It was quite unexpected when, last Thursday, mine (and many others) inboxes pinged with news from Kingsbarns distillery. There was to be a general release of whisky from another of the young Fife upstarts. Given how things have gone recently with inaugural bottlings from the neighbours, the first thought in my head was how much, swiftly followed by “it’s nice they have a release for people with deeper pockets than me to drink”. The email didn’t immediately quell my fears, as I kept scrolling no price was offered. Tasting notes, production details and the distillery back story, but no pound sign. The sense of resignation grew stronger.
The fact that this review exists is a bit of a spoiler, but imagine my delight when the online shop revealed that the whisky would be available for £44.95. The decision was made there and then to visit the distillery as soon as possible for a bottle.
The backing of the Wemyss family combined with the income raised by the Founders’ Club have likely contributed to the pricing of the new release, though no doubt more could have been asked for.
Through a combination of a previous visit to the distillery and the generosity of Master of Malt last Christmas, I find myself with the trilogy of early year releases: the new make spirit, 2 year old spirit matured in 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels and of course the Dream to Dram, 3 year old whisky matured in 90% 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill and 10% in shaved, toasted and re-charred ex-wine barriques. No more time wasting, let’s get into the first three years of Kingsbarns.
Kingsbarns New Make – 63.5% – sample free with a purchase from Master of Malt
Nose – filled with intense black currants, hugely alcoholic ribena. A good heft of barley too, it takes you straight back to trying the malt at a distillery. More dark fruits with blackberries, almost heading towards a rich fruit crumble.
Palate – still black currant at first, then more tropical with pineapple (a flavour that will come back later). Eventually the strength takes over and more ‘pure’ alcohol flavours come through.
Finish – short, sweet and barely led.
The nose is phenomenal, all fruit flavour with richness not found in other new spirits. A very promising start.
Kingsbarns 2 Year Old Spirit – 62.8% – around £20 from the distillery
Nose – a gentle mix of fresh sponge cake, tropical pineapple (told you) and unripe banana. A little sourness akin to gooseberries. Spices dance over the top, cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of heat from mace. Thick vanilla custard. It’s quite classically bourbon-matured whisky, but the strength and spices separate it from the run-of-the-mill vanilla-led drams. Time makes things sweeter, with dolly mixtures and strawberry laces. For the age, it’s quite something.
Palate – sweet, but hot and given an edge by the strength. It maintains the vanilla and tropical fruit of the nose and the spices too. A touch too bitter at full strength, the youth is betrayed here.
Finish – short, sweet fruit tang.
Strong cask influence with plenty of wood spice, but still the fruit shines through.
Kingsbarns Dream to Dram 3 Year Old – 46% – £44.95
Nose – fresh off the bat, the calling card of the young new malt order. Cereal led, sweet and musty. A touch of lemon juice combines to produce a Nice biscuit memory. More fruit gradually appears, banana and kiwi first, pineapple and even stewed strawberries with more time in the glass. There is, of course, vanilla, delivered in the form of a Portuguese custard tart, complete with caramelised top. Finally, fresh hay and wood shavings join in. 7
Palate – a vanilla dominant arrival, mingling with the inherently sweet malt flavour. Spices become more noticeable, predominantly nutmeg. Dolly mixtures appear once again. Soft fruits, banana and pineapple of course, kiwi and gooseberries once again bring sourness. This becomes a touch overbearing as the oak takes over, the spirit and cask not entirely in harmony at this early stage. 6
Finish – the fruit and oak last longest. 6
Total Score: 19 / 30
A very impressive first official outing for Kingsbarns. The old saying suggests a minute in the glass for every year in the cask, but this dram kept getting better throughout the evening, a couple of hours after pouring it was going strong. It’s not without flaws, three years is still young, but the quality of the production process mean they are minimal. A bottle that the distillery can be proud of: The presentation, the price and the flavour are all very enjoyable.
I tried this yesterday at a tasting here in Hamburg, which was hosted by Kingsbarns’ German distributor Alba Import. I was deeply impressed by the Dream To Dram!