This one has been on the list for quite a while since following their construction journey online so when my Scottish Routes whisky tour of Speyside had visiting the Kingsbarns distillery as the first stop on the itinerary I beamed a smile that only a whisky explorer and distillery hunter could.
After about ninety minutes driving from Edinburgh through first the city then the rolling mountains, crisp highland air and of course the odd patch of sidewards rain, we rocked up at the distillery to find quite a special place, which was a lot more ‘designed’ than I anticipated.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is the ‘new distillery smell’ as I called it; the varnish from the oak, the spirit in the air and the odd whiff of fresh wood used for shelving around the store. What a treat.
Kingsbarns has only been distilling since March this year (2015) so there is obviously no whisky to try as yet but as it is owned by the Wemyss (pronounced ‘weems‘) we were able to try some of their blends, namely the Peat Chimney, Spice King and The Hive – all evocatively named after their taste profile as well as the Kingsbarns new make itself at a whopping 63.5%, which they have just started bottling in 20cl bottles as a limited run.
The new make I speak of will be matured in bourbon casks only from the Heaven Hill distillery in America – the exact business plan is still under lock and key (maybe in the spirit safe, I wonder) with around 140,000 litres of spirit being produced each year once up to full speed.
And it tastes sublime – A fresh, grassy and powerful nose followed by a fruity, warming and slightly citrus palate that is every so slightly malty.
The water will be drawn from 300 million year old sandstone 100 metres beneath the ground, which maintains a constant temperature. As it stands there will be no peated variant from this former farm, the barley that’s used is grown just a half mile up the road on the Wemyss farm so this really is a barley to bottle story wrapped up into one tidy parcel of provenance with 80 tonnes of barley being required per month.
The distillery itself was the vision of a former golf caddy who got the idea after many-a-year telling folk at the nearby St. Andrew’s golf course that there was no distillery nearby then wondering why there wasn’t one. After a couple of years planning, he was granted a £640,000 European Food Processing and Marketing grant from the government (nice!) and brought Wemyss on board who subsequently invested a further £4million to get the distillery built and the whole operation up and running.
Once spirit has been distilled on the gorgeous stills and run through the central and very shiny spirit safe, it is then filled into casks, with around 60 at a time being kept on site for a month before being transferred to moved off site to a bonded warehouse in west Fife.
All in all this is a quaint place that really does manage to exude craft whilst simultaneously being built with only the highest spec equipment that clearly had ‘future-proofing’ in mind when it was all lovingly put together.
The visitor centre itself takes guests on both an immersive and a sensory adventure with old cow horns containing the various scents you would expect to find within whisky to test your nose and a restored 18th century “doocot” which holds the first cask filled at Kingsbarns in March of this year, which obviously I had to have my photo with.
There’s also a restaurant for those wishing to enjoy a coffee and a bite.
The small design details that are present the whole way through, from the carved Glencairns in the tasting room to the lifts built in for guest accessibility and photos of the history of both the family involved and also the site in general really do go towards making this a superb distillery to visit.
Thanks to Dan, our exceptional tour guide for taking us around and being so full of excitement and insight that we could not help be buoyed by what the team are doing here and what they will be bottling in the future.