Blind Tasting #4: Kingsbarns Family Reserve (2020)
The 4th day of Blind Tasting Competition turned out to be somewhat of a fiasco, but I actually don’t care that much. This being my introduction to Kingsbarns Distillery, it was such a pleasant surprise that my favourite whisky of the competition so far is from one of Scotland’s youngest distilleries. The Kingsbarns Family Reserve shows a lot of promise. Hell, promise already fulfilled I’d say.
Kingsbarns is a venture started by former golf caddie Douglas Clement and completed with help of the Wemyss family, owners of Wemyss Malts, who bought Kingsbarns in early 2013. The family has a historical connection to the site of the distillery, as the seventh Earl of Wemyss owned part of the Cambo Estate in the 18th century.
Like with seemingly every Scottish distillery founded in the last decade, Dr Jim Swan was involved from the beginning. So it is unsurprising that part of the Kingsbarns Family Reserve matured in STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) red wine casks. What percentage I don’t know. Bourbon casks were also involved.
When I blind tasted this, it immediately reminded me of some of those quality late 1990s Glentauchers. But I also knew it wasn’t Glentauchers. A little too much vanilla, slightly too spicy, and absolutely not 20+ years of age—although I would never have guessed it to be just a 3-year-old baby. But honestly, the Glentauchers profile isn’t exactly unique, it’s just good, mature single malt from bourbon casks.
So, that meant I really didn’t have any clue what to enter as my guesstimate. In the end, I went for a 22-year-old Glentauchers at a high strength, because I couldn’t think of anything else that better suited what I had just tasted. The lingering grassy note maybe should’ve pointed me towards the Lowlands, but I stopped subscribing to traditional Scottish whisky regions a while ago.
Blind Tasting #4: Kingsbarns Family Reserve (59.2%, OB, 2020)
Nose: A good amount of vanilla custard and crème brûlée, as well as feint notes of lemon zest and maybe even some grassy notes. After a while more orchard fruits like green apple and honey. Also a touch of white pepper, followed by warmer spices like cinnamon. Even a whiff of wet pebbles.
Taste: Creamy and a sweeter arrival than expected. Notes of honey as well as some juicy stone fruits, but then a Pulteney-like spicy encore, which I totally love.
Finish: Soft spices and gentle orchard fruits. Finally some lingering grassy notes.
Simple, yet elegant and right up my alley. Precision distilling at its finest. I haven’t been as pleasantly surprised by a whisky in 2020 as I have been by the Kingsbarns Family Reserve.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.