With the current boom in new Scotch whisky distilleries in full pace, we asked Kingsbarns & Wemyss Malts Brand Manager Steven Shand how things were progressing at Kingsbarns Distillery.
Tell us a little about your distillery?
Situated six miles from St. Andrews and close to the world famous Kingsbarns championship golf course, the historic and charming East Newhall Farm steadings have been carefully restored and converted into a small distillery with exhibition, tasting rooms, shop and café.
Originally established by a Fife golf caddie; Douglas Clement, the aim was to establish a Fife distillery to help restore the provenance of Fife and the lowlands as a prized whisky producing region.
Doug chose a derelict farm steading similar to one that he was raised in as the site of the new distillery and after securing EU funding and further backing of the Wemyss Family, who originate from Fife, the distillery was established.
The distillery is owned by the Wemyss family who already have a whisky interest in Wemyss Malts, a boutique spirits company who’s range comprises blended malts, single malt single cask bottlings and a blended Scotch.
The distillery was complete in 2014 and opened its doors to visitors on St Andrews day. Spirit production started shortly after the opening and after some trialling the first casks were filled with spirit on March 23rd 2015.
Kingsbarns has an ethos that is solidly grounded in producing a true Fife single malt Scotch whisky that is light, delicate and fruity and that uses only barley grown locally in Fife and is only ever matured in Fife.
Water is of prime importance when it comes to the production of Scotch Whisky and we are lucky to have water of outstanding quality sourced from an aquifer 100m beneath our feet. The water fell as rain decades ago and filtered through layers of rock, purifying it. This precious resource is drawn to the surface and harnessed to produce Kingsbarns spirit. We get our water analysed on a quarterly basis, and is consistent in terms of analysis for mineral content.
We use the Concerto variety of barley, grown here in Fife. The climate in Fife is exceedingly mild and genial, with fertile soil well suited to the cultivation of spring barley. We will always source our barley from farms in Fife to promote the local provenance of the exceptional local barley and ensure that Kingsbarns single malt is a true product of Fife. Currently we purchase the barley from 3 farms in Fife including farms that are on Wemyss land, although this may vary from season to season. Some distilleries add peat to the fuel to create a smoky whisky, but we use unpeated barley at Kingsbarns
1.5 tonnes of malted barley is used for every mash and our four row “Buhler” mill processes one tonne of malt per hour turning The four row mill will process the malt into husks, grist and flour in the proportions of 20%, 70% and 10% flour respectively.
Mashing takes the grist from the mill and adds hot water to convert the starch into sugar, or what we now call worts. For our daily mash, we take 1.5 tonnes of ground malt from our mill and initially add 6000L of water at 64°C. The second water of 2700L is then added at 76°C, with a final third water of 5800L at 87°C to extract the maximum amount of sugar. The third water is used as the first water in the next mash.
The sugary wort from the mash tun is cooled to 20°C and transferred into one of our four washbacks and turned into alcohol by the addition of yeast. We use two types of dried yeast: Anchor and SafWhiskyM1 types of yeast to promote fruitiness in our spirit.
Our washbacks here at Kingsbarns are stainless steel, and although the more traditional wooden vessels (usually Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine or Scottish Larch) hold their temperature better, stainless steel washbacks are cleaned and sterilised more effectively, contributing to a more consistent end product. The time length and temperature of fermentation contributes more to spirit character than the type of vessel used.
By the end of this fermentation process of around 65-85 hours, the wort is now known as wash and resembles a strong beer of around 8% alcohol. We have a long and slow fermentation to produce a fruity character.
The wash is now boiled up twice in copper pot stills. The copper helps create certain flavours and remove unwanted compounds. The first still is called a “wash still” and the second distillation is in the “spirit still”. The spirit travels through the spirit-safe where the purest part or the “cut” is taken and the rest drained away or re-distilled. What we now have is new make spirit.
The wood policy for Kingsbarns Distillery was set under the supervision of the late Jim Swan.
The decision was made to establish a ratio of 9 parts 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrel to 1 part STR cask (or a 90% 10% split) for the core releases of single malt whisky. The understanding is that Jim thought that this mix would display the light, delicate, lowland distillery character in the best possible light whilst providing a fruity, wood influenced boost from the STR casks. Additionally by using 1st fill casks this ensure an efficient and intense wood influence on the spirit.
We source our 1st fill ex-Bourbon American Oak barrels from Heaven Hill. Isabella Wemyss, the brother of Wemyss Malts founder William Wemyss, travelled to Kentucky to meet with Heaven Hill distillers to negotiate and secure a steady supply of quality first fill American Oak barrels. This was vital to ensure that Kingsbarns always has a constant supply of consistent and quality barrels.
STR casks, shortened from ‘Shaved, toasted and re-charred ex-red wine barriques’ will make up the second part of the composition of the majority of Kingsbarns releases. The casks before shaving and re-charring were previously used for maturing Portuguese red wine from this the Esporão Cooperative:
Current cask fillings:
- First fill bourbon
- STR first fill
- Sherry butt first fill
- Ex-Islay casks (hogsheads and barrels)
- Port pipe (first fill)
- 2nd fill bourbon barrel (from reusing the 2 barrels that were emptied for the Kingsbarns 2 Year Old Spirit Drink release in 2017.)
- We are scheduled to take delivery of 2 PX butts this year
How the early period has been?
No major challenges as such although we have found our poor road, well roof and weathervane have all taken a beating from the tumultuous Fife weather.
In expectation of the whiskies popularity, we increased production in late 2016, adding 2 more shifts during the week so that we can increase from 140,000 litres of pure alcohol per year to 200,000.
Is your vision for the future unchanged?
Largely unchanged, we are still in the very early days in regards to planning we are thinking in terms of decades rather than years. This influences our spirit production, increases of production and wood policy, hence why it was vital to secure quality and sustainable suppliers of casks.
One addition to the Kingsbarns site has been Darnley’s Gin Distillery and Visitor Experience which was built and opened in the summer of 2017. Darnley’s Gin distillery was converted from the derelict ‘Gardeners Cottage’ behind the main Kingsbarns site and is fitted with a 200 litre Frilli still.
What you are looking forward to?
We recently celebrated the ‘coming of age’ of the first batch of casks that were filled on March 23rd 2015.
The plan will be to release the first bottling of Kingsbarns single malt as ‘The Founders’ Reserve’ exclusively to members of our Founders’ Club. Founders’ will receive 5 bespoke bottlings in total from 2018 to 2022.
The 2nd more widely available release will be available in late 2018.
There are also plans to release several single casks each year and we are currently developing some other expressions and limited editions outside of the 90%/10% ex-Bourbon barrel and STR releases.
Kingsbarns Distillery & Visitor Centre, East Newhall Farm, Kingsbarns, Fife, KY16 8QE
T: +44 (0)1333 451300
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