crail village + kingsbarns distillery

Today I'm off for my second day trip with UoE's International Student Centre (ISC). Our group is much smaller than the one on the previous trip: instead of 300 students, there are only around thirty of us. Not a bad thing, though, considering last time we pretty much invaded St.Andrews.

The little village of Crail is around an hour and a half away. The roads get smaller as we get deeper into the region of Fife, and I keep myself busy scouting the many adorable sheep and horses along the road. I'm still amazed by how green the countryside is around here - it's as if someone has saturated its colors on iPhoto!

We get off the bus for Crail and I take a walk around its quaint streets with two exchange students I have just met, Giulia from Italy and Bart from Utrecht, in the Netherlands (and yes, I did make sure to tell him about my recent trip to Amsterdam). We soon end up on the shore, which is really beautiful. (See for yourself.) There's this aquatic moss stuff on the rocks, and I love a good moss.

We stroll along the water, bracing ourselves from the strong winds that have been taking Scotland these past few days. Luckily, the temperature itself isn't too cold, and it's not raining - so no complaints there. We soon arrive at the village's harbour, and I must admit to rather enjoying the fish smell it emanates. It's not the nicest harbour, but I imagine it is quite nice in the summertime.

There's really nothing we can do but sit down at a café, which is exactly what we end up doing. Crail Harbour Gallery and Tea Room is a cosy, low-ceilinged sanctuary with a great view of the sea. Loyal to my usual habits, I order a scone, and out of all the scones I've had thus far in England, it's actually the one that looks and tastes the most like the ones my mom makes. Not better or worse than the others - just different. More moist, perhaps?

After this snack we board the bus for a short ride to Kingsbarns Distillery. We split into two groups: one visits the museum first and one the distillery first. My group, the latter, follows a lovely tour guide (she happens to be a student from St.Andrews) through toward the distillery room. But before we get to the machines, we are given a little briefing on the primary sources used in the whisky-making process: barley.

Kingsbarns Distillery just opened its doors in 2014, and plans on distilling its whisky for about eight years (the minimum distilling time for a drink to be considered whisky is three years).
This means Kingsbarns Distillery won't actually be able to sell any barrels until 2022! Guess I'll have to come back in eights years to taste the finished product.

We're then taken into the machinery room. I'm honestly not too sure about what each of them does exactly, but I'll try my best to remember (I found a really well-explained website outlining the process here).

First, the barley is placed into this guy, where it is ground  three times using three different temperatures. Whatever leftover barley that cannot be used by the distillery is actually shipped out to local farmers to feed their cattle. Sustainable - I like it.

Then, the barley is fermented in a stainless steal wash back, using yeast. "The action of the yeast on the sugar of the wort will produce alcohol and carbon dioxide." Very chemistry, much high school.

Finally, the liquid is ready for its actual distilling. This takes place in copper pot stills - which, in this distillery, have a particularly 'big belly' (each distillery's still has a distinct shape). The distilled product is then stored in oak barrels, which Kingsbarns Distillery actually imports all the way from Kentucky. The barrels are bought pre-used, as we learn whisky tastes nicer in secondhand wood.

By this time we know enough about the process - time to taste some whisky! I've never tried any before, and I'm not a huge drinker, so this should be interesting. The first variety we try is Lord Elcho, a blended scotch whisky. Next, each of us gets to choose from one of Wemyss Malts' three Blended Malts: The Hive, Spice King and Peat Chimney. I opt for The Hive, which I am told is recommended for whisky-novices. Though I slightly prefer Lord Elcho, The Hive has a nice, warm honey flavor I appreciate. Unfortunately, whisky is really not my cup of tea. Looks like I'm still on the quest for an alcoholic drink I actually like! (Aside from pina coladas, that is.)

The next part of our tour is led by the lively Douglas Clement, the distillery's founder. He takes us through a  exclusive visit of the exhibition space. Here, we learn about the history of barley farming, of the Fife region and of whisky itself. Fun fact: the word whisky appears for the first time in writing in 1494 - whether it actually didn't exist before that or had simply never been recorded on paper before, I do not know.

Our visit ends in the distillery center's doocot. I have no idea what a doocot is, but Mr.Clement quickly explains 'doo' is Scottish for 'dove': a doocot is thus a tower for birds. But why bother having a room full of pigeons and doves in the first place? Well, it turns out pigeon poo was once used to make gun powder (legend has it, is was also used to cure baldness - but the success rate of that usage remains to be confirmed). This doocot, which was restored from the original farm, contains a total of 600 nesting boxes for birds, each of which has a small ledge so eggs don't roll out. Today, however, it is not accessible to live birds (though there are bird chirping recordings playing on speakers). Instead, the doocot houses Kingsbarns Distillery's very first whisky barrel.

At the gift shop, I get my dad a belated birthday gift (it'll be super belated because he'll only get it in June - there's no way I'm shipping alcohol to the States!). The gift box I select includes a miniature Kingsbarn branded whisky glass, as well as a miniature bottle of The Hive whisky I tasted earlier. (I was about to get him the Peat Chimney, but Mr.Clement kindly warns me that smoked whisky is a risky buy because people either love it or hate it!)

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