Just a little south of the Home of Golf lies the village of Kingsbarns. It is home to a wonderful international standard golf course- the 12th hole is a particular favourite- as well as being home to a beautiful distillery right next door to the course.
Kingsbarns Distillery was the brainchild of Douglas Clement. His vision came about from his previous job as a golf caddie. After being asked for the umpteenth time about where the nearest distillery to visit was he decided to go about setting his own. The beautiful site, immaculately looked after, has had Douglas’s involvement until very recently and now with the active support of the Wemyss family the distillery is very well placed.
When I visited I met up with distillery manager Peter Holroyd. He is an enthusiastic guy with a good sense of humour. His self-deprecating description of himself as a glorified cleaner has quite an element of truth to it. Yes, high levels of alcohol can help to control undesired microbes , but poor cleanliness can cause havoc with a fermentation. From there you can’t distill the flavours that you want if they haven’t been created, or you have other stronger adverse flavour components in there that come out in the distilling process; the batch can be ruined.
Peter spoke eloquently about what they were trying to achieve at Kingsbarns.
“We firmly believe in the provenance of what we are doing in East Fife. Every effort is made to keep the supply chains short, with ingredients being sourced locally where possible. Our barley comes from local farms and our water comes from our own borehole.”
Again, in keeping with some others in this space, the distilling kit is first rate. Milling is carried out on site and then a 1.5 tonne mash providing around 7500l of wort to the fermentation area is created. Worts are tried to be kept clean and low protein levels in barley over the last couple of years have helped to achieve this. Kingsbarns uses a mixture of yeasts to create the desired flavour profile with some empahasis on creating slightly higher esters in the flavour profile to provide the fruit notes. The fermentation takes between 65 and 85 hours. This fruit character comes through in the commercially available New Make Spirit which unquestionably carries these lovely citrus notes in both the nose and palate. Overall the plan is to keep things simple with one mash to one wash back to one wash still to one spirits still.
However it is the discussion about the wood that probably illicited the most interest. Peter went on to explain:
“It’s about spending money where it really makes a difference. The quality of maturation is key as much as the time it takes. We’re using first fill ex bourbon casks in the main. We do have a few more experimental casks including a couple of port pipes but the quality of the wood can’t be underestimated. Certainly as things stand we are very content with how our first barrels are coming along. ”
You can see from the fruit driven character and the use of bourbon, Kingsbarns will probably be aiming at a more Lowland style. This makes sense both in terms of speed to market and also going for an expression which is maybe in a less crowded market.
At the time of my visit I enquired about the possibility of other Wemyss products making there way onto site. While there was a bit of a smile about this at the time it was announced last week that Darnley’s Gin production will be moving to St Andrews.
We wish them well in this endeavour and we’ve no reason to doubt that if the care is replicated in the gin area then there will be good success there- and it won’t just be golf that is talked about in St Andrews.