Farmer and distiller Francis Cuthbert is the co-founder of Daftmill distillery in Fife. Spirit first ran from its stills as long ago as 2005, but the inaugural release of its single malt only came earlier this month.
Francis Cuthbert reckons all Scotsmen have it in them to make whisky
‘I’m a farmer who moonlights as a distiller, so if you come to the distillery, don’t expect a professional tour. It’s just me talking about what we’ve done and what we do now.
‘We grow all the barley we use in the distillery and lots more besides. Our biggest customer is Edrington for Highland Park and Macallan. We send the malt we keep for ourselves to Crisp Maltings in Alloa for malting.
‘We send 100 tonnes at a time and get 80 back. They guarantee it’s our malt. We only keep back around 10% of what we grow.
‘In 2005/6, when we started distilling, we used Chariot barley, grown next to the farm and distillery. Since then, we’ve grown Optic, Publican and currently Concerto. Next year, we’ll probably opt for Laureate.
‘We’ve just ordered a new mill and silo, which means we can do away with the wheelie bins we currently use to move the grist and store it. We’re going to pay for it with all the money we make from our inaugural release!
‘We stop and start up distilling a lot. It really is a case of fitting the whisky-making into the farming year, just like they used to do in days gone by. We distil during July and August, and then November to February, though by no means all the time in those months because there are other things on the farm to do.
‘On average, we fill around 100 casks per year, 90% of which are first-fill Bourbon barrels, plus some Sherry hogsheads and butts.
Seasonal stills: Whisky production at Daftmill has to fit around the farming calendar
‘We’re looking for a light, fruity, classic Lowland style of whisky, so we get nice clear wort from our mash tun and go for long fermentations. When we distil, we do it slowly and take a narrow cut. We only do one run per day.
‘We spend most money on fuel and casks. Our original idea was to add value to our barley, which used to sell for around £70 per tonne, by making whisky, but the cardboard tubes for the bottles effectively cost more than the barley!
‘When it comes to the distilling there are three of us doing it: I, myself and me. Who taught me? I think it’s just genetic. All Scotsmen have it in them to make whisky.
‘I read quite a bit about the subject, and lots of people gave us advice when we were starting out, and I can’t remember which advice we ignored and which we took now.
‘We did employ consultants and a retired distillery manager, John MacDougall, plus an engineer who had been involved in building Kininvie distillery for William Grant. We also took advice from the late Dr Jim Swan and used Tatlock & Thomson here in Fife for analytical purposes.
‘As a family, we had long been into our whisky, and we talked about making our own. The more we drank, the better the idea sounded. Apart from growing barley, we had redundant farm buildings we could use.
Francis Cuthbert was keen not to release Daftmill’s first whisky until it was ready
‘It became something of a joke, but finally we decided we should actually go for it. Daftmill and Kilchoman on Islay started producing within a fortnight of each other, but they made more spirit last year than we have in 12 years.
‘We farm 1,000 acres, a mixture of arable and cattle, and my brother Ian and nephew John run our quarry business. Our grandfather came here to farm as a tenant and we got the chance to buy the place in 1984.
‘Another farm we have just down the road used to belong to the Haig family, Fife’s great distilling dynasty. The old house was pulled down in the 1950s, but apparently Colonel Haig had two barrels built into the wall of it, so he always had plenty of whisky for himself and his guests.
‘Everyone asks why we waited so long before we bottled our whisky, and the simple answer is: I didn’t think it was ready. Also, there wasn’t any great pressure on us to do so. We have pretty low overheads and no staffing costs, so we could afford to wait.
‘Then we were approached by Berry Bros to release a bottling, and I like the whiskies Doug [McIvor, the company’s spirits manager] does for them, and was keen on the idea of a new distillery, a new single malt, partnering with a really historic firm with such great heritage.
‘So we’ve launched the 12-year-old – just 250 bottles at cask strength from three casks to start with – and I think the whisky will be even better with more time.’
DAFTMILL SET TO RELEASE FIRST WHISKY
Lowland single malt distillery Daftmill is poised to release its first Scotch whisky in 2018, well over a decade after it began distilling.
Old techniques: Daftmill has revived the tradition of distilling during the farm’s quiet periods
The distillery was founded in 2005 by brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert in an old mill on the family farm near Cupar in Fife, but is yet to release any whisky 12 years later.
Now Daftmill has signed a global distribution agreement with wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, signalling its intention to make its first release in the near future.
Francis Cuthbert told Scotchwhisky.com that the first Daftmill whisky would ‘probably’ go on sale during 2018, but added: ‘Before that happens, we need to sort out a bottle, a label and probably a lot of other stuff.’
Current plans involve an inaugural release of a single malt marrying two ‘complementary’ casks distilled in 2005, plus four annual single cask bottlings and two 12-year-old whiskies at 46% abv – one summer distillation and one winter distillation.
Daftmill is one of a burgeoning number of ‘single estate’ distilleries, growing all the barley needed for whisky production on the estate.
Distillation takes place during the agricultural ‘off-season’, covering two months in summer and two months in winter in a traditional practice not seen in Scotland since the 19th century. Only about 100 casks are filled each year.
‘What I find so appealing about Daftmill is their unique and traditional seasonal production cycle, which is led by Francis’ quiet periods on the farm,’ said Doug McIvor, reserve spirits manager at Berry Bros & Rudd.
‘I also believe their sole use of the estate’s barley gives Daftmill’s whisky a real sense of terroir and true provenance. I’m confident that the spirit’s subtle Lowland charm will put Daftmill (and Fife) firmly on the whisky map.’
DAFTMILL INAUGURAL RELEASE TO BE BALLOTED
The first bottles of Daftmill distillery’s inaugural single malt are to be sold via a ballot, with bottles allocated to lucky individuals at random.
Daftmill Inaugural Release single malt
First fill: Daftmill’s Inaugural Release contains some of the first whisky distilled at the Lowland site
Scotch fans looking to buy one of only 250 bottles of Daftmill Inaugural Release, distilled in 2005, the distillery’s first year of operation, will need to register interest on distributor Berry Bros. & Rudd's website.
The ballot closes at 5pm on Thursday 10 May, after which 250 individuals will be selected at random and given the opportunity to purchase a 70cl bottle of Inaugural Release for £210.
A further 250 bottles will be released to specialist UK retailers in early June, ahead of the launch of Daftmill Summer Release on 22 June (which will retail for £95) and the Daftmill Winter Release coming later this year.
Francis Cuthbert, co-founder of Daftmill distillery, said: ‘Our unhurried methods of distillation have meant we can only produce around 100 casks of whisky a year.
‘The launch of the Inaugural Release will also be the first chance customers have to see the new label and packaging. We hope the clean, simple and honest design reflects our approach to production.’
Daftmill Inaugural Release is a 12-year-old single malt produced using Chariot barley grown on the Daftmill family farm.
It has been matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill distillery and bottled at a cask strength of 55.8% abv.
Daftmill began distilling in 2005, after brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert were granted permission in 2002 to convert a mill on their farm into a working distillery.
Alongside the winter and summer bottlings, the Cuthberts have also spoken of plans to release four annual single cask bottlings each year.