Kingsbarns Distillery Reserve

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A Wee Day Oot…

In April I joined an organised sojourn over to Fife to visit a couple of distilleries. The whole day was put together by the lovely dudes at the Ayrshire Whisky Group. After stopping in Ardrossan and Kilmarnock, the coach picked up the last few passengers, myself included, outside Central Station in Glasgow. Our destination? Kingsbarns and Lindores Abbey.

I had been to both distilleries before whilst on a weekend break to St Andrews in 2017. Back then, Kingsbarns hadn’t bottled any whisky as yet and Lindores hadn’t even started producing. It’s quite amazing to see how far they’ve both come in such a short space of time.

Kingsbarns was the first port of call. The distillery was famously dreamt up by Golf caddie Douglas Clement. With the backing of the Wemyss family (of Wemyss Malts fame) the project eventually got up running with production beginning in 2015. The first single malt release, Dream to Dram, launched in 2019. That was later followed up by Balcomie in 2020.

As it turned out, the lads from Ayrshire couldn’t have picked a better day for our trip. It was blue skies all the way to the East coast and with rules on wearing face masks in Scotland due to relax within a couple of days of the trip, there was a real sense of optimism about the whole thing. Here was a group of people, more used to meeting virtually via online video calling technology, actually getting together for an excursion. Drams were shared, conversations enjoyed and the world set to rights several times over.

As for Kingsbarns, at least in appearance, nothing much had changed since my last visit. The tour does a good job of catering for both the international Golf tourists that congregate in the area and the whisky enthusiasts who seek out distilleries wherever they may be.

Where things certainly did differ was in the post-tour tasting. If I remember correctly, last time I was here I tasted new make and a couple of Wemyss offerings. This time we were treated to some new make, Dream to Dram, Balcomie and the Distillery Reserve, an annually released limited edition. Already familiar with the others, this was the dram that most interested me and unsurprisingly, a bottle found its way home with me.

We left Kingsbarns warmed by the drams and ready to take on the world. With the volume of conversation noticeably increased thanks to the greatest social lubricant known to man, we headed for Lindores where even more wonderful whisky awaited us. Massive credit has to go to David and Keiran, who run the Ayrshire Whisky Group. I’m sure it took no small effort to put this trip together but the whole thing went off without a hitch and everyone seemed to have a great time. I know I did, so massive thanks to them for organising and for allowing a few Weegie stowaways onboard. What a day out and what a reminder of how life could be, pre-pandemic. Now, when’s the next one?

The Whisky

The Kingsbarns Distillery Reserve was matured in 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrels and 1st fill STR barriques. It’s bottled at an impressive cask strength of 61.8% and cost £65.

Smell: Straight away there’s some summer fruits from the STR casks. Also plenty of malty character. Toffee and caramel. Toasted oak. Straw. Vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce. Honey. Brown sugar. Tinned fruit cocktail.

Taste: Big bourbon arrival is quickly cut through with some tart raspberry. Then comes some spicy pepper which is a wee bit too intense at first. It comes across as youthful fire. This whisky may need some time to settle down. Lots of cereal and biscuit. Muesli. Touch of coconut. Strawberry fondant.

Thoughts: The character of the barley takes centre stage throughout. At first it seems like you’re getting a bold wine influence from those STR casks but in fact that fades into the background quite quickly. Water works wonders for the fiery heat. A wee splash and the dram became much more rounded. Less… well, spiky. If that isn’t a totally ridiculous way to describe a liquid.

Tasting it side by side with the distillery’s Dream to Dram bottling you can see that they share the same DNA, although the Distillery Reserve has more cask influence, with the STR adding an extra layer of complexity. It needs a little water to find its best self but at 61.8% that’s hardly surprising.

An interesting dram that retains the distillery’s core character whilst offering up something different from their other bottlings.

Value for money: Price wise it does OK. It’s not cheap for a young whisky but it also isn’t too expensive for an annual limited release. To me Kingsbarns still feels like its best days are yet to come but in the meantime, they’re producing some very drinkable whiskies that give a wee glimpse of what this distillery could become in the future.

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For more on Kingsbarns visit here

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