The World of Single Malt Whisk(e)y
Daftmill - Modern Distillery, Old School Approach
One of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, Daftmill takes an old school approach to distilling. Located in the Howe of Fife (which is on Scotland’s east coast, between Edinburgh and Dundee) and part of the Pitlair Estate, they are primarily a family farm, growing cereals, potatoes, carrots, and broccoli, and they also keep beef cattle.
Steeped in History
Folks have been living and farming in the Barony of Pitlair for thousands of years. There’s even a Pictish standing stone depicting a naked warrior dating back to the 6th or 7th century down the road from Daftmill.
Noted Victorian whisky writer, Alfred Barnard, wrote the following as he was traveling through the Fife area:
“After leaving Kirkcaldy we lost sight of the busy Forth and the country began to assume a character that bespoke a fertile soil and a high state of cultivation. The country slopes gently from the Ochils to the River Eden but the East Lomond forms the finest object in the surrounding landscape. It is a regular and beautiful mountain, 1650 feet high, with a cairn on the top. As we proceed along we see in the distance Falkland Palace where the Royal Family of Scotland resided up to the time of Charles II. It was this palace that the infamous Rob Roy garrisoned in 1615 with a party of Macgregors, when he lay the whole district under contribution. As we diverge from the main line the track is through a rich and well-cultivated plain, but towards the north it rises to hills which are covered with heath and through this plain runs the Eden – Where flows the cool, unsullied stream, deep sheltered from the scorching beam.”
In the mid 1200s, during the reign of King Alexander lll, the Kynloch family had charter to a mill and lands in the Fife area. Connected by marriage to the Sandilands, the Pitlair Estate passed to James Sandiland and Margret Kynloch. When James was made Lord Abercrombie, he sold his Fife estates in 1649. The lands came to the possession of James Walker (though immediately in 1649 or sometime between then and 1701 is unclear).
The Cuthbert family bought Daftmill from Walker’s descendent, Sir William Walker, in 1986, having previously been tenants of the Walker family. This means it could very well make them only the third family to own the land where Daftmill sits in nearly 1,000 years!
Modern Times, Ancient Practices
Brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert first applied for a distillery license in June of 2003 and began renovating the old farm mill, going out on a limb of faith the license would be approved. It took about 2 years to get the mill into tip top shape, and the Daftmill ethos was in place from the beginning - utilizing local as much as possible. The only parts that came from outside their 5 mile Cupar community radius were the copper pot stills and mashtun, which were sourced from coppersmiths Forsyths in Rothes. For all the other necessary equipment and upgrades, local craftsmen were employed. Their license was granted on St. Andrews Day 2005 (November 30th), and the first spirit flowed on December 19th.
As a working farm, their distillation is based around the farming calendar, as would have been the case hundreds of years ago when distilling was often an additional source of income for farming families. They distill in the quieter winter months and also when there’s a lull in farming duties in June and July. Scotland hasn’t seen this type of seasonal distilling in over 100 years.
The entire operation runs in harmony with the farm: the whisky is made from their own barley; water comes from the artesian well; the draff goes back to the cattle as a nutritious feed; the pot ale and distillation left-overs are sprayed onto the fields as fertiliser. They also have a duck pond which benefits from the warm water used to cool the stills, which helps keep it from freezing over in the winter - making for very happy duckies!
As all the barley utilized is grown on their farm, it’s a very low-production operation. And while the minimum aging requirement for Scotch whisky is 3 years, Daftmill ages for at least 10 years. Low initial output coupled with the Angel’s Share means there are very limited bottles of their single malt to go around (each bottling has been less than 2,000 bottles, with some having only 200 bottles available). But with scarcity comes desire, and most of their offerings are already claimed the moment they’re available for sale. It should be noted that while they source everything as close to home as possible, their aging casks come from Heavenhill Distillery in Kentucky.
What’s in a Name?
We’ve covered the history and how they run things, but what’s with the name Daftmill? Well, “daft” means “crazy” and, due to an optical illusion of the geography, the local stream appears to be flowing uphill! Locals have called it “the daft burn” (the crazy stream) for centuries. The stream was the powersource that turned the waterwheel of the mill house which has since been converted into the distillery. Hence: Daftmill.
This is a cool little distillery with a fun origin and, by many of the reviews I’ve read, some really excellent single malt! While it would be amazing to visit, they do not have a visitor center or touring options; but they do have some wonderful videos for you to enjoy. If you come across a bottle of Daftmill, give it a go and know you’re supporting a small and unique family operation!