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Daftmill

 
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bifter
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:32 pm    Post subject: Daftmill Reply with quote



Daftmill still house.

"What made you get into this game, then?" Alun asked of Francis Cuthbert, owner of Daftmill distillery, who had just reeled off a litany of the costs associated with the setup and maintenance of the place. "Mental illness" came the droll reply. Certainly a substantial amount of money has been sunk into the operation near Cupar in Fife. And nothing has yet been recouped as the first distillation was in late 2005 and there are still a couple of years at least to go before the spirit will be considered ready. Listening to the math one would conclude that you wouldn't get into this trade for the money but Francis has something really special going on and, for a whisky loving man, that must bring its own unique reward.



The Daftmill bus Wink

Tours of Daftmill are by appointment only. I was visiting with Alun and three work colleagues after making arrangements to visit by email. The 'Daftmill bus' departed central Edinburgh on a muggy July afternoon and (with a soundtrack of Elvis and James Brown) our intrepid whisky explorers were soon coasting down the scenic roads of the Kingdom. After a slight satnav mishap that led us to a care home in Bow of Fife, we found the inconspicuously signposted lane that led to the distillery.



Bourbon barrel being rolled to the bond.

Francis Cuthbert greeted us as we pulled up and asked if we minded waiting ten minutes as he filled up some casks. We gleefully gathered round to watch the spectacle and Dougie even got to sample a few drops of the new make as it spilled from the end of the hose! As you will see from the pictures, Daftmill really is a 'craft' distillery, producing around 20,000 litres per annum in distinct summer and winter production runs. To put that in perspective, even Edradour, the self-styled 'Smallest Distillery in Scotland' produce five times that amount annually and the likes of Glenfiddich average substantially more each day!



A Daftmill bourbon barrel.

All production stages, except malting, are undertaken on site. Award-winning barley is grown on the farm and shipped to Crisp Malting in Alloa. They use modern industrial techniques to germinate and air dry the barley so there is no peat influence in the final product. As Francis told us, even the likes of Ardbeg do this before peating their barley and, to my knowledge, only Springbank can lay claim to using traditional floor malting (and peat smoking techniques) for all their output. Once the barley has been returned it is milled in a two stone mill located on the farm but away from the steading.



Francis starts off the tour.

Our tour therefore began in a room in a restored farm building with some wheelie bins full of milled barley (grist) and a hopper that deposits it into the mash tun in another room on the other side of the wall. Francis knows his operation inside out and was reeling off many figures as we went around. I wish I could have recorded all the detail somehow but, if I recall correctly, ten wheelie bins comprise around a tonne of grist and this suffices for one run.



The mash tun.

The next room is filled with plant including the mash tun. This is filled with a mixture of the grist and heated water from a couple of adjacent tanks to produce the wort (enzymes act upon the starch in the malt to turn it into sugars). The mash tun was empty when we visited allowing us to view the insides and it was also spotlessly clean. As the equipment is not in constant operation it requires to be cleaned down after every run to prevent bacterial growth. The water used is hard water drawn from an artesian well on the farm and an historic water tower provides the head to supply the distillery by gravity. Many distilleries, e.g. Ben Nevis, make great play of their, usually soft, water supply being integral to the taste but Francis is happy to admit that this is (to euphemise) rubbish. Once the water has been treated, as all distilleries now do, it is as near tasteless as can be.



Inside of the mash tun.

The wort is monitored by eye and, when ready, is filtered through a screen plate in the bottom of the tun to remove the spent solids - these are not wasted but go to feed the animals on the farm. The wort then flows into two steel washbacks located in the same room. At this stage the yeast (atypically, Anchor) is added and fermentation takes place. Some distilleries use fresh yeast but this requires fridges so dry powder is used for convenience and economy. The washbacks were full during our visit and Francis pulled up some of the wash for us to taste.



Francis pulls up some of the wash.

At this stage the wash had been fermenting for a couple of days and still retained some sweetness. The strength is around 7% and the cloudy appearance and yeasty aroma and taste are very reminiscent of hefeweizen, a Bavarian wheat beer (probably due to the similar yeast strains used). Francis told us that many producers would distill at this point but he likes to ferment the wash a little longer (72 hours plus) to encourage bacterial action. This sours the wash but apparently produces a sweeter, more floral final product. His aim is to produce an archetypal Lowland whisky along the lines of a Rosebank or Saint Magdalene.



The washbacks.

We marvelled at the network of pipes, the steel platforms and the machinery, which was all fabricated to bespoke specifications by trades within a five mile radius of the farm. The only exceptions to this are the stills, the condensor, the spirit safe and the top of the mash tun which were all procured from Forsyths in Forres. The still room itself is an impressive sight with one wall glazed to make the stills visible from the yard outside. Francis currently has a Chemistry student working for him and he was busy polishing up the copper, again the stills were empty allowing us to examine the interiors. During a distillation run the wash is processed in batches of approximately 2,700 litres through the wash still and its condensor, lifting the ABV to around 21%. The resulting 'low wines' are then charged to the spirit still where the middle cut, the heart of the run, is collected in a spirit receiver. The foreshots and aftershots from the second distillation are collected in the feints tank and mixed with the next batch of low wines (the ratio is roughly 1:1). By the time the final cut of 'new make' is collected it is around one tenth of the volume of the original wash and about 70% ABV. The residues from the wash still (pot ale) and the spirit still (spent lees) are spread on the fields to fertilise the grass. Prior to casking the spirit is reduced to 63.5%. We had an interesting chat about the merits of different cask strengths and the effect on maturation. A higher ABV casking will normally result in a slower maturation however some producers (Port Charlotte for example) fill at a higher strength for economic reasons.



The stills.

Our tour concluded in the bond where the cool, still air was redolent of wood and spirit. The stacks of casks over two levels are a fine sight and Francis' efforts are now almost bearing fruit. The casks themselves comprise a mix of Bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill, Jack Daniels and Maker's Mark and a much lower number of sherry casks, at least some of which we observed to be Oloroso butts. There is a tradition in some distilleries of painting the cask lids, the colour signifies how many fills the cask has had. Francis has decided to leave the lidsau naturalefor the first fill to allow him to easily see the provenance of each cask and assess their relative merits for future maturation. In the first year roughly 3% of the ABV is lost to the wood as it drinks in the spirit and an additional 2% is lost annually in evaporation. Francis evaded questions about the final format and price of the product as is his prerogative though he hinted it would be at least a 10 year old spirit and would have to be pitched at the premium sector of the market to justify the outlays and inefficiencies of such a small scale operation. We discussed a few whiskies and distilleries and he was happy to offer opinions - he clearly takes a dim view of caramel so we should probably expect the final product to be uncoloured and non-chill filtered. He suggested we sign up to the newsletter and join the Friends section of the Web site to keep up with developments. I also clean forgot to ask him if he intended to do his own bottling but there are bottling plants within easy reach so I would surmise he may contract this out.



The bond.

Francis was a very generous and genial host, taking time not just to explain the workings of the distillery but to answer our questions with honesty and none of the flannel that you sometimes experience at larger, more corporate outfits. There is no gift shop to exit through, just a site office with a visitors book. I can sincerely say that this was by far the best distillery tour I have done and an almost unique experience, certainly within such close proximity of Edinburgh. I look forward to the first release of Daftmill with enthusiasm and wish Francis the best of luck with his venture - there's clearly method in his madness!



Oloroso butts and whisky thief.
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bifter
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

N.B. I have only linked my own pictures taken with my 5mp phone camera. A couple of my colleagues had professional standard snappers and I'm waiting to see if they will let me post up the pics so check back for more links!
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Alexppp
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 6:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the detailed write-up. Sounds like it was a great visit and there were some very interesting insights as well (good to hear the owner addressing the whole water myth too). It's a pity the first bottle will be priced at a premium but it's certainly understandable.
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Creed
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cheers bifter i enjoy reading that.
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albo
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was an excellent day and if very much recommend it to anyone who had an interest in whisky. It was a far more real and in depth tour than I'd imagine you would ever get at one of the bigger distillerys.
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William
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 26, 2013 11:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant write-up bifter, sounds like i was a great experiaence of a very unique distillery.
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bifter
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 27, 2013 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just edited some of the details of the distillation process, excuse my powers of recall, or lack thereof!
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Charlie
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An excellent write up, cheers bifter and albo
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bifter
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a chat room on the Daftmill site. I signed up and logged in tonight (seem to recall Francis said Wednesdays are the busy night) and it seemed very friendly. Some quality whisky being drunk too!
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