A month ago Peter Holroyd, Distillery Manager at Kingsbarns Distillery, announced to Founder’s Club members at an event for us at the distillery that the flagship whisky “Dream to Dram” was to be discontinued.
I have to be honest with you that this news made me really sad for I have really loved this poetic, romantic phrase ever since writer Jamie Jauncey came up with it back in 2014 to describe my journey from golf caddie to whisky distillery founder.
It truly was one of the best moments of my life when in 2018, despite resigning (on good terms) from the distillery the year previously, the Wemyss family chose to name their flagship Kingsbarns Single Malt Scotch Whisky “Dream to Dram”. I even got a tattoo to celebrate just how much it meant to me with “Dream to Dram” written on a Glencairn Whisky Glass.
I was a little nervous about how it would be received due to it being so very young (three and a half years old). However I need not have worried as the reaction around the world to it has been fantastic. It was particularly pleasing recently to hear one of my favourite YouTubers Roy at Aqvavitae pick Dream to Dram in his vPub as his lowland malt recommendation in his 5 whiskies (1 per region) under £199 show. NB The bill for all five whiskies had to come in under £199.
However I guess all good things must come to an end. Before it does vanish from this earth I am sure I will be bankrupting myself by snapping a few cases of their remaining stock so I can keep enjoying it into my old age hopefully with friends who knowing me I will bore to tears over and over again with my founder’s tale.
Thankfully this initial feeling of loss and sadness was very short lived and infact turned to joy when Peter informed us that Dream to Dram was to be replaced by a much maturer seven year old whisky called “Doocot”!
Why does the word Doocot evoke such joy in me?
Well, because I have loved doocots ever since I was a wee boy growing up on our family farm as a magnificent 18th century octagonal freestanding one, the West Pitkierie Doocot (photo below), stood just a mile away from our home in the middle of an open field.
So what exactly is a Doocot? A Doocot as it is known in Scotland (England and France: dovecote/dovecot) is a building intended to house pigeons or doves / doos. Doocots tend to be square or circular free-standing structures but are also sometimes built into a cave or the end of a house, or barn.
The doos were farmed for their meat and eggs as a source of food for those who lived on the estate surrounding it. The doo poo was used not only as a rich fertilizer but also believe it or not in gunpowder making, a cure for baldness, tanning and removing hair from pelts. During the 18th & 19th centuries doocots were often built as follies in designed landscapes.
The West Pitkierie Doocot was real sanctuary for my brothers and I, somewhere we could escape to on our motorbikes for some peace from Mum and Dad. Thanks to its unique octagonal shape we could always find shelter from the cold winds behind one of the side exterior walls however it was always a last resort to actually venture inside due to the stench of the doo poo and danger of parts of the roof and doo nesting boxes falling down on us.
Furthermore it acted as a key landmark in our epic motorbike races which extended over to our Uncle’s farm, all the way down to Kilrenny, Skeith Stone, Waid Academy and across to the fields of West Anstruther much to the anger of the farmer there Willie Wilson!
The 18th century Doocot at East Newhall (now Kingsbarns Distillery) on the Cambo Estate also captivated me from an early age. For as a kid as we used to visit there often during the 1980’s when the farm steading was a petting zoo, farm shop and cafe. During the 90’s and 2000’s it lay derelict and unloved until I had the idea to turn it into a whisky distillery and visitor centre.
As I conducted my feasibility studies (2008-2009) on various sites around St Andrews to locate a distillery at nothing visually could compare with Adamesque styled East Newhall and its glorious gothic castle-like doocot. Indeed in early 2009, just before I formed the company, Doocot Distillery was on my final shortlist of names for the distillery alongside Cambo Distillery and East Neuk (of Fife) Distillery. I hope you all agree that I made the right decision ultimately in calling it Kingsbarns Distillery! Perhaps I will delve into the history of Kingsbarns and why it is such a good name for a whisky distillery and malt whisky in another blog post but not now.
I may have not called the distillery Doocot but I did work with Mark Connelly Co-Founder of the Glasgow Whisky Festival to create an early logo design incorporating the doocot into the K of Kingsbarns.
I also worked with artist Heather Brennan on creating some illustrations of the doocot one of which incorporated the designs of the Kilduncan Stone found just outside of Kingsbarns in 2002. It proved to be one of the most important Pictish carved stones to be found in Scotland in the last 100 years and certainly, the single most significant Pictish find in Fife since the discovery of the St Andrews Sarcophagus in 1819, some of which Heather also brought into the design.
She also brought an idea I had to life of three of Scotland’s most iconic animals (the highland cow, the stag, the shetland pony) inside the doocot with the distillery mouser and doos circling around all having a blether while enjoying a wee dram.
During the darker days of the distillery’s development (mid 2010 until early 2012) when I was crushed firstly by a big grant disappointment followed by rejection after rejection from potential investors I started to explore other ways to raise funds. I designed a Doos o’ the Doocot membership scheme which actually ended up being not terribly dissimilar to the Founder’s Club which emerged years later. Below are some of the designs and features of the scheme illustrated by Heather Brennan and Helen Wyllie
Fife is the doocot capital of Scotland and had no fewer than 360 doocots in Fife during the 18th century. Over 100 listed examples remain today. Sadly around 70% of Fife’s doocots are now at risk, the inevitable consequence of neglect. The very design of doocots, with small floor plans, no windows, low doorways, nesting-box-lined walls and sometimes a surviving potence or revolving ladder in the centre have made it almost impossible for modern day landowners to find an alternative use for them.
So what a thrill it was for me to be able to convince our architects Simpson and Brown (easily) and then the Wemyss family (more difficult) to fully renovate both the exterior and interior of the doocot back to its rightful position not only as the architectural centre-piece of the building within the surrounding landscape but also as the heart of the distillery visitor experience by mounting the first cask of Kingsbarns spirit in pride of place inside to mature. I recall that the doo poo had built up a couple of metres high over the centuries and being informed it was highly toxic so specialists had to come in in white overalls and gas masks to remove it all!
Once construction of the distillery commenced the refurbishment of the doocot was relatively straightforward but its position did present a problem since the adjoining byre buildings had to be demolished to accommodate the new distillery building so considerable care had to be taken not to disturb the structure any more than necessary. It had to the braced, underpinned and stabilised while the work was carried out. If it had not been done correctly it would have all come down like a pack of cards!
Once the distillery opened on St Andrews Day 2014 the doocot was always one of the main highlights of my tours.
“So now..” I used to theatrically pronounce inside the doocot during my tours “It is the angel’s share rising to the heavens rather than the doos of the doocot”!
Many visitors however as they approached the entrance would see the 2 taxidermied doos and then hear the fake cooing noises we had installed and be utterly petrified and refuse to enter so realistic were both effects. Even after it was explained to them that they were not real it was still a struggle to get those with a fear of birds to come inside!
One very memorable moment for me was definitely when the legendary whisky YouTuber Ralfy came to the distillery in 2016 and recorded an interview with me about my dream to dram journey inside the doocot itself. What better video I thought to share with you all then given that Dream to Dram is to be replaced by Doocot. I’d been watching his videos since he started in 2009 which was the same year I incorporated the Kingsbarns Distillery company and had become a big fan so I think I come across as a wee bit over excited! Today he has 177,000 subscribers, has posted 1,400 videos and has almost 46 million views with the below video clocking up a respectable 11,000 views to date.
Ralfy though has, up to now, had a policy of not reviewing young NAS (no age statement) whiskies although I hear he has decided to make some exceptions going forward for new distilleries so perhaps we might see a review of something Kingsbarns in the future. Time will tell…
I think my favourite memory though of the doocot has to be my most recent one a few weeks ago when distillery manager Peter and visitor experience manager Michael Van der Veen opened up that first cask and filled two bottles for the Founders Event for us founder members to taste.
At 8 years old in a first fill Heaven Hill bourbon barrel from Kentucky it really was a taste of heaven. Creamy, rich yet still light in character bursting with fruits but with a hint of sweet bourbon woodiness too. Everything perfectly balanced. I will be praying to the whisky gods that in a couple of years time a Kingsbarns 10 or 12 Year Old will be released that has been 100% matured in first fill Heaven Hill bourbon barrels at 46% ABV and under £50.
Perhaps because this doocot No. 1 cask has finally hit that milestone 8 year old age it has now like a caterpillar suddenly metamorphosed into a butterfly. Certainly when I last tried the doocot No.1 cask at Year 5/6 I wasn’t particularly blown away by it.
Perhaps the different maturation conditions in the doocot have also contributed to its glory. For there are radiators in the doocot to keep it warm for visitors whereas the large Kingsbarns bonded warehouses along the road at InchDairnie in Glenrothes would be, I imagine, a lot cooler. Whisky matured in warm conditions tends to mature quicker due to the accelerated interaction between spirit, cask, and air resulting many argue in a smoother and softer whisky at a young age.
So in summary you can see why I love the Doocot name almost as much as a I love the name Dream to Dram!
But the next big question to answer is do I love the taste of Doocot as much as I love the taste of Dream to Dram? Well lets see…..
Master Blender Isabella Wemyss has kept the same make-up for Doocot as for Dream to Dram.
90% Heaven Hill first fill ex-bourbon barrels / 10% first-fill shaved, toasted and re-charred (STR) Portuguese red wine barriques, 46% ABV.
The difference comes in the age. Dream to Dram is 3 and a half years old whereas its successor Doocot is 7.
Price (£45) remains unchanged.
Dream to Dram
Nose: youthful and vibrant, banana bread, vanilla, spearmint, melons, sweet white wine, fruit salad juices.
Palate: a clean, fresh, oily, waxy, slightly sharp mouth coating texture. A liquid blend of marshmallows, wine gums and opal fruits. New make spirit driven, casks yet to take over.
Finish: A long tropical fruit delight. Slightly zingy bitter pears.
Nose: a damp meadow, spearmint, brand new leather brogues, Werther’s Original sweets
Palate: a little richer on the palate than dream to dram, less of the oily, sharp mouth coating texture than dream to dram. Those Werther’s Original sweets really carry over from the nose to the palate. The official tasting notes say pineapple syrup and rhubarb but to be honest I can only pick up the syrupy part. Overall it does feel more balanced, rounded, deep and mature on the palate than dream to dram.
Finish: The zingy bitter pear note of dream to dram is still there but less sharp. A more rounded fruity long finish now and that Werther’s Original note remains until the very end.
I think I prefer the youthful bright banana fruit floral burst of Dream to Dram in terms of the nose. As for the palate its a choice between the marshmallow, wine gum and opal fruit blend of Dream to Dram or the Werther’s Originals flavours of Doocot. I enjoyed both however Doocot does feel more balanced and rounded on the palate overall. Furthermore that slightly sharp bitter pear finish on the Dream to Dram is not so pronounced on Doocot, no doubt because the wood has started to eliminate the compounds in the new make spirit causing that note during those extra 4 to 5 years of maturation. For me Dream to Dram is more new make spirit driven whereas Doocot feels more like a more level balance between the new make spirit and the wood.
It really is fascinating experience comparing two whiskies from the same distillery where everything in terms of the cask make up / strength is the same and the only difference is the age.
I will be at the Fife Whisky Festival this Saturday. Come say hello if you see me. I’m particularly looking forward to Decadent Drinks, James Eadie, InchDairnie and Daftmill. Till next time, slainte.