After departing Eden Mill at Guardbridge and looking around
St Andrews, we headed south to Kingsbarns to purchase their own 2-year-old
spirit. Much like my recent Eden Mill 2-year-old review it’s the prompt passing
of time that comes as a surprise. Right now, for both Fife distilleries, they
sit at the base camp, beneath a towering whisky mountain with a historic expedition ahead.
For Kingsbarns there have been a few recent changes of late.
The road into the distillery was certainly smoother and some staff members have
come and gone leaving their own legacy with the recent 5-star tourist
attraction award. None more so than Doug, who had the vision when
partaking in a local round of golf to establish a distillery in the East Neuk of Fife.
This was all pre-boom when every man and his dog decided to start-up a
distillery and it took several years for the project to come to fruition thanks
to a government grant and the Wemyss family coming onboard. Doug was very much
the face of Kingsbarns and grew into his role with aplomb. Kingsbarns' loss is
the gain of the Fife tourism industry and maybe golfers at the nearby
One chapter closes and another begins. Much like a pulp Dan
Brown novel, you turn the pages without realising the journey is whizzing by.
The reaching of a 2-year-old spirit is important as it provides a checkpoint on
how this Lowland spirit is progressing. From memory, Kingsbarns did tinker with
their new make spirit characteristics shortly after launch; just to harness
some key features. Things today are more scientific and attuned than in the
boom times of the 1820’s or 1890’s, where just distilling on a regular basis
was an achievement. My overriding concern, not just for Kingsbarns, but almost
every new distillery incoming or producing now, is the distillery character. We
have a core group of independent consultants and experts providing advice,
which is why I remain so intrigued by distilleries such as Ballindalloch with
its worm tubs, or Dornoch who are taking inspiration from bygone eras and blazing a new route, which is always my preferred route to the summit.
My esteemed colleague, Mark of Malt-Review and his own
whisky fanzine you’ll find in some newsagents, recently ranted about the
regions being little more than tax creations. Whilst there is a grain of truth
in his proclamation, he also overlooked the point that nowadays regions have
been merged together by the aforementioned experts and manuals. The movement
away from local malt towards centralised maltsers was another nail in the regional
coffin. Bruichladdich for instance for all its showboating, has its malt
created to recipe in Inverness before being shipped back to Islay. That’s not
exactly terroir now is it? You might as well be purchasing your ingredients off
the Internet or at Tesco’s all pre-wrapped for the next stage. You've lost a key part of the process and subcontracted it out offshore. Standardisation
may have improved yields, efficiencies and production overall, but at the same
time a consistent whisky is arguably (in my book) a boring whisky. Give me the
roller coaster of discovery, whilst the harmonisation of whisky production and
maturation has diluted or even removed those regional barriers of distinction.
By seeking out, trying and experiencing whiskies from bygone
decades proves that there was more than just a tax band that united clusters of
distilleries in geographical areas across Scotland. You just have to expel a
little more effort finding these whiskies than chasing down the latest wine
cask release. It’s been a staple consideration of my own whisky discovery and
for the Lowland region, where Kingsbarns is a new entry; the rich stream of
ripe fruits was a key characteristic.
We’ve forgotten this over the years as time whizzes by and
the Lowland region was cut down to Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie. Both excel in
disappointment, or blandness depending on your point of view. The former
pursuing a blander distillery character full of artificial colouring, whilst
the latter is capable of a decent whisky – as seen by a rare Cadenheads 28-year-old bottling – but is shackled to its owner’s blends and a very lightweight
single malt official offering.
Standing in a Daftmill distillery warehouse, the most exotic
and incognito of all the Fife and Lowland distilleries, surrounded by casks and
a wee dram of its slumbering liquid. Francis will taste and suggest its not
ready yet; not meeting his aim for a Lowland whisky. That first
bottling will have to wait. In the meantime Lowland region is reviving with several
distilleries across its hemisphere. These for the most part will bottle at the
magical 3 years and a day benchmark, with Kingsbarns being no different.
So how does this 2-year-old snapshot fair? Its bottled at an
impressive 62.8% cask strength and uses malted Fife barley that is shipped
south from memory to a central malting facility and back again. It’ll have been
matured in Fife at the Inchdarnie distillery in Glenrothes that has available warehousing
unlike Kingsbarns, using those ex-Heaven Hill casks that
have been almost hand picked for the job. This release is a distillery
exclusive of 1800 bottles and retails for £19.95 for 20cl on a one-per-person basis.
Colour: a light sand
Nose: a combination of sour apples, icing sugar and a twist
of lime. It’s very zesty with vanilla cream to keep it subdued. With water,
this brings out more greenness with Kiwi fruits and mangos.
Taste: again, a citrus feel and fruits such as apples and
pears poking through followed by melon. Vanilla yes, but not forthright like
you’d see in a bourbon of this age, instead more subtle notes with liquorice,
fresh wood shavings and a dampness. Not much of a finish but it’s 2 years old
so this will come with time. I actually felt this was better without water
generally as there’s a fragile quality to the spirit as it stands currently.
Overall: it’s heading in the right direction but clearly
needs more time. I’ll certainly try the Kingsbarns whisky when it arrives next
year, but on this basis, I’d rather sit down with a dram when its approaching a
decade in age to fully appreciate what the distillery can achieve.
Labels: 2 year old, featured, fife whisky trail, kingsbarns, spirit