. Yet there was no idea of a release date planned for the gorgeous spirit!
Or at least that’s what we were told at the time.
Because as of December 2017 an announcement was made to the effect that Berry Bros & Rudd – wine & spirits merchants, blenders & bottlers of good repute & reputation – had entered an agreement to release Daftmill whisky beginning in 2018!
I have every faith in the winning combination of Daftmill’s skills in distillation – together with Berry Bros & Rudd’s attention to detail in both ‘grain to glass’ ingredient control as well as a stricter wood policy – will not only release some stunning single malts in the months to come – but go on to produce award winning malts of distinction.
I eagerly await the first bottling.
I’d like to thank Francis at Daftmill for the hospitality shown during our visit. Congratulations to all at Daftmill Distillery & Berry Bros & Rudd for the partnership agreement. I doubt the negotiations were easy. Best wishes for the future success of all concerned.
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!