The Fife Whisky Trail
A wee while ago, I wrote a blog piece for the lovely people at Angels’ Share Glass and completely forgot to post it to my own site. So, here it is; better late than never…
The Kingdom of Fife is currently undergoing a renaissance in whisky making. With Douglas Clement’s ‘Dream to Dram’ creation of Kingsbarns distillery, Eden Mill’s innovative new wood policy, the opening of Lindores distillery in autumn this year, the ingenuity of Inchdairnie, the huge presence of Cameronbridge grain distillery, all whilst waiting for the first release from Daftmill, the future for the whisky industry in Fife is looking bright. The Kingdom, however, is also steeped in whisky history. Travelling between any of the above, it’s difficult not to notice the many vestiges of Fife’s whisky making heritage.
Let’s start our Fife Whisky Trail at Lindores, the ‘birthplace’ of Scotch whisky and the soon to be home of a brand new distillery. The ruins of Lindores Abbey, founded by monks of the Tironensian order, lie in Newburgh overlooking the banks of the river Tay. It is recorded in the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland that, in 1494, Friar John Cor was requested by King James IV to make ‘eight bols of malt’. This is the first written reference to Scotch whisky and, as such, the brilliant late whisky writer, Michael Jackson, referred to the abbey as a ‘pilgrimage for whisky lovers’. Lindores Distillery, currently being built just opposite the abbey, is the result of an idea stemming back 20 years. Just as with whisky itself, patience is imperative and that of Andrew and Helen McKenzie Smith is proving worthwhile. The distillery so far looks as though it will prove to be a well thought out visitor experience whilst creating fantastic whisky. I’m sure Friar John would have been proud!
Around six miles south of Lindores lies Auchtermuchty. A small town but once home to Auchtermuchty (or Stratheden, as it was also known) Distillery. Most of the buildings are now gone although the bonded warehouse still stands, in the appropriately named Distillery Street. Auchtermuchty was opened in 1829 by Alexander Bonthrone. The Bonthrones were a well known brewing and distilling family and Auchtermuchty’s whisky had a great reputation. Despite disagreements between Alexander’s two sons, the distillery continued to operate for three generations before closing in 1926. As a listed building, thankfully, the bonded warehouse can’t be knocked down, despite being in an obvious state of disrepair. Apart from these, now, derelict buildings, there is one other homage to whisky production at Auchtermuchty: the ‘Stratheden’ bottling by The Lost Distillery Company is an attempt to recreate the flavour profile of the original whisky. According to the company’s website, warehouse records from 1924 show that it contained 475 hogsheads and 131 butts. So the whisky produced would have had a distinct sherry influence.
Six miles away, along the A91 to Eden Mill in Guardbridge, is the small farm distillery of Daftmill. In 2003, two brothers, Francis and Ian Cuthbert, applied for planning permission to convert the old mill into a distillery and the first spirit came off the stills in December 2005. Eleven years later and the whisky produced at Daftmill is still to be bottled. Meanwhile, the whisky community waits with bated breath for its first release. The distillery isn’t open to the public, as such, but it is possible to take a look around if you contact them in advance. From personal experience, I can say that it’s well worth a visit! Continuing a further ten miles, a sign for Guardbridge indicates the home of Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery.
Eden Mill is the first combined distillery and brewery in Scotland. Converted to a paper mill in 1872, it was previously known as Seggie Distillery, founded in 1810 by none other than William Haig of the illustrious Haig family. The distillery continued until 1860 when it was transformed into the Guard Bridge Paper Mill. In 2012, the site reopened as Eden Mill Brewery and distilling returned to Guardbridge two years afterwards. Using smaller size casks for maturation, Eden Mill’s whisky will be of legal age this year. Whisky tours have recently started at the distillery so you can follow its progress in their purpose built tasting room. Even with the Haig connection, don’t worry; there’s not a drop of Haig Club in sight!
No Fife Whisky Trail would be complete without a visit to Kingsbarns Distillery. Distillery founder, Douglas Clement’s ‘From Dream To Dram’ came to fruition on St Andrews Day 2014, when Kingsbarns was officially opened, with the first spirit coming off the stills in January 2015. However, as we wait patiently for it to mature, a tour of the well thought out visitor centre together with a bite to eat in the café is highly recommended. Non-drivers can also enjoy a few drams from Wemyss Malts, the independent bottler and owner of Kingsbarns Distillery. The historic Wemyss family seat is located at Wemyss Castle, near Cameronbridge distillery. The castle gardens can be visited by prior arrangement and, from the castle, you can see the fields where the barley is grown for Kingsbarns distillery itself. En route, if you’re starting to feel a bit peckish, you can always swing by Crail for some delicious lobster! If you’re not driving, there’s nothing better than some Old Pulteney or Clynelish to wash it down with!
These are just a few suggestions and merely scratch the surface; the Fife Whisky Trail has so much more to offer the whisky connoisseur or beginner alike. My advice to you would be to head out there and start exploring!