Putting the East Neuk on the Whisky Map

As Crail Food Festival-goers know, the East Neuk of Fife punches well above its weight for production of wonderful food. In terms of drink, until recently you had to go further afield. Thankfully, that has all changed with the opening in December last year of the Kingsbarns Distillery. The East Neuk is now well and truly on the food AND drink map with what will be its one and only whisky now in production!

view towards Kingsbarns Distillery

wishing you were at Kingsbarns Distillery


Born and bred East Neuker Douglas Clement, with the financial backing of the Scottish Government and Fife’s Wemyss family, has created this amazing Distillery out of a dream he had while caddying at Kingsbarns Golf Links and living nearby in Cellardyke.  To get to where he is today with the Distillery took a roller-coaster journey of 7 years of effort. You can read his incredible, inspirational “from dream to dram” story on the Kingsbarns Distillery website.

I followed Douglas’s journey with great interest as it panned out, not least because, my East Neuk holiday let, Rose Cottage is just a short walk away, so the Kingsbarns Distillery has become our closest tourist attraction! I was really excited when it opened and in fact our neighbour Ray was the Distillery’s very first visitor! No surprise then that I was delighted to be asked to meet Douglas and blog about visiting the Distillery for the Crail Food Festival 2015.

sign for Kingsbarns Distillery

Entrance to Kingsbarns Distillery

So what can you expect from a visit to the East Neuk’s very own Kingsbarns Distillery?

You can expect to get a little tipsy in style, sampling some fantastic whisky and gin on the scheduled tours (£8 Kingsbarns Tour or £20 Doocot Tour). In fact, depending on your tolerance levels you may get a lot tipsy in a lot of style if you go on Douglas’s or one of his senior tour guide’s in-depth and deluxe Dream to Dram Tours where you will learn about the whisky-making process in a lot of detail and get to taste 6 whiskies, including some exclusive barrels (£50, by arrangement). On our rather less boozy girlie tour, the honey notes of Wemyss’ blended malt, The Hive, proved particularly popular with Mrs D and I and went down very well with a splash of water.

setting out the tasting at Kingsbarns Distillery

On your Distillery visit you can expect to learn all about Kingsbarns as well as how the whisky is made. The first 15 minutes of the paid tour is self guided and you’ll explore the exhibition which tells the story of the origins of Fife and Kingsbarns, of how Fife could be said to be the birth place of whisky and of Mary Queen of Scots’ love of golf (and Lord Darnley!). It also brings to life the Distillery’s metamorphosis from a dis-used, derelict, at risk farm steading on the Cambo Estate to the immaculately restored buildings you see today.

Museum at Kingsbarns Distillery

The exhibition ends on a high: the Doocot (Scots for dovecot). Once covered in two meters of pigeon poo it is now scrubbed up and forms the proud home of the very first cask of Kingsbarns Whisky, accompanied by atmospheric lighting and the recorded sounds of pigeons cooing. So now its the Angel’s Share rising to the heavens rather than the ‘doos’ (doves).

Doocot at Kingsbarns Distillery

Of course quality whisky is not produced overnight, so Kingsbarns Single Malt Scotch Whisky will only be ready for drinking in small quantities after 3 years and 1 day in a cask and in larger amounts a number of years later! Douglas is expecting a lighter, delicate fruity Lowland whisky and all the raw materials, distillation equipment and recipe has been designed to produce this. Roll on 2018! In the meantime, there are numerous Fife owned Wemyss family blends and exclusive single malt single cask special editions from other distilleries, to sample and take home.

Wemyss Malts at Kingsbarns Distillery

After exploring the exhibition your guide will then walk you through the whisky-making process. This starts with the raw ingredients and you get to taste the Kingsbarns spring water from a sandstone aquifer 100 metres below the distillery and Fife barley some of which us grown on the Wemyss family’s estate just along the  coast nearby Cameron Bridge Grain Distillery.

Water to make Kingsbarns Whisky

barley to make whisky at Kingsbarns Distillery

The tour then moves upstairs to show you the industrial majesty and heady aroma of the gleaming copper stills in action, distilling the Kingsbarns spirit twice.

the process of making whisky at Kingsbarns DistillerySomething I particularly liked learning was how green the Distillery is – the heat created from the stills within the pot ale and spent lees left over after distillation is used to heat the entire visitor centre via underfloor heating. Thereafter this pot ale and spent lees is taken away by the neighbouring farmer who spreads it on his fields as fertiliser. The farmer also takes away the used malted barley, the draff, after mashing which he feeds to his cattle. Douglas joked that this is why the Kingsbarns coos are always so smiley and happy!

The tour ends with a tasting in the magnificently grand tasting room, called the Wemys Room, after which you can browse around the shop and cafe.

A surprise perhaps is that even if you’re not a whisky-lover (though my other half swears that the Wemyss’ 12 year old Spice King is the first whisky he has ever developed a taste for ) you can still expect to find something you like at the Distillery. For a start, the Wemyss family produces a SELECTION OF GINS, including popular elderflower and spiced varieties. If you’re partial to a whisky or indeed a gin cocktail or two you should check out the cocktail recipes ( http://www.wemyssmalts.com/cocktails/index.html and http://www.darnleysview.com/cocktails.php ) on their website – mine’s a Spice on Ice! Douglas told me the Distillery cafe plans to serve cocktails in the future, which is something I’ll definitely be walking over from Rose Cottage for.

What’s more, wine-lovers will be delighted to discover some FABULOUS WINES at the Distillery shop and cafe. It’s not made in the East Neuk but in the much more conducive warmer climes of the Wemyss family’s vineyard, Rimauresq in Provence,  near St Tropez.

wine too at the Kingsbarns Distillery

Douglas recommended sampling a chilled glass of the rosé in the cafe and who were Mrs D and I to refuse?!

chilled rose wine at Kingsbarns Distillery

In fact the taste experience at a visit to the Distillery is not even limited to alcoholic beverages. You may also be surprised to know that you can expect FANTASTIC HOT CHOCOLATE in the wonderfully light and sunny Distillery cafe, which you can enjoy while appreciating stunning views across idyllic East Neuk countryside. This is particularly good news if you’re the designated driver in your party (though you can easily come to the Distillery by the 95 public bus too, ask to get off at the Cambo stop)! The charming café itself is well worth a visit for a drink or bite to eat, whether or not you are going on a tour or not.

cafe kingsbarns distillery

Last but not least, on your Distillery visit you also have the opportunity to buy some great gifts in the excellent Distillery shop. The gorgeously shaped Kingsbarns branded Glencairn whisky glasses (£4.95) and whisky minatures sorted me out for lots of presents for my family last Christmas. I also have my eye on a lovely pale blue distillery golf umbrella for Rose Cottage.

glass and miniatures at kingsbarns distillery

If I were to sum up a visit to the Distillery it would be to say that it is infused with Douglas’s spirit: pioneering, hard-working, polished yet friendly and very much grounded in the East Neuk of Fife.

I hope that gives you a flavour of just how great a visit to the Kingsbarns Distillery will be. It has quickly become an essential addition to the itinerary of every visitor to the East Neuk and St Andrews and somewhere for locals to enjoy too. I know I’ll be back.

Douglas is staging various events at the Crail Food Festival 2015 including a whisky toast and Gin and Tonics at the Friday night dinner, a mouth-watering “meet the producers” collaborative whisky and chocolate tasting along with the Highland Chocolatier on the Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and his own “meet the producer” event too on the Sunday at 12.30. Book your tickets now to avoid missing out! He’ll also be serving Darnley’s View Gin and Tonics at Luvians Harbour Bar on the Sunday.

Keep your eye out for Douglas too on the West Sands beach during The Open in St Andrews as he’ll be creating something truly amazing!

Author: Sara Scott
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