It must have been late 2012 I first heard about Doug Clement’s idea to build a new single malt distillery adjacent to Kingsbarns Golf Links in Fife. Our family have lived and worked in Fife for many, many generations and our ancestral home sits just down the coast from Kingsbarns. Fife therefore seemed a logical place for us to own a distillery, but we had never seriously thought about constructing one from scratch.
The email that started it all
I clearly remember walking from our Edinburgh office to Haymarket train station, and hearing my iPhone (or was it a Blackberry back then?) beeping to announce the arrival of a new email and seeing the subject line detail ‘Distillery Opportunity’.
Normally I would have hit delete, but curiosity got the better of me, and I’m glad it did. Doug was a caddie at Kingsbarns Golf Links at the time, and golfers would ask him where they could learn about Scotland’s other great export, single malt scotch. He would advise clients that they need to travel all the way south of Edinburgh to Glenkinchie or up to Tullibardine in Perthshire. Both are well over are hour’s trip each way from St. Andrews.
Consequently, he felt a local single malt distillery would resonate with golfers and tourists visiting the East Neuk, in particular St Andrews. At that time, our family were independent bottlers with Wemyss Malts, which I started back in 2005. The evolution from independent bottlers to distillery owner was a relatively well-worn path, but at this stage, not many had actually embarked on building a new single malt distillery. A few adventurous pioneers, such as Anthony Wills on Islay with Kilchoman, have embarked on this journey, but it was by no means a well-trodden path.
My good friend Lennie Russell of Ian Macleod discouraged me – something I remind him of today! The creation of Kingsbarns Distillery was a valuable venture for us to undertake and it has taught us a huge amount. Now we have the ultimate satisfaction of seeing our Kingsbarns bottles on retailers’ shelves as well as in restaurants and behind some of my favourite bars. Scotch whisky is a wonderful industry to be part of, and I know no other, certainly which I’ve been involved with, where one’s competitors would be prepared to offer so much advice and help. I would suggest the collaborative nature of the industry is unique in this respect.
Part two of this series will focus on the actual construction and how on earth one actually learns to start distilling. This for us was a major challenge as to date our expertise had been in blending, marketing and selling scotch whisky as opposed to distilling. Whilst somewhat daunting at the outset, we took on the challenge with relish.
WRITTEN BY WILLIAM WEMYSS