In 2016, we visited the Kingsbarns distillery in the Kingdom of Fife for the first time. Then, they were already producing and casking single malt spirit for a whole year, which means that it has now come of age and can be called whisky. Except for an exclusive selection of their founders’ club members, it has not come to market yet, but it may appear sooner than we now expect…
Today, we are looking at another project of the Wemyss family – proud owners of the Kingsbarns distillery and their independent line of exquisite whiskies; a new gin adventure. They have been distilling their own lemon & elderflower driven Darnley’s View Gin in small batches in London since 2010, but have moved operation to the cottage next door of their Kingsbarns distillery in Fife.
Renaming the brand by dropping the “View” emphasizes the difference between the origins of the two distillates, the first Danley’s Gins have recently been introduced to the public. We drove the picturesque A917 until the strategically placed signs pointed us once more unto the easy to find driveway.
Arriving at the beautiful location, the strong winds undoubtedly influencing one or two swings on the nearby golf course, we are welcomed by Scott Gowans, Darnley’s head distiller, who leads us into his domain. With the paint still drying on the cabinets, panels and walls, he leads us through the history of the Wemyss family, their connection with Henry Stuart, the Lord Darnley and his marriage with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Mary first laid eyes on Lord Darnley in 1565 at Wemyss Castle on the Firth of Forth, which is the Wemyss family seat for over six centuries.
That occasion, and the view the castle has over the Firth towards Edinburg is honoured with the production of the Wemyss’ Darnley’s View Gin in 2010. The original recipe with only six botanicals, strongly driven by the Elderflower growing in the wild around the estate, is still in production with the same ingredients at the new location.
Back in the day, the family was one of sailors and explorers, discovering all kinds of botanicals on their journeys into Africa and Asia. Cassia Bark from Indonesia and Grains of Paradise from West Africa are only two exotic examples, but also, closer to home, Angelica Root from France, where the family owns the Rimauresq vineyard in the heart of the Provence, is on the list as well. To this date, their discoveries can still be found in their gin, reflecting this colourful history. Inspired by the Royal Navy career of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, a Navy Strength gin is produced with a broader selection of the more exotic ingredients.
Continuing the opening of panels and revealing the rich history eventually leads into the opening of a series of bottles holding the different botanicals used. One by one the panels explain about the history and having a smell of the ingredients, we slowly, but surely, arrive at the piece the resistance; a closed curtain.
When this curtain finally opens, the distillery itself is revealed. The Italian made 300 litre copper pot still doesn’t seem that large at first, but it proves to be large enough to balance out the different botanicals steeping in the neutral grain spirit, retaining the quality and quantity of past and future recipes.
A small video from the distillery YouTube channel can give you a good idea of the expectations:
After we were guided through the one room distillery process and came back in the tasting room for a sniff and a sip of (some experimental) distillates, we slowly walked across the room while Scott was closing the panels again to suddenly – mid sentence, open two hidden doors. A new room revealed itself where sets of tables were being decorated with small stills. Like chemistry class all over again, but… drinkable!
In the time between our visit and now, the room was finished and has been opened for business, where visitors can book a class in the Darnley’s Gin School. A small group of people can learn by their own doing what difference adding or omitting botanicals can do in a gin while distilling, how it is made, and bring home a bottle of their own produce.
Sadly, the weather was not optimal to shoot aerial video footage when we were at Kingsbarns and Darnley’s Distilleries, so if we would need another reason to come back to the region, we have one now. The beautiful coastline and the surrounding location of these two distilleries are only waiting to be filmed from above. For now, enjoy another small part of the beautiful Fife!
Thomas & Ansgar