Once we had overcome the initial excitement of committing to build a new single malt scotch whisky distillery, the reality dawned on me on the enormity of the project and all the parts we had to bring together to get to the start line.
First up were the necessary construction consents. We call it ‘planning permission’ in the UK as the decrepit structure was in fact a wonderful Grade B listed building, dating back to the 1800s. This meant that any alternations needed the permission of Historic Scotland – and the buildings were never ever conceived as a distillery!
The most striking feature of the building was the ‘Doocot’ (Scots word for dovecot) which was originally built to house plump pigeons in order to provide meat & eggs for the landowner next door. We have restored all the six hundred or so ‘doo boxes’ as part of the construction process, and this is now where the first ever cask of our single malt proudly sits.
Next up was water, or the lack thereof. As Kingsbarns is not located on or near a water course, we had to ascertain whether the quality and flow from a bore hole would be sufficient for both the production and cooling processes. Thankfully, after extensive testing, it was. Hence, all the water used to make our whisky comes from a bore hole around one hundred metres below the distillery itself.
Looking back on it, I suppose the one advantage we may have had was that our sister company, Wemyss Properties, is involved in construction, albeit mainly residential housing. This allowed us to assemble a project team to take the Kingsbarns project forward. However, we lacked critical distillation knowledge, and specifically how to procure, install and commission a new distillery. Back in 2013, few new single malt distilleries had been built from scratch, Kilchoman, Arran and Ardnamuchan to name but a few, and consequently we were fortunate Ian Palmer (now of our neighbour Inchdarnie Distillery) was prepared to join the project as our distillery engineer. Without Ian’s input we would have struggled as our expertise was in blending, bottling, marketing and the distribution of Wemyss Malts. Key distilling words such a grist, washback, heads and tails meant little to us back them. Now they do, thankfully.
Once the relevant permissions were granted, we started on site in earnest and the construction process took around two years until commissioning and the running of our first spirit from the Forsyth stills. Our pair of stills were specifically designed, since we were restricted in terms of the ridge height of the building; this meant that our pairs of stills had to be squat, with short lyne arms, and consequently quite distinctive. I remember many, many twists and turns during the construction process, as I suppose was inevitable bringing back to life a very old building.
Part three of the ‘building a single malt distillery’ will relate our journey as the project nears completion and we look to determine the style of single malt we wished to produce at Kingsbarns.
WRITTEN BY WILLIAM WEMYSS