Springtime songs performed by the birds in front of our sleeping room window, a distant sheep baaahs a good morning to the world while the early morning sun is chasing the mist away from the fields, creating pearls of morning dew on the sprouting barley. There are worse places and moments to wake up, as in the Kingdom of Fife, mid spring 2016.
An early start for us again, as we had made an appointment at 9am with Douglas Clement, founder of the Kingsbarns distillery in St. Andrews, the Home of Golf. The distillery, easily to be found when driving on the A917 between the villages of Kingsbarns and Crail, was only about 45 minutes drive from our location, so in comparison to the last two weeks, we felt like sleeping in, and we arrived fresh and revived at the new distillery. Without any ado Doug showed us around his distillery and the warm, passionate founder happily showed us all nooks and crannies of the place, where halfway the tour Ginny Boswell – regional sales manager for Wemyss (the family run company that owns the distillery) joined us. We had a cup of coffee with cake at the well stocked lunch room before the two of us headed out again for a beautiful walk of little over an hour walking part of the Woodland Walk that closely passes the distillery. After the magical walk, we enjoyed a proper lunch in the lunchroom, chatted another hour or so with Doug and Ginny, and briefly met with Michael Wemyss before we were directed to the St. Andrews brewery, to meet with the brewers and bring home some of the specials they had laying about. A very nice, relaxed start of the week, which we ended at the cottage with a home cooked meal, a proper beer and a dram or two.
Insert potato-juice here
More distilleries are to be found in and around Fife, but for the Tuesday we had chosen to go a little North of Dundee, where we had located the Arbikie distillery, close to the A92 near Inverkeilor. Well, located… Since there is not only one farm, but a huge estate called Arbikie, we had knocked on several farm doors before we saw a number of casks in between the potato crates and knew we had arrived at the right place. Arbikie rightfully call themselves a single estate distillery, since everything (except for the malting of the barley) is done in house, including the growing of the barley and the potatoes. These potatoes are used to make their award winning vodka, which in turn is used as the neutral ‘grain’ spirit base of their gin, so – technically speaking, it may be called a potato-gin, we suppose. It was surprising to us to see the size of the equipment they have installed in the barn, especially the huge column stills as the centre piece of the hall.
After a pleasant chat with head-distiller Kirsty, we had to leave again for a quick lunch along the Angus coastal tourist route to the Glencadam distillery in Brechin, fairly close to the A90. In the middle of a the village, next to the cemetery, the tiny distillery is built, where we were shown through the maze of pipes and levers, low doors and high steps. What we did not know is that, as with sister-distillery Tomintoul, the site houses a large blending facility, where many of the (French) supermarket blends are created from stock of the company’s warehouses all over the Scottish mainland. An interesting find, with friendly, well-humoured people and neighbours that never complain.
Wednesday, May 11th 2016
Chatting a little longer as we should have, we rushed through lunch at an unnamable lunch room and did not re-check our route to the Daftmill distillery in Cupar (again, close to the A91), which we squeezed into our programme next. When we finally had found the distillery half an hour later as we were supposed to, owner Francis still made some time to quickly show us around the distillery, of which not many people have tried its product yet. The distillery is set up with similar sized equipment and capacity as Kilchoman, but is most of the year focussed on farming their own (and other distilleries’) barley. Only during the more silent seasons of the year the distillery is operating as a distillery, which effectively is only about four to six months each year, and then, only two mashes a week.
Directed by the locals to the port of Anstruther, famous for its fish and chips, so we had some homemade ice-cream, a stroll along the rocky beaches, went to a Co-op along the way for some groceries and relaxed at the cottage with a nice chilled gin, because, why not.
Thursday, May 12th 2016
Free for the remainder of the day and as close to Dunnottar castle as we would ever be at less than 30 minutes driving, we hopped onto the A90 again and found Stonehaven, where the castle lies. The views from the top alone are worth it and the 200 steps down to the beach are breath-taking. We collected some pictures of impossible rock formations and more fantastic views, had a walk around before we decided to get back following the easy route (the A90 again) instead of the more beautiful Angus coastal tourist route, we had already investigated shortly on the Tuesday. Completely missing the Co-op on the way “home”, we cooked a dinner from the leftovers and because the WiFi abandoned us completely that evening, we had movie night with bad, unmentionable and forgettable movies while trying to contemplate the day, sift through this week’s notes, consume another brew and enjoy a dram.
Friday, Math 13th 2016
A little out of our way, back towards the central belt between Perth and Crieff, in Bachilton Farm Steading near Methven, the small Strathearn distillery is located. Built around a young team (the distiller and brewer are now only 22 and have been working at the distillery from its start two years ago), they produce many different spirits, using four alambic type stills of various sizes, with the smallest at 50 litres. They seem to be creating not just one style of product, but (not unsimilar to Eden Mill) a large number of styles, with many different cask types for ageing, not all casks necessarily made of oak wood – making some of their single malt spirits not even legally whisky. We are unsure where they want to end with their line of products, or if they are able to make a consistent enough product for the consumers to stay interested, but only time will tell us. It is definitely an interesting place to have browsed through, look at, smell and taste the different mash bills and feel the enthusiasm of the team.
|watching how an Angel is made|
Being in the neighbourhood, we once again stopped at the Glenturret distillery in Crieff, this time for a cup of tea with carrot cake and a go at their WiFi, which seemed to be as iffy as the hotspot in our cottage yesterday-evening so when we were done with the tea, we drove to the nearby-ish Deanston distillery again, where we knew we would have a nice lunch, plus a reliable WiFi spot (sigh of relief). With Angels’ Share Glass around the corner in Bridge of Allan, we contacted Karen and got to see the home of the Angels and how they are created by Master Glassblower Tom Young. A very impressive work of craftsmanship, and if you are at any time able to see one of the Angels’ Share Glass glassblowers at work, make sure you take the time to actually look at what they are doing and be (very) impressed.
small, but growing
Being exactly that – impressed, we hit the road again and saw a sign for Pitlochry. Having nothing much to do, we decided to head there and re-visit the Edradour, the smallest distillery of Scotland – which is a fairly debatable label, with just having visited a couple of craft distillers these weeks. Moreover, the owner is building a new plant on site where they will erect a distillery double their current capacity, so the name will probably disappear from the signs any time soon. The first time we visited the distillery, we had the idea we started the tour in the wrong order, but having it seen again now, it seems to be the most logical way to have the tour, which – respectfully, simply is the wrong way around. Such was our day anyway, because when we left, we remembered Yann’s in Crieff, where we just came from, inquired if they had a table for the two of us, and after that lovely dinner we drove to our lovely “home”, tried to do some writing and had movie night again.
Saturday and Sunday, 14th and 15th May 2016
Finally, we got to sleep in a little. For what seemed ages ago, we got up without an alarm, ate breakfast with warm toast and instant coffee (yuck), and headed to “the Newport” in Newport-on-Tay, where we would meet one last time with Johanne and Jacque for a late and long, chic lunch, before we would say our final goodbyes of this trip. Back at the house we packed our cases and car, read a book, drank a final brew and dram before we would hit the road on Sunday to catch our ferry in Newcastle.
summarizing our trip: whisky casks and vistas – add nice people to complete
Three weeks of meeting people, having long talks, short chats and intensive discussions, tears of laughter and goodbyes. We have visited new and old, large and small distilleries, drove many kilometers to get to (or away from) them and boarded different boats to see places where we never had enough time. We fell in love with the sceneries (again), the country (again) and the roads we travelled (again), missed Islay in spite of all the other beautiful places and more than ever, want to go back to Bonnie Scotland, the most magnificent country in the world.