A very cold January day, saw Whisky Corner hit the road, for our top secret, invite only, visit to Daftmill Distillery, located by Cupar, in the Kingdom of Fife. After we visited the nursing home (that’s what we get for relying on the sat nav) we finally pulled into the distillery.
Francis came out to meet us, and with a firm handshake we were ushered into an office, ready for Kirsty to interview. After a good interview and friendly discussion, we packed away the laptop, and signed the almost brand new guest book, and all relaxed into the tour of the distillery.
First we were shown the hopper, which takes the malted barley into the mash tun room. One tonne of barley is sent to Crisp’s, in Alloa, where it is malted without peat and then returned within a couple of weeks. Francis uses the perhaps, slightly unusual method of using ten blue wheelie bins, each bin holds 100kg of malted barley and it keeps the barley safe and dry, so a genius idea really.
Next we visited the mash tun and the washbacks. The mash tun is a one tonne semi-lauter with a copper dome and there are two stainless steel washbacks. The fermentation process takes between 72 and 100 hours. It was interesting to see such a new looking mash tun, which looks brand new and highly polished.
Francis showed us the dry (pelleted) yeast they use, much as you would use in baking or in a home brew kit, which is different from most distilleries. The dry yeast suits Daftmill perfectly as it does not need to kept in a fridge and is quite happy as long as it is kept dry, this will last for about a year or so in good conditions.
Next up was the still house, with two shiny copper stills, both with slightly ascending, short, lyne arms. The wash still has a capacity of 3,000 litres and the spirit still has a capacity of 2,000 litres. This is where Francis uses his knowledge of Lowland whisky to try and achieve the Rosebank style that he wants to capture the essence of. In order to achieve this, he has very short foreshots of approximately five minutes.
The spirit starts at approximately 78% and this is mainly to capture the fruitiness that all the contact with the copper encourages and that is naturally present during distillation. The heart of the run is stopped at 73% which is an unusually high percentage, this is because Francis feels this is the best part of the spirit to use, with the flavour he is looking for. Out of each tonne of malted barley he will approximately make enough to fill one cask, once reduced to 63.5% (which would appear to be the industry standard these days, and is why Francis chose that percentage).
The next stop on our tour was the filling store, this is where each cask is filled and weighed and all the HMRC paperwork and conditions are carried out. The cask is then rolled from here into one of the two dunnage style warehouses where it is then racked and left to sleep.
We visited Warehouse No 1, Francis uses mainly bourbon casks although he does have a few sherry butts lying about. Francis prefers to use bourbon casks from Heaven Hill, however, as he is finding these increasingly hard to source, he also has some Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam casks and it is in this Warehouse the first ever filled cask, which was filled on the 16th December 2005, by his mother (Mrs Cuthbert) lies.
The conditions here in Scotland are perfect for a whisky warehouse and it was so cold on this day you could even see your breath (we doubt the angels will be having that large a share of this whisky).
After taking many a photo and learning more about the filling process and how Francis only ever uses first fill casks, we finally got to try some of the wonders that lie within. Francis opened both a sherry butt and a bourbon cask.
The difference in colour between the two was absolutely amazing, as shown in our photo. Both of these whiskies are sitting at about 60% ABV and are 7 years old.
Rich ruby red in colour, the smell evokes everything that is good about a sherried whisky, it’s Christmas, Christmas, Christmas all the way, dried raisins, dates, plums, all spice, cinnamon, with a hint of smooth almond.
Better than any other sherried whisky either of us have ever tried. Sweet and delicate, virtually no heat, has a big sherry hit but that instantly makes way for the fruity, molasses and Demerara sugar notes with just a touch of vanilla. Picking up a slight tinge of sulphur with a small nod to new plimsolls and sawdust. Great finish, long and sweet, we cannot wait for this to be bottled, we will definitely be first in the queue and believe us in a couple of years this will be truly stunning……remember you heard it here first.
Rich honeyed golden straw. Sweet, aromatic, herbs, oak and vanilla aplenty! It was so very fresh, the first fill cask really making its presence known along with wonderful notes of sweet red apples, pears, with a twist of lemon and lime. Slight spicy pepper kick balancing out the sweetness perfectly before it became too cloying. Oily in the mouth, coating all the way down. Summer in a glass, warming without too much fire, a dram that you could have all year round, warms in winter yet would be refreshing in summer. If Francis wanted to, he could release this now and it would be amazing, in the couple of years or so that Francis intends to give it longer, it will raise the extraordinary to the extra extraordinary. You will want to buy this, in fact you need to buy this……..once we’ve bought ours of course.
We had a really interesting chat in the Warehouse over our (very generous) drams, all things whisky with lots of other things thrown into the mix, and we secured our visit for next year already!
We can’t wait to see the difference a year makes to both of these, quite frankly, amazing drams.
Francis Cuthbert is a great guy, hardworking and no doubt about it. A great host and knows his stuff, knowledgeable and friendly, if you are not already watching this distillery, start now. This is one distillery that will rise above many and you can bank on that!