Building A Single Malt Distillery: Part 3 of 3 with William Wemyss
As we neared completion of the construction phase, we needed to recruit a production team and start preparing for the spirit to flow from our stills.
We hired Peter Holroyd, a brewer by trade, to become the inaugural distillery manager, and he arrived a few months before production started to ensure the equipment was fitted to his satisfaction.
The mash tun, fermentation vessels and grist mill all came from different suppliers, but Peter, with the help of our industry friend Ian Palmer, managed to install and test all the equipment without any insurmountable challenges.
Peter, together with my sister Isabella, have been responsible for production from the distillery from day one, and whilst it is exciting for the rest of us to now see & taste our Kingsbarns single malt, it must be doubly so for them with all the effort they and their production team have exerted.
We also had to define the type of spirit, and therefore ultimately single malt, we wanted to produce, and this is where the help of the Dr Jim Swan came in. Our aspiration was (and still is) to produce a style of single malt which is true to the Lowlands; that is light, floral and very sweet, where the character of the spirit is complemented, but not over-powered by the cask maturation. I may be biased, of course, but I believe we have delivered on this ambition in spades with both Balcomie, our sherry-matured single malt, and Dream to Dram, our mainly Bourbon matured whisky. Our single malts are now sold in over thirty countries around the world, and every year at our distillery visitor centre we’re delighted to welcome new Kingsbarns enthusiasts to see how we craft our spirit.
Apart from the style of spirit being important, we also wanted all the elements of production to be as local as possible to the distillery itself. This includes barley that is grown by family friend Bill Whiteford not many miles from the distillery in Fife; the water from an aquifer below the distillery and maturation takes place locally too. Casks for maturation were, however, not something we could source locally.
I clearly recall as we approached commissioning that the sourcing of casks was an issue. We had never even considered this as major risk, since we assumed we would be able to source them easily through a cooperage. How wrong I was. Our wonderful European Sales Manager, Ginny Boswell secured contact with Heaven Hill distillery in Kentucky and this is still where all our Bourbon casks come from. We source our other casks from cooperages and now have over fourteen different types of casks maturing our spirit, since we are always looking to see the impact of different wood types on our light and fruity spirit. Out of all this experimentation, we genuinely believe we will find some interesting combinations of spirit and wood, but that will of course take time. Some will no doubt be less successful, but that is what experimentation is all about.
Before we could start distilling, we needed our Distilling License from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and this, I remember, was a frustrating wait as we were itching to see (& taste) our first spirit run. Thankfully, patience prevailed and we started distilling in March 2015, with a wonderfully enjoyable launch party on St Andrew’s Day in November 2014, where many of our partners were kind enough to come from all corners of the world to help us, as a team and family, celebrate the momentous moment.
WRITTEN BY WILLIAM WEMYSS
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