Kingsbarns Distillery with Peter Holroyd, Distillery Manager

A Family With A Dream

The Scottish Wemyss family have had a longstanding passion for malt whisky and their connections with the industry date back to the turn of the 19th century when John Haig (founder of Haig’s built his first distillery on Wemyss land).

Can you tell us about the history and background of Kingsbarns Distillery, including when it was founded, and what sets it apart from other distilleries?

“Kingsbarns was established in 2014 but it wasn’t until March 2015 that we filled our first cask. We are an independently owned, Family run distillery. Owned and operated by the Wemyss family. What sets us apart? Well it’s a few different aspects in my opinion, but the liquid comes first and foremost. We have some unique production techniques including producing clear wort, using 2 separate strains of yeast in long fermentations and running the stills extremely slowly to ensure lots of copper contact. All of these things contribute to achieving an elegant and intensely fruity new make spirit.

Our Production Director, Isabella Wemyss then has the job of pairing the Kingsbarns spirit with the right cask type! We predominantly use first fill casks that are the perfect fit for our spirit from a few select suppliers. What is fantastic about the fact the family are so involved in directing the whisky style is that the right strategic decisions are made to get the best possible end product. We don’t have an accountant buying the wood and skimping on it. Money is spent where it matters, on great quality raw materials! We are also striving to anchor the dram to the place its made, so we only use locally grown barley and we mature all our whisky in Fife warehouses.”

What is the story behind the name and branding of your whisky, and how does it connect to your overall identity and vision of Kingsbarns Distillery?

“The distillery is named after the neighbouring village, Kingsbarns. The location was used in ancient times to store grain in the barns before being transported to the Falkland Palace so it’s a great wee link to its previous use. The building itself is a beautiful old farm steading and we have worked hard to ensure that the architectural features such as the Doocot have been conserved and celebrated. We always take pride in the area we reside. In fact all our releases are named after local landmarks or Fife themes.”

Can you share any interesting anecdotes or stories related to the history, production, or characters associated with your distillery or whisky brand?

“We certainly have a few characters working here! In all honesty we have a brilliant team of folk that are extremely passionate about the product and experience we provide. And there are so many stories of funny things that have occurred here. But you always learn from mistakes, that’s the important thing. I recall in the very early days of cask filling when we were still working out how to operate the cask filler we accidentally overfilled a cask when the spirit was being delivered to a barrel at full blast. We all ended up covered in new make spirit! Thankfully we only lost 2 or 3 litres of precious distillate, and it never happened again but at the time it was quite an experience.”

Why did you decide to partner with Glencairn Crystal as your preferred glassware supplier for whisky tastings, and what benefits have you seen from using The Glencairn glasses at your distillery?

“The Glencairn name is synonymous with quality. Using the correct glassware is incredibly important if you want to get the most out of a dram. Ideally a glass that funnels smell to the nose should be used. Its amazing how much more aroma you pick up when the whisky is presented this way compared to a standard tumbler glass in my opinion. But each to their own, you should drink your whisky however you like!”

There has been a lot of buzz around sustainable and eco-friendly practices in the spirits industry. Has your distillery incorporated these practices, or is there a long-term plan you are working towards?

“Sustainable practices are such an important issue these days and its crucial that we do all we can to strive for continuous improvement in that regard. we minimise our carbon footprint by using local barely within 6 miles of the distillery and draw water from beneath the distillery itself. We also recycle our draff and send it off to a local farmer to be used as cattle feed. Waste water is processed before going to a reed-bed and pond onsite which is great for biodiversity. We have recently started keeping bees too at hives behind the empty cask storage area, important pollinators for plants of course! Going forward, we have plans to put in a 100Kw solar scheme at the distillery which should provide about 60% of power requirements for the site.”

What trends do you see affecting the whisky industry at the moment, and how is your distillery positioned to take advantage of them?

“It’s a very interesting time to be in the industry. We are seeing a boom right now alongside a new generation of whisky drinkers, its recognised as a drink for everyone nowadays and its fantastic to see so many people excited about it! There is a trend towards premiumisation, but I think that in order to reach a wide audience its important to make your malt accessible price-wise. This helps build a brand which is crucial for a relatively fresh-faced distillery like Kingsbarns. That’s certainly a balance to strike. We also feel that a sense of place is important in differentiating us from other brands so we keep things as local as possible from locally grown barley to the spent grain that feeds the cattle the next field along.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed some trends in the industry of using all sorts of weird and wonderful casks, which is great, but to be honest at Kingsbarns we really focus on making a classically “Lowland” style of malt, so we want a light wood touch in terms of maturation. You get the most fantastic sweet and fruity note on the new make spirit so we don’t want too much of that to be lost through dominant cask influence.”

What do you see as being the future of whisky in the short term, and how do you plan to respond to it?

“I think nowadays there is an increased emphasis on flavour. Folk probably drink slightly less but drink better and are willing to try younger malts too which is fantastic. The adage of “older is better” doesn’t apply quite as much as it did in the past. Moreover if you are a small producer of malt whisky like ourselves, you need to focus on quality of product first and foremost. At the end of the day what is important is smell, taste and the experience of the drinker. We are never going to be able to compete in price with some of the big brands so for us, we have concentrated on doing our level best to make an interesting and characterful malt. Get the dram under folks noses and if its decent whisky, you can let the liquid do the talking!”

Throughout your experience in the spirits industry, what has been the most unexpected and significant surprise you have encountered?

“Following on from what I mentioned earlier, I’m completely astonished by the rate of growth the industry has seen over the last 10 years. In 2022 the export value surpassed 6 Billion pounds. It’s extremely positive for the country in job creation and investment. We are now seeing large, established brands expanding alongside many new, smaller distilleries opening their doors for the first time. Blended whisky still commands greatest global sales, but the malt category where there is rapid growth. Its going to be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.”

Finally, can you discuss any exciting projects or releases that you have planned for the near future?

“We wouldn’t want to give anything away especially before we have publicly announced anything, but we do have a few very exciting releases due the end of this year and as always you can expect some exceedingly high quality single cask expressions coming from Kingsbarns in the near future too.”


To find out more about Kingsbarn Distillery and their range of whisky please visit here.

Distillery Q&A

Read More From Our Fascinating Distillery Q&As

Discover More Stories