What is up Pandas! Most of the Scotchs we try hail from the more prolific whisky regions around Scotland, such as Speyside, the Highlands and Islay. Today, we’ll be trying our second bottle of Lowlands Scotch (my first Lowlands review is on Eden Mill).
This is one of the most impressive NAS expressions I have tried in a long time. After my tasting, it isn’t difficult to see why Kingsbarn’s first edition was crowned the title of Winner of Best Lowlands Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2020.
Kingsbarns Distillery is a young and ambitious recent addition to the Lowlands family. This Dream to Dram expression is the inaugural first edition to be released by Kingsbarns. This expression is also intended to showcase the distillery’s character to the whisky world at large for the first time! They would do well not to disappoint us!
Distillery: Kingsbarns Distillery
Region: Lowlands, Scotland
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Style: Single Malt
Cask: 90% First-Fill Bourbon, 10% Ex-wine Shaved, Toasted and Re-charred (STR) casks
Behind the Label
How is the Lowlands’ style of Scotch whisky like? Lowlands Scotches tend to be more gentle and floral in taste and aroma. Their whisky distilleries were once unimaginatively referred to as “Lowland Ladies". Why? Firstly, their distilleries tend to triple-distill their whiskies, which makes their taste more delicate. Lowlanders are also often unpeated. Rather than using peat to toast barley, it seems that Lowlands distilleries prefer using the neutral-smelling coal to toast the barley- thereby imparting no peaty smokiness to the barley. The historical preference to use coal rather than peat is likely due to the Lowland’s strong coal-mining industry.
Kingsbarns Distillery was only opened in 2014 by Douglas Clement, a former golf caddie who made a pragmatic observation that there was no nearby whisky distillery for nearby golfers to visit. Clement decided to purchase an old farm building built in the 1700s, based just a few miles from St Andrews (where Eden Mill Distillery is located).
(Image Source: Tourism St Andrews)
Kingsbarns Distillery intends to produce something that represents the flavour of its locality, and also demonstrative of the typical of Lowlands whisky character. Most distilleries use spend about 50-60 hours on fermentation. Kingsbarns uses a rather long fermentation period of 65 - 85 hours, combined with a unique strain of yeast from French yeast producer Lesaffre, which is able to produce more sweetness and higher quantities of fruity esters. Finally, a long distillation process and early “cut” point in the spirit produces a very sweet, clean, estery and light-bodied spirit (for more on “spirit cuts”, check out this write-up on the whisky-making process).
The combination of the long fermentation process and long distillation process allows Kingsbarns to create a sweet, light-bodied, floral, grassy and fruity Lowland-style malt.
The Dream to Dram expression is made exclusively with barley harvested from a farm near Kingsbarns in East Fife. After distillation, 90% of the spirit is matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks while 10% is matured in first-fill ex-Portuguese wine and shaved, toasted and re-charred (STR) casks.
How old is this stuff? This is NAS but we can venture a guess. This was released sometime in early 2019, while the distillery was officially opened in 2014. A bit of #quickmath would put its age at about 4 to 5 years old.
And while this is the distillery’s first release, it has also won the prestigious award of being the Winner of Best Scotch Lowlands Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2020. Nice going!
First releases of many new distilleries have become so highly sought-after by whisky connoisseurs that the cost is now prohibitive to obtain many of them.
In the glass, the liquid is a rich gold colour similar to white wine.
On the nose, very clean, soft, floral and fruity. The opening notes are of distinct honey, fresh pineapples and ripe red apples, then some notes of orange honeydew melon in the next wave. Not far behind are some light floral notes from chrysanthemum. This feels clean and estery- the aromas are so light and diffuse easily into your nose.
The floral and fruity notes really take the centre stage even as they are very gentle. With a few minutes of careful nosing, you might detect some vanilla and slight oakiness, but this is rather subtle and could be missed.
On the palate, this is surprisingly soft, smooth and gentle. This light-bodied and the experience of drinking spirit is once again surprisingly effortless and easy. On the first sip, the flavours are elegant and subtle but very discernible- honey and golden syrup with more melons, some light custard cream developing into a slightly biscuity note and some cherry pie… this is reminiscent of Marks & Spencer’s sweet, flaky and redcurrant puffs with a sticky jelly core!
Floral notes and notes of soft fruits take over and linger on the palate with more ripe apples, slightly bitter chrysanthemum and a light cucumber taste that is usually associated with “grassiness”.
Right at the moment you swallow the whisky, a slight twinge of heat zings your tongue. This is the sensation of very light ginger spiciness that is probably derived from the European STR cask.
The finish is long and fragrant. There is mainly some lingering notes of sugary puff pastry and chrysanthemum flowers. This is accompanied by very very subtle oakiness and nuttiness, and a gentle ginger zing, fading away into the darkness.
The Dream to Dram is very light, smooth, friendly and has sufficient depth and complexity to keep things interesting- due to clever use of first-fill bourbon casks to impart sweet vanilla custardy flavours and STR casks to impart a little more complexity. I find the soft fruity and floral notes are so palatable. The texture and experience of this whisky on the tongue is comparable to some decently-aged whiskies out there- as good as perhaps a 12 year old Scotch.
This expression is impressively well-balanced compared to a number of young releases from other newly established distilleries. Firstly, the casks do not overwhelm and allow the distillery character to shine. Secondly, the smooth texture of this whisky attests to the very skilful distillation of Kingsbarns. Normally, very young whiskies tend to have a slight metallic taste due to the presence of sharp astringent compounds found during the distillation process that were supposed to be removed by the wood during many years of maturation. The Dream to Dram somehow does not have any such astringency found in young whiskies. This is most likely due to the long distillation process that clears out most of the undesirable compounds, and a skilful “spirit cut” that selects only the sweetest and lightest components to be turned into whisky.
Great performance from a young distillery in its inaugural release - Kingsbarns gets an "A" on its report card and graduates to the ranks of recognisable distilleries.
I cannot stop marvelling at my new discovery of Kingsbarns. This is a very good start for the fledgling distillery. What would a 10, 12, or 18 year old Kingsbarn taste like? I am eagerly anticipating them!
What of food pairings? This Kingsbarns is fragrant, floral, lightly fruity with a very slight ginger zing. A whisky relatively gentle and subtle in its flavours would pair well with seafood. This would be fantastic with some elevated Hawaii Ahi (tuna) poke. The mildly sweet and salty soy sauce, sesame oil and furikake is balanced by the light floral profile of the Kingsbarns with its gentle ginger spice.
(Image Source: Wikimedia CreativeCommons)