Dicing with Daft

Daftmill is a distillery that I’ve watched from afar for the last few years. There are quite a few reasons for this but ultimately the main reason being availability, or the distinct lack of it. I have watched this small and quiet farm distillery become a sensation, a must-have, and an auction house stalwart.

The distillery itself is one of the more interesting ‘new’ distilleries that have appeared on the whisky map of late. I say ‘of late’ somewhat loosely, given the license to produce alcohol was granted back in 2005. Daftmill is set within a converted barn on a working farm in Cupar, Fife and despite being located further north than Highlanders Deanston and Glengoyne – Daftmill is classed as a Lowland whisky in name. Personally I don’t think regions are really relevant so we’ll leave it at that. All barley used in the distillation process is grown on site and with a capacity of 20,000 litres of spirit a year it is easily one of the smallest malt distilleries in Scotch Whisky.

Daftmill are also different in the way that they approached the making of their whisky and their business model. A lot of new distilleries churn out Gin or other spirits that don’t require rigorous levels of maturation to get some much needed cash in the bank after laying down their whisky casks. Ultimately they have 3 years before they’ll see a return on their whisky at a minimum. Daftmill, however, waited a full 12 years before releasing their first whisky. This came in the form of a 2005 vintage, bottled in 2018, which sold out in the blink of an eye. Each release that has followed has maintained this quickly forming tradition.

With it’s green doors and window frames, set within farm buildings made with mismatching blocks of local stone, Daftmill looks every bit the traditional distillery image that we have come to associate with Scotch Whisky. A very pretty sight indeed, however given it’s status as a working farm it isn’t geared up for visitors. There is no visitors centre, no shop, and no tour guides having you watch a 10 minute video with a montage of waterfalls and grains of barley falling gracefully whilst someone in a warehouse is transfixed by a swirling glass as though it’s the Holy Grail. The latter of these I wouldn’t miss at any distillery visit I may add.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

There is also a real sense of harmony and self sufficiency with the family run operation. The farm produces grains and cereals, beef, potatoes and more. The spent grain and draff is used to feed the cattle and the pot ale is used as fertiliser in the fields.

Whilst it’s incredibly refreshing to see a distillery wait for over a decade to achieve what they want to achieve, rather than release what can sometimes be immature and flawed 3yr old whisky, this does create a slight problem when it comes to demand. At only 20,000 litres a year, it doesn’t translate into a lot of casks and that isn’t factoring in that due to farming commitments, they only produce whiskies in the summer and winter, so this number may not be achieved. This has created an amplification of that FOMO that seems to have gripped whisky drinkers and the wider industry of late with every release selling out within minutes, or in some extreme cases, seconds. The standard RRP tends to be around the £100 mark which isn’t a small sum even for an 18yr old whisky let alone a 12yr old.

I first tried to buy a Daftmill in late 2019 and despite having it in my basket, it was swiftly removed when I tried to process the payment. This is something that seems to be happening more and more often with more and more releases. People are going nuts for whiskies like Daftmill and other limited releases – Torabhaig being another prime example. For some, this is in part due to their resale value. The whisky that I’ll be looking at today for example (the Summer 2009 UK release bottled in 2020) was to be found on well known auction sites the day they were delivered and ultimately sold for £240. That’s £150 on the RRP and pales in comparison to the UK exclusive Oloroso single cask that has been sold on for £750 and upwards. Saying that I’ve also found a retailer selling the 2009 for a whopping £395!?

Frustration can be seen in Twitter feeds and Facebook posts when people miss out on bottles only to see them available for double or triple the original cost. In some cases this can be projected onto retailers around how they handled the release (read struggling servers, ballots or lack of them, and theories about bots or retailers sending stock straight to auction to name a few) and can leave a feeling of resentment towards the distillery. Personally, I never felt that strongly about it and would move on and stick to core range bottles or others that I enjoy and are easily accessible instead.

On the subject of retailers – I picked this bottle up via the Berry Bros & Rudd ballot and fittingly is my first ballot success of many previous attempts. You see very few pictures of Daftmill bottles with their distinctive green foil broken so as soon as I received my bottle I did what I’ve wanted to do to a Daftmill for 3 years. I opened it.

Daftmill Summer 2009 UK release- Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £100 Auction £240+

This release is made up of 5 casks including one first fill oloroso and 4 ex bourbon casks (021/2009, 025/2009, 032/2009, 033/2009 and 044/2009).

The colour is a rich gold similar to Lyle’s golden syrup and leaves slow legs down the glass.

Nose.. I think I may enjoy this one. This whisky smells thick and oily which sounds weird but it really does have its own texture almost. Grilled pineapple opens proceedings a with a lovely creamy maltiness underneath. Vanilla and the golden syrup that lends the colour comparison arrives with nutty toffee and a touch of lemon curd. More tropical fruit arrives with a nice soft spice towards the end.

The texture on the palate is lovely and oily.

Upfront there’s a soft sweetness alongside that core malty note from the nose and raw cookie dough. Those tropical notes come back through in the palate towards the finish with more of that pineapple and this time alongside mango, dark chocolate, lime zest and a heavy malt-laden spice.

The finish itself is incredibly long and warming with interplay between the golden syrup sweetness, malt and spices. The flavours remain many minutes down the road.

In summary this release has some of the best bits of both sherry and bourbon worlds whilst maintaining a fantastic level of integration and harmony. There’s freshness whilst still retaining a noticeable level of depth richness and integration.

Do I regret spending £100 on this? No. Do I regret opening it? What do you think.

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is massively influenced by the tasting notes. All that pineapple and tropical fruit just screamed ‘Pineapple’ by Blue Lab Beats, Moses Boyd and Nerija. A real medley of texture and tunes that matches this whisky perfectly. Or any whisky come to think of it.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.