Back to the Future: Daftmill

By invitation only, we headed West from Kingsbarns distillery to Daftmill, the last stop on my twenty six distillery visit tour. The postcode led us to what is now likely to be the most visited nursing home by whisky enthusiasts not wishing to check-in just yet. There’s surely a business opportunity in there somewhere.

It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day. Francis Cuthbert was busy working his distillery like Christopher Lloyd as Doc Emmett Brown did on the DeLorean in Back to the Future.

daftmill-pagodaFrancis seemed justifiably coy and occupied but greeted us warmly nevertheless. Once he got going however, two and a half hours had flown by, by the time we got to try his whisky and Francis showed no sign of fatigue or disinterest. In fact he was positively chatty and debating with avidity before we had to leave ourselves. It’s obvious that he’s fully absorbed with whisky making and completely dedicated to Daftmill distillery despite the fact that compared to the farming side, Daftmill is a sideline – operating during harvest between early June till early August and throughout the winter months of November through to February.

Daftmill pagoda.jpg

Daftmill is unquestionably a beautiful, quaint and charming distillery, neatly laid out and thoughtfully sympathetic to the original farm buildings, some of which date back to 1809. The pagoda though purely aesthetic is a nice touch, sitting on top of where the original kiln for the pre-existing mill would have been. It makes perfect sense to use that room for the storage of the grist [pre-malted offsite and pre-milled onsite], ingenuously stored in wheelie bins.


I asked Francis who had guided him and helped him set up the distillery?

Forsyth planned and provided the heavy equipment and apparatus. Local tradespeople were used for nearly everything else from stone masonry to painting & electrics. Once everything was installed, Jim Swan was hired for one day [I wonder what his hourly rates are?], to help with the technical support and tweaking.
Being a crop farmer [as well as cattle and various vegetables], i asked Francis whether he uses his own grain. He uses a relatively small area of his farm for all the grain needed to supply his distillery. In simple terms he explained:

  • 1 kilo of grain is required for 1 litre of alcohol at 46%
  • A hectare produces 8 tonnes of grain a year
  • 6 hectares produces enough for roughly 20,000 litres of spirit at 63.5%.
  • In practice he produces between 15-18,000 litres a year.

As to where the Daftmill distillery got its name, let’s just say the answer Francis gave us wasn’t quite the reply he is reported to have given in an interview with, regarding the illusionary tale of the uphill stream – but hey, there’s no harm in a story now is there.

I asked him what his breakthrough malt was, the whisky that enlightened his taste buds and possibly even sparked his passion for wanting to make his own. Interestingly he said he doesnt really drink whisky, maybe the odd beer now and again. Then he paused, smiled a little and said that he had been really impressed with a Macallan 10yo he was offered at that distillery after receiving an award from them for supplying the best barley [in 2009]. The question i should have then asked him was ‘but which Macallan 10? I’ve also heard it on good authority that he was partial to a bottle or two of Cameronbrig on occasion [Daftmill’s nearest neighbour], but i suspect one significant reason for that particular personal choice was down to local Fife loyalty. These days however, he’s in no need of purchasing whisky with a whole warehouse full of his own.

Daftmill spirit safe.jpg

After an extensive tour we got to try the new-make straight from the oak-clad whisky vat sat right next to the spirit safe. The spirit tasted positively edgy [nothing like the modern, clean and often clinical spirit currently being produced by some of the bigger players], and it was certainly characterful with it’s grain-led nuttiness and plenty of mineral & copper [contact] qualities. With an austere mouthfeel it was rather more Bladnoch-esque than Rosebank i’d say. And with that we were on to the whisky!

The warehouse was small and duly rammed with casks, although Francis reckoned he had another year before expansion of another warehouse was a necessary.

Version 2We got to try two whiskies. The first was from a first-fill, Heaven Hill bourbon cask [that he favours], followed by whisky from a sherry butt – both around 7yo and initially filled at 63.5%. What’s clear is the cask influence was significant despite the gutsy new-make and notwithstanding the abv [around 60%], there was an underlying softness to the whisky. Add water however and those fruity, estery notes Francis aims to capture from a high copper contact start to blossom, especially from the sherry cask. The question is, how many years in first-fill casks will the spirit want? As Ralfy said in part 3/3 of his Daftmill vlogs LINK ‘… you don’t want it to become too oaky’, and Daftmill’s first cask [filled by Francis’s mum], just turned eleven years old on 16th December 2016. Then again, a  1949 64yo Glen Grant that Serge just today waxed lyrical about was made up of four first fill sherry butts and just one refill, so there’s plenty to keep an eye on for the future – and let’s not forget, those casks become much desired second-fills next time around.

Who knows if or when Daftmill will be bottled and what the long-term results will be, but in the meantime let’s give the last word to the Doc:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit”.


Further reading: