When I heard that one of my favourite whisky writers Dave Broom was heading to my beloved East Neuk of Fife to do a talk about his new book as well as DJ at the fantastic organic brewery Futtle Organic I jumped at the chance of going so I stayed sober at Murrayfield where Scotland sadly lost to Australia in the last minute so I could drive back to St Monans for the fancy dress event. The night was superb. Dave in his amazing Talisker boots kicked the night off by DJ’ing some groovy jazz before doing a captivating reading from his book. Then King Creosote played live on his accordion followed by Stephen Marshall and then Sean Dooley on the decks for the rest of the night. Dave and his wonderful photographer for the book Christina Kernohan were kind enough to sign my book too.
In my last blog post I introduced you to Roy’s vPub at Aquavitae on Youtube. Talking from a whisky drinker’s point of view he argues that Scotland’s 70 odd new and upcoming whisky distilleries have started to affect the whisky we see on the shelves in 5 different ways: flavour, price, presentation, image and sustainability. Dave’s book also delves into the impact whisky distilleries have had but rather than look on the impact on the bottles on the shelves to the whisky drinker he explores the impact they have had on the place itself that the distillery is situated.
Dave and his photographer Christina travelled around Scotland picking the whisky distilleries (large, small, old, new) they believed best illustrated how key place has been and still is in Scotch whisky. He talks to not just distillery employees but with craftspeople, farmers, a genealogist and a perfumer to truly understand whisky’s relationship to location and the way in which it is more than just a liquid in a bottle.
Dave and Chrstina’s first stop is Orkney with a focus on Highland Park where I was lucky enough to do a magical two weeks work experience during my preparation for opening Kingsbarns Distillery. The passage which really sung to me was this “Highland Park is a distillation not just of barley, peat smoke and water, but the air and wind blowing against its pagodas, drawing the peat smoke updwards. It is about the people working their way up from the peat fields to the distillery. It is their craft, an expression of what it is to live there”
Next they transport us to the North East and Diageo’s rejuvenated Brora where they are trying their best to re-create the spirit that once flowed there based on distillers passing their knowledge down through the ages and historical ledgers. They then visit Brodie and Nichola Burns of Glasstorm, a studio glass-works before heading to the Thompson brother’s Dornoch Distillery. I really love what they are doing at Dornoch because their belief that the older style whiskies of yesteryear were better than what is currently on offer in terms of flavour, with the exception of Springbank, was a belief I too had when starting my Kingsbarns journey back in 2008. Back then I travelled to Tasmania and was inspired by Bill and Lynn Lark who had a similar philosophy to the Thompson brothers and so had created a tiny distillery where the focus was on using different strains of barley and yeast as well as variation in cask maturation rather than just ex bourbons. I love the way Dave compares the new, luxurious, Brora, with Dornoch’s guddle…but you will have to buy the book to find out how he does it…
Next up is Spey Valley where they feature a true industry legend Dennis McBain who worked at Glenfiddich and Balvenie from 1958 to until retirement in 2008. I remember fondly meeting Dennis for the first time back in 2009 at Whisky Live in Paris where I was helping Bill Lark pour his Tasmanian whisky. To this day I still remember his kind and encouraging words when I told him of my Kingsbarns plans. Glenfiddich produces a colossal 23 million litres a year and Dave asks can place exist in a distillery that big as scale creates distance while computers sometimes create detached, rootless places..? Again you will have to read the book to find out….as well as to discover Dave’s thoughts on Scotland’s whisky boundaries and whether if distillery character supplants region, can we even speak about place?
The book then transports us to the Peninsulas to the new biomass woodchip powered distilleries of the organic Nc’nean and Ardnamurchan. I’m a big fan of Ardnamurchan in particular and after Kingsbarns and Daftmill it’s the whisky I buy most of. Why? Well their signature flavour (briny saltiness) tastes of the magical West coast location in which the distillery is set in (I managed to visit a year ago with my Lab). I also love the people behind it particularly Alex and Vicky Bruce, Connal Mackenzie, DJ, Jenny, Antonia as well as the fact that it seems like most of the production staff are indeed true locals. I remember sending my Kingsbarns business plan to Alex and him being good enough to write back to me telling me that he already had his own West coast site but wishing me luck in my endeavors. Dave argues that new distilleries in these type of remote locations causes ripples beyond the making of the spirit and touch on the viability of communities, schools, a GP practice, transport, forestry and farming. He then takes us to the Hebrides…to Torahbaig Distillery on Skye, Raasay Distillery and the Isle of Harris Distillery where Dave further explores how in these remote locations distilleries are more than just production plants and are inextricably linked to the social needs of their communities.
Next up is Islay, another place key in making me believe a new distillery on a derelict farm near Kingsbarns in Fife could work. One of the first things I did after having the idea for a distillery at Kingsbarns was travel to Islay and visit Mark Reynier and Duncan MacGillivray at Bruichladdich and Anthony Wills at Kilchoman. They were full of words of tough wisdom of how hard it would be but also incredibly positive and encouraging to me. So as you can imagine I really enjoyed Dave’s interviews and words on these two distilleries in this chapter. Key to the sense of place in both has been being able to use Islay barley and I’m so happy at Kingsbarns we were also able to use barley from our region Fife too.
As a Fifer it was great that Dave then returns to Fife for his last chapter to explore InchDairnie Distillery, Crafty Maltsters and Daftmill. In Dave’s introduction he says there are many other distilleries he could have included and we should go out and find them. Having completed the book it made me contemplate how successful I had been in managing to bring that sense of place to Kingsbarns Distillery during my time creating it and then working there (2008-2018)…..but I think I might leave that question for another blog post in the future…
So for now let me just encourage you to go out and buy this magical book as it will really inspire you to think deeper about the whisky in your glass. I have a feeling too that it will make you want to get out there on the road around Scotland to explore not just our nation’s whisky distilleries but the places and communities that surround them too.