Daftmill is a small farm distillery in the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. The young Lowland distillery produces only extremely little whiskey and is in great demand due to the severe limitation. It was only after a full twelve years that Daftmill released their first single malt, with great success. Daftmill, which translates as ‘crazy mill’, is a comparatively young distillery in the Lowlands. However, it was founded in 2005 and thus started before the great distillery boom of the 2010s. At that time, the Lowlands were still an extremely sparsely populated whiskey region with distilleries. Only Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie offered single malt from the Lowlands when Daftmill began distilling.
Daftmill is a classic farm distillery that could have been found anywhere in Scotland for centuries. Today the comparatively elaborate and local approach of the distillery is unusual, but is experiencing a renaissance. Daftmill produces the barley for its whiskey itself, but is therefore unable to maintain production continuously. Daftmill is one of the smallest whiskey distilleries in Scotland, especially when it comes to the whiskey it produces. The bottlings of the distillery are, due to the mostly limited numbers, in great demand in whiskey circles and usually sell out quickly. Unlike most of the new distilleries, Daftmill only released its first whiskey in 2018 when it was a proud 12 years old.
How does Daftmill single malt taste?
Daftmill single malt whisky is a classic Lowland whisky. The Daftmill Single Malt is not peated or smoky, the spirit is light and floral that develops into a gentle rounded fruity whisky with light herbal and floral notes as it matures in the barrel.
Daftmill is a real farm distillery that places great emphasis on local and ecological production. This applies to both the ingredients for the whiskey and the construction of the actual distillery. This was largely implemented by local craftsmen. An old mill serves as the distillery building, which houses the stills made in Rothes and the mash tun. The water for the Daftmill Single Malt comes from a private spring on the farm.
Production at Daftmill is not continuous. Rather, whiskey production is adapted to the existing farm and to the seasonal conditions of an agricultural business. Accordingly, production times are linked to sowing and harvesting times. This approach allows the distillery to produce only two months in summer and two months in winter. An average of 20,000 liters are burned. Due to the small production only around 100 barrels are made per year. Other distilleries produce between 200,000 and 10,000,000 liters annually. For Daftmill, ecological responsibility means that most of the ingredients come from our own production. The barley produced on our own fields is only processed in local malt houses, true to the motto “Support your local dealers”. Because of the high energy consumption, there is also no production in the cold months. The barley produced by Daftmill is in high demand in the whiskey world. The farm distillery only keeps around 15%, the rest is sold to distilleries such as Highland Park and Macallan.
In order to create the light, fruity classic Lowland style, Daftmill pays attention to a clear original wort. The fermentation is extremely long by Scottish standards and can take up to 104 hours. Distillation takes place on classic copper stills from the traditional Forsyths forge in Rothes. Most traditional high quality single malt producers are passionate about Forsyths pot stills. Here, too, you pay attention to the light character of the whiskey through a narrow “cut” in the centerpiece. The Wash Still holds 3000 liters, the Spirit Still around 2000 liters. Most of the production is currently matured in ex-Bourbon casks. Some of the whiskey is also stored in sherry butts and rum barrels.
Daftmill described by Francis Cuthbert
The short, onion-shaped, steam-heated stills and the small mash tun with a copper hood were made by Forsyths from Speyside. ‘We only outsourced all other work to the local craftsmen,’ Francis emphasizes his local patriotism. There are no computers in the facility, ‘everything is very low tech, it is as simple as it can be.’ The self-taught man is a Mashman, Stillman, Manager and Marketing Expert rolled into one. Reading and talking to other distillers created the basic knowledge. A course in the Bladnoch Distillery Whisky School of the then Irish distillery owner Raymond Armstrong taught him the craft knowledge and skills. Bruichladdich’s former whisky maker, Jim McEwan, encouraged the farmer and explained to him in detail the processes of a gentle two-stage distillation method. Francis Cuthbert learned quickly. His first new make came out of the spirit still on December 16, 2005. A clear, clean, slightly sweet, flowery and fruity spirit reminiscent of pears was the promising surprise. The world-famous whisky guru Charles Maclean praised ‘Cuthbert’s Baby’ exuberantly: ‘It is staggering beautiful’. Francis explains: ‘We distill a light, fruity classic Lowland whisky. Requirements are clear wort and long fermentation times. When I burn it happens very slowly, the middle section doesn’t take long. We only burn once a day. Only in the months of June and July and from November to February. ‘Three mashes per week result in 3000 liters of clear wort. ‘The New Make is better in summer, because fermentation is more ideal at warmer temperatures.’ Since the small 2000 liter fine blister is only two thirds full, the copper contact is very intense. The sulphurous compounds that arise during fermentation are bound and absorbed by the copper surface like a catalyst. The voluminous Tube Condensers with their many copper pipes and the rising Lyne Arm cause “that our spirit becomes very pure, light and fruity, because the heavy alcohols flow back into the kettle again and again, are distilled again and cleaner when they are driven out again.” The self-made distiller emphasizes: “With a slow distillation regime, very high and narrow cut points we collect the lightest most delicate flavors from our barley malt.” Compared to other Scottish distilleries, the alcohol concentration of the middle cut is relatively high in order to retain the original fruitiness to preserve completely. As for the exact cut points, however, he remains silent. An annual production of around 100,000 liters of alcohol would be possible. “It’s currently around 15,000 to 20,000 liters,” estimates Francis. He avoids precise information. Hustle and bustle and stress are not his thing, there are clear rules for one-man operation. It is only distilled when there is no work to be done in agriculture, because it cannot be divided in two. No recruitment is planned: ‘Last summer, a student helped me during an internship.’ This makes Daftmill one of the few real farm house distilleries that were widespread in Scotland in the 19th century and earlier. Back then, farmers like Francis used part of the barley for their own needs. The women brewed a beer from it, which their men then - usually illegally - distilled in tiny copper stills to make a usquebaugh.
The Daftmill Spirit is allowed to mature in barrels made from American white oak. They come as a whole, mostly from the renowned Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky. Others come from Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam and in between there are some sherry barrels from Andalusia in the three manageable Dunnage Warehouses on the premises. These traditional storage rooms are well suited for maturation, because the thick granite walls and slate roofs create a damp, dark room climate with a constant temperature in summer and winter. “On average we fill one hundred barrels [per year], ninety percent are bourbon barrels, the rest are sherry hogsheads and butts.” Whether other barrel cultures convert his distillates into whisky? Francis remains silent about this. Rather, it aims at consistent quality and therefore avoids experiments. The first barrel, a first fill Bourbon barrel from the Heaven Hill Distillery, was filled by Francis ’and Ian’s mother Annie on December 16, 2005. A barrel sample in 2015 already showed the good quality of the single malt maturing at Daftmill. After five years of storage, it was subtle, mild, fruity, flowery, slightly sweet, showing some vanilla, caramel and lemon when pulled from a bourbon barrel. When it matured in a sherry butt, it was correspondingly stronger in the aromas, which smelled of raisins, figs, bananas, chocolate and sherry. ‘Actually, both are absolutely drinkable and harmoniously balanced,’ said connoisseur Roland Horn, surprised when tasting the samples. He was also one of the lucky ones to later win a copy of the Inaugural Release in the raffle. Due to the low annual production, future editions will always be modest and, as precious rarities, only a few whisky fans worldwide can enjoy. In the meantime, however, Berry Bros & Rudd also fills single barrels on request, which Independent Bottlers sell in their respective national markets. Critics are full of praise and enthusiastic about the aromatic quality of the single malts from the distiller and blender Francis Cuthbert. Series taster Angus MacRaild (whiskyfun.com) looks to the future: ‘I hope Mr. Cuthbert will allow some of his kegs to age because it feels like that kind of profile is in something after 20 years very special could explode. ‘The capital invested so far by the Cuthbert family will probably pay for itself. Daftmill becomes a cult.
The two brothers Ian and Francis Cuthbert applied for a distillery license in 2003. As local farmers and sixth generation owners of Daftmill Farm, they brought a lot of local ties with them. The restoration of the historic mill building, which dates back to Napoleonic times, took almost two years. In 2005 the time had come. The first Daftmill raw spirit flowed from the copper stills from Forsyths from Rothes. Daftmill, together with Kilchoman on Islay, can be described as a pioneer of the new micro and farm distilleries in Scotland.
In their own words
It’s a mysterious, secluded place in the Lowlands with no sign. Children play in the yard, cattle graze in the pasture. There is no visitor center, no spacious parking lot. ‘Welcome to Daftmill, nice to meet you Sir’, greets Francis Cuthbert in a calm, reserved voice. Together with his brother Ian, he runs an impressive cattle ranch, growing grain, vegetables and potatoes near Cupar and Lindores. The family is already the sixth generation to manage the farm. ‘Our fields are among the most fertile in Scotland, the barley grows splendidly in our country’. Edrington is still their biggest buyer. Francis Cuthbert likes whisky, so he asked himself one day: ‘Why shouldn’t I process my barley myself, produce my own whisky?’ After all, he grows the best varieties from Optic, Belgravia, Minstrel to Publican in his fields. This year there are the Spring Barley varieties Concerto, Laureate and the new, probably future Standard Sassy. ‘Our barley is processed into malt by the industrial maltster Crisp in Alloa, near Stirling. We deliver 100 tons and get 80 tons of malt back. We keep around ten percent of our malt’. Francis reinvested the proceeds from the first whisky sales in a long overdue purchase. A new malt silo and a malt mill allowed the farmer to control all processes from now on. In the early years, the ground grist was delivered packaged in sacks. ‘The wheelie bins have now been taken out of service’. In the fertile Kingdom of Fife, the conditions for a Cuthbert distillery were very favorable: first-class barley grown here, clean water rich in minerals (magnesium, calcium) from an artesian well and an Listed mill building from the times of Napoleon. The Cuthberts submitted a building application to rededicate the ‘Daft Mill’ into a whisky distillery in 2003. A year later, the renovation began with the cleaning of the granite building, which was previously used as a ‘wild dovecote’. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs Office granted the farmers a license to distill whisky on the Scottish national holiday, Saint Andrew’s Day, on November 30, 2005. As with the Kilchoman Distillery, which was built on Islay at the same time, the whisky expert Dr. James Swan’s distillation plant. In doing so, he created the technical prerequisites for a whisky that impressed the world by surprise. Other advisors were the still active former manager of many Scottish distilleries, John MacDougall, and a planner for the Kininvie Distillery. In the beginning, Francis explained his philosophy modestly, almost shyly, but firmly: He did not follow the popular trend of marketing young whiskies, his single malts should first achieve the best possible quality. He only wants to bottle when the youthful traces of the distillation become more gentle and harmonious due to the influence of the oak and the oxygen. His nose and tongue decide when. In spring 2018, the first peak of maturity was evident. Francis was convinced of the quality of the single malt and decided: ‘We’re bottling.’ For the vatting of his virgin whisky, he selected three Bourbon Casks (05/02, 05/03, 05/07), which is 629 bottles at natural cask strength 55.8% ABV. The traditional London company and wine trading company Berry Bros & Rudd was awarded the contract for the marketing. An online raffle managed the distribution of 250 bottles from the Daftmill Inaugural Release among the prospective buyers. Another 250 bottles were sold by selected specialist dealers. The selling price for the twelve-year-old whisky was around £ 210 per bottle in June 2018, price at an auction in July 2019: £ 1,000.
|Name||Pronounced||AKA||Region||Country of Origin|
|Status||Active||Whisky Type||Website||Tours Available|
|Active||2005 - Present||Malt||Daftmill||Tour Link|
|Manager||Distiller||Blender||Owned by||Parent Group|
|Francis Cuthbert||Independent; Francis and Ian Cuthbert|
Autumn 2003: Permission was granted to the brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert to convert the old mill buildings at Daftmill Farmhouse, which date back to Napoleonic times, into a distillery
2005-Nov-30: License was granted
2005-Dec-16: First distillation of spirit