Here I am, back in Scotland, in the Lowlands, "the other whisky country", discovering a "young" distillery with a promising future: the Kingsbarns distillery.


This will also be an opportunity to discover their production through the new DOOCOT and BALCOMIE. But because I'm so fond of you, I'll also be introducing you to two little nuggets from the WEMYSS family collection: NECTAR GROVE and PEAT CHIMNEY BATCH STRENGTH n°002 (Hey! Peatdream!! ).



It was dawn when I left Edinburgh Castle for the northern Lowlands. Once I'd crossed the Queensferry crossing and reached the left bank of the Firth of Forth, I headed due east towards the golfer's paradise of St Andrews.


Before discovering the distillery, a bit of sightseeing.


On the way, Lee (my Lowlands whisky adviser) told me to stop off halfway along the way! In the village of WEMYSS (which means that the family who own the distillery we're going to talk about today have been there for a long time?)


He told me to start by taking a look around Wemyss Castle, where the Wemyss family has been settled since the time of the Battle of Culloden (mid-18th century). In fact, everything in the area is called Wemyss (the village, the castle, the caves and even the beach)!



It was in this castle that I discovered the origins of the relationship between the Wemyss family and whisky. I learn that in the 19th century, one of the ancestors of the current siblings, Captain Wemyss, leased land from a certain James Haig, founder of the Cameronbridge grain distillery located just a few miles to the north.


It was here too, many centuries later in 2005, that the idea germinated in the minds of William and Isabella Wemyss (brother and sister) to become independent bottlers under the name of WEMYSS MALT (but we'll come back to that when we taste the NECTAR GROVE and the PEAT CHIMNEY).



As the castle is on the edge of the Firth of Forth, I then continued on foot along a coastal path and 2 miles further north I found myself in the foothills of Macduff's castle (well, what's left of it). I discovered that part of the region's history was linked to that of the family I was about to discover.


A bit of history, you know I can't help it.


In fact, it was really here, in this castle, which of course was not in ruins at the time, that the history of the Wemyss family began. Macduff's castle was in fact built in the 14th century by their ancestors and, although it has had several owners, it has since returned to the Wemyss family.



At the foot of the castle are a number of caves dating back to Pictish times, with some of the oldest bas-reliefs in the country. As these caves were already there when the castle was built, we can imagine that they are the origin of the name Wemyss, which comes from the Scottish Gaelic "uaimh", meaning "cave". Simple, isn't it?


The most astonishing thing about visiting the caves is that you realise that the link between the family and the pigeon lofts is not a recent one either (they couldn't have made their distillery anywhere else than where it is located - but we'll come back to that later). In fact, one of the caves is called the "Doo Cave" (not the Bat Cave) and was used as a dovecote in the Middle Ages.



That's it, enough chit-chat, let's get on with our journey to the east of the kingdom of Fife.


After just under an hour on the road, and having passed places where there's more underground than above (the secret bunker of Scothland), I finally arrived near the east coast of the Lowlands in the aptly named village of Kingsbarns. As you might expect, it was near Kingsbarns, in the middle of the fields, that I came across the distillery.



And what a distillery it is. With its crenellated tower, it looks more like a small castle than a whisky distillery. However, when you walk around it, you discover a much more modern and conventional part of the distillery, with its welcome and, to a large extent, its name: KINGSBARNS. A fine blend of history and modernity.



It was in front of the well in the park that I met the smiling Peter Holroyd (manager of the distillery). He explained that the distillery dates back to the early 19th century and was built by a certain Thomas Erskine, the ninth Earl of Kellie.


Without further ado, he also explained that he had arranged to meet me in front of the well simply to explain that it gives direct access to the Cambo Burn (the water table 100 metres below us) which provides the water for the distillery's production and other needs.



As we enter the distillery, Peter takes the opportunity to make me understand that the Wemyss family is very committed to protecting its environment and optimising the short circuit. That's why the distillery sources its barley from neighbouring farms, to limit transport (and take advantage of the barley granary that is the Fife region).


As we enter the building, the atmosphere is subdued with a mix of modern and Gothic.


In the arched niches, you can see once again how far the Wemyss family have come in producing their own single malt. Alongside bottles of DREAM TO DRAM, DOOCOT and BALCOMIE (which I'll talk about later), there are numerous bottles bearing the WEMYSS MALTS label and Macduff's castle (here we go), revealing the family's primary art: blending.

These include THE HIVE (or the sweetness of Speyside), SPICE KING (and its slightly smoky spices), PEAT CHIMNEY (and its maritime peat), VELVET FIG (and its fruity notes), as well as the recent BOHEMIAN BLOSSOM (with its floral notes) and NECTAR GROVE, which we'll be discovering and tasting here. As you approach the bottles, you can see the Château de WEMYSS (now I understand why Lee advised me to take a break there!). You can also see Batch Strength versions of some of the references (including the PEAT CHIMNEY batch strength that we're about to taste). 


There's also a whole range of single casks (from various distilleries and aged 13, 14, 15 and even 25 years), LORD ELCHO and the FAMILY COLLECTION. In fact, the list is so long that if you want to discover it, you might as well visit the online shop (here).


If we're talking whisky here, it's not because we've just discovered it!



Our path then leads us straight into what seems to be the link between the Wemyss family and their distillery. We are in a strange, high room, covered with 600 pigeon holes.



At its centre sits the first cask filled in 2015 (the year production was launched). Peter explains that we're actually in the famous crenellated tower we saw on our arrival. No, this tower was by no means a defensive tool to drive the English out of the Kingdom of Fife, but simply a dovecote designed to supply the occupants with birds!



At the back of the loft, Peter takes me to his favourite part of the distillery (the distilling room). This is where I realise that the Kingsbarns distillery is all about simplicity, with its 4 fermentation vats and two stills, and above all that space in the tin building is limited.


Peter explains that the distillery has turned this lack of space into a strength. In fact, the stills in the house (7500 l for the wash still and 4500 l for the spirit still), which face each other, were made for the premises. Small (because the room is low) and fitted with a long swan neck to optimise contact between the distillate and the copper.


It is this contact with the copper, as well as the particularly long fermentation and high cut point, that give the distillery its fruity and floral aromas.



He explains that production capacity is currently 200,000 litres a year, and that 34 barrels of distillate are filled each week.



Peter explains that, given the size of the distillery, the many casks containing the distillates are kept in Fife, not far from the distillery.


So it was to the visitor centre that we returned, and it was to a large sherry butts in the corner with 4 bottles on it that Peter told me it was time to discover some of the distillery's products.



Peter starts by introducing me to the new product from the house: DOOCOT.


He tells me that it is in the same vein as DREAM TO DRAM (voted best Lowland Scottish single malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2022 and 2020), which has made the house famous since its creation, but benefits from a longer maturation than the latter. 


It is aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon casks and ex-Portuguese red wine STR barrels, shaved, toasted and recharred, and has a slightly more pronounced golden colour than its big brother.


Peter explains that, with this new distillate, the WEMYSS family wanted to pay tribute to the famous dovecote that is the hallmark of the house (and has followed the family for several hundred years, as we saw in our epic journey through the Lowlands). This tribute is also reflected in the unique shape of the brand's bottles.


As befits any tasting session, Peter raises his glass and pours a Slainte.  


So does this whisky have the floral and fruity character that is the hallmark of Kingsbarns?  


When the nose gets closer, it discovers those famous sweet and floral aromas. But there are also a few spicy, sweet aromas.


When the nose plunges back into the glass for a second time, it continues to curl up in sweetness. The second pass continues to bring out notes of cane sugar, but also of banana cake baked over a wood fire.


The third passage reveals notes of tropical fruit.


This is indeed a fruity whisky.



On the palate, it is warm, mellow and very sweet.


Spicy, peppery notes fill the mouth fairly quickly, planting a few spikes.


Then it softens and becomes mellow again, with notes of pineapple and red fruit.


 As it moves down the throat, it reveals more woody, fresh notes. Over time, it develops vinous notes and a delicious liquorice aftertaste.




For this second tasting, Peter presents me with a bottle of KINGSBARNS BALCOMIE containing a distillate aged in the cask we have in front of us, a Butts ex-Oloroso sherry in American oak straight from Jerez. 


He explains that this type of cask was chosen by Isabella Wemyss to complement the fruity character of the Kingsbarns spirit with flavours of oak and sherry sweetness. As for the name, it pays homage to a part of Fife located just next to the distillery in Crail.



This distillate, which has a more pronounced copper colour than DOOCOT, is sweeter and smoother than DOOCOT.


The first pass of the nose in the glass reveals a rather warm and mellow atmosphere, with sweet hints of raisin cake and a woody base.


On the second pass, the spices come to the fore, a mixture of light cinnamon and pepper. There are also winey notes.


The third passage, against a backdrop of well-marked spices, brings out a fresh marine note.



Before it enters the mouth, it is preceded by hints of the sea (after all, we're on the east coast of Scotland).


On the palate, it immediately reveals broad, sweet notes of roasted pineapple cake.


It then reveals spicy notes and a hint of rancid notes that dry out the palate. Finally, the honeyed, mellow side takes over, releasing the notes stored by the oloroso sherry cask.



On the way down, it releases the last of its spices, but leaves a velvety, nutty aftertaste and a long, fresh, liquorice aftertaste.




Peter then picks up the bottle with the orange label marked NECTAR GROVE.


He wants to show me some of the extensive range of blended malts from WEMYSS (which I introduced to you earlier). 


The one he's holding is one of the limited versions of the range (batch limited to 3,000 bottles) and is made up of various fruity single malts (as the name suggests) aged in ex-Madeira casks to give them more sunshine.



When the nose discovers this blended malt, it will detect fruity, vanilla and sweet notes that are effectively bursting with sunshine. However, the orange notes that the colour of the label might suggest are very timid here, and we're really talking about ripe fruit.


Despite its 46% alcohol content, the aroma is softened by the fruity, sweet notes. There are nevertheless hints of spice at the end. 


Wise and gentle.



On the palate, the very sweet notes of the nose are followed by an enhancement of spices and, this time, citrus fruits (almost lemony, with a hint of ginger). 


These surprise the expectations of the nose and give the distillate a real kick!


The finish is marked by notes of rancio, reminiscent of a Madeira cask.


The finish is pleasant and sweet.




As Peter likes to entertain his guests, it's with a tasting of another body-built blended malt (57% ABV), this time in a peated version.


There was a complete change of register for this last tasting, which is why Peter saved it for last, because when he poured the golden yellow liquid into the glass, the whole room began to smoke. He introduces me to the Peat Chimney (with a name like that!!), a small peaty whisky from the Wemyss blended malt range, made up of different peaty single malts and presented here in its 'no fuss' batch strength version.



Without even slipping your nose into the glass, the scent of sea peat evaporates.


But you still have to dip your nose into the glass, and when you do, the smell of sea peat grows as you approach.


The first nose is clearly that of a peat fire lit in old ropes by sailors who have just landed in Johnnie Bay to the north of the distillery. A marine peat as we like it.


Then, the second passage through the glass takes us back from the coast with a mixture of peaty fruitiness, a rather original citrus flavour and a spiciness that scratches the nostrils.



The third sip is more refreshing, but retains strong peaty notes.


In the palm of your hand, you'll find everything a peat lover loves: smoke, mellowness, sweat, tyre...



On the palate, it is very soft and sweet on entry, but very quickly reveals its full strength.


Its 57% alcohol content reveals warmth, pronounced spices, peat smoke and a tension of salty notes... then the fire calms and it rounds out to take on sweeter notes. These don't last long, giving way to saline notes and a return of the peat spirit.


On the way down, there's a burst of lemon before the peat smoke slowly fades away.  


A drop of water softens the power of the smoke and brings out the sweet citrus scents.



It's on these beloved smoky notes that I'm going to end this Lowlands tour for once). Nevertheless, before returning to his pigeons and stills, Peter is reassuring and tells me that this is certainly not the last we'll hear of the Wemyss family, their malt blends and Kingsbarns.  


He also tells me that the warehouse is full of little nuggets and undiscovered casks. Something tells me I'll be back in the Scottish Lowlands!