Saturday, 21 May 2011

Daftmill - strange topography and a new Fife malt

Fife is a strange place. It houses Scotland's oldest university which is also the one of choice for those who don't make it to Oxbridge. It's East Neuk is hoachin' with beautiful old fishing hooses that have been turned into potteries and galleries. The fishwives are thin on the ground these days. Fife was also the only constituency ever to return a Communist MP to the Westminster parliament. It still had a few Communist councillors until recently. It also sent hundreds of volunteers to fight Franco and the rise of fascism in '36 Spain. No reds in today's East Neuk though... Fife like most of Scotland has embraced Salmond's vision for our nation.

Fife now has its own malt whisky distillery - Daftmill - named after a quirk in the local topography whereby the Daft Burn appears to run uphill. Daftmill is actually a working farm though its relationship to the whisky industry is not a new one. For years it has sold award-winning barley to various key players in the industry including Macallan. It maintains that operation but is now operating on a 'traditional' basis. Tradition has it that in the auld days, farmers would, once the season of toil was over turn their hand to whisky distilling during the winter months. This is the plan for Daftmill anyway. 

Daftmill started distilling in 2005. The oldest whisky currently maturing is 4 years old. Fine stuff it is too. Most of it is in first fill bourbon casks though there are some sherry around. Some new distillers, including a certain small Islay enterprise, have due to the pressures of investment, rushed out new spirit as well as 3 year old bairns. Daftmill hope to wait until ten years before releasing the fruits of their labour onto the market.

The setting for this farm distillery is superb. A large millpond is visible on the approach to the farm steading. Various old buildings have been redeveloped and now house washbacks and stills. An auld byre now acts as the treasury.

Daftmill don't do 'distillery tours' as of yet but a polite email or phone call to the Cuthbert family who have farmed here for six generations could result in an invitation to view the new enterprise. In the company of an interested German whisky connoisseur and tour operator, I get an indepth viewing from grist to cask sample. Funnily enough, we are told that visitors are few and far between. Surprisingly, certain well known writers in the whisky world have yet to knock on the door. 

This is certain to change as the date for the first bottling gets closer. I for one feel privileged to have tasted Daftmill in its infancy.

Daftmill will be aiming to produce a classic Lowland malt, matured in bourbon casks. We're told that a Rosebank type malt is something that is aimed for. Whatever, we get the current full menu of new make spirit, bourbon and sherry. All are superb.

The sherry cask was my personal favourite though it was probably just a scrotal hair ahead of the bourbon in quality. The other two disagreed. The Daftmill sherry at 4 years old reminded me a lot of Aberlour's lip-smacking A' Bunadh. It has a full, sweet and viscous palate. There was something musty about it too - like an old library with antique leather chairs. Absolutely delicious. If I were to hazard a comparison with other drams then the aforementioned A' Bunadh would be there along with the Gordon & MacPhail 12yo Imperial and possibly even the Edradour Natural Cask Strength.

The bourbon cask was altogether different - lighter and with the expected vanilla and toffee flavours. I was reminded of a Glenkinchie cask strength that I had tried though this didn't find favour with Mr.Cuthbert. He preferred Rosebank as a comparison.

I won't bother regurgitating the history of Daftmill here - their website provides all of that. Should the opportunity present itself though, go and visit it. I for one would welcome the chance to taste a 6 or 7 year old from the cask. Its refreshing to meet ordinary Scots who have the vision and balls to go out and create something of quality. Independent distilleries are very much to be supported. I'm sure that all this fits well into the 'new' Scotland and Salmond's own vision.

Daftmill website