Once upon a time, in a not too distant past, there was a caddie named Douglas Clement. He had a dream: He wanted to build his own distillery, down the road from the famous St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland.
He had a specific location in mind — part of the Campbell Estate, near the championship Kingsbarns golf course where he worked. Until 1989 the site had been a petting zoo, but after its abandonment the buildings slowly deteriorated. Basically it was a historic, albeit semi-derelict, farmstead.
Kingsbarns distillery. Image courtesy of the authors.
Doug thought it the perfect place to fulfill his dream and managed to raise money to request planning permission. When the local government granted permission to the young entrepreneur, he applied for and was awarded a 675,000 pound European Food Processing and Marketing grant. Land that formerly housed the king’s grain, collected as tax, could now be used to turn grain into liquid gold.
The caddie on his way to distiller soon realized he needed additional investors to really make this work and approached the old and revered Wemyss family, who have resided in the area for more than 600 years. Wemyss is a lowland clan with a castle in Fife and connections to royalty extending back to Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. The Wemyss (pronounced “Weems”) are no strangers to the whisky trade. They have been operating as an independent bottler — meaning they purchase casks from various distillers to bottle the contents under their own label — whenever they feel the whisky is ready.
In 2012 the Wemyss family bought the distillery idea but retained Doug as founding director and visitor center manager. He had had some production training from the Edrington company, of Macallan and Highland Park fame, but soon found out he was not a production person: He is very happy in his current role as host to visitors.
In March 2013 the building process started and stills were ordered at Forsyths, the famous coppersmith in Rothes, Speyside (see your Mercury of December 15, 2011). It would take one-and-a-half years before the distillery could be officially opened and what better day than November 30 — St. Andrew’s Day! The next few months all equipment was thoroughly tested and the first spirit flowed from the stills in February 2015.
The distillery itself was originally planned for 20,000 liters annually, but soon it was apparent that the production should be aimed much higher, at 140,000 liters. It meant tweaking the equipment somewhat, since Historic Scotland limited the height of the still house. Currently Kingsbarns fills 24 casks of newly made spirit a week. The first whisky will be on the market no earlier than 2018, since whisky, by law, has to mature at least three years in Scotland before it can properly be called whisky.
The water used for the making of the cratur comes from an aquifer 100 meters below the distillery. Rain takes 60 years to reach the spring, being filtered through sandstone while underway.
The former 500-year-old terracotta dovecote, or ducat as they say in Fife, was fully restored and is now a shrine for the first cask filled. By the way, there is a strong connection with the America. Kingsbarns Distillery sources its casks, or barrels if you prefer, from Heaven Hill Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
Those who have Edinburgh travel plans should really visit this little gem. It’s only a little more than an hour drive from the airport. Doug will be there to entertain you and tell you the story of a caddie’s dr(e)am come true. For more information, visit kingsbarnsdistillery.com and wemyssmalts.com.
The Whisky Couple