Daftmill: an honest dram


Daftmill Distillery, Fife. Photograph: Calum Rafferty

Since its first whisky was released in 2018, Daftmill has become a cult name, with each bottling selling out almost instantly. As our ballot for the latest release opens, Spirits Specialist Jonny McMillan considers why we can’t get enough of the Fife farm distillery

Generally, when one first discovers that Scotch whisky is undoubtedly the finest liquid on the planet, there are a few years spent in complete fascination. You buy multiple varieties of whisky glass, start posting nothing other than pictures of whisky labels on social media, and, of course, devour the books of Charles MacLean and Dave Broom (not to mention watching Richard Paterson threatening uninitiated drinkers over glass-holding etiquette via YouTube).

Often, however, once one truly pops the bung on the industry, it can be a little disheartening to find that most barley is sourced from further afield than Scottish fields, or that your favourite wee distillery may fill upwards of 200 casks per day on a relentless 24/7 production regime.

In a world where Scotch whisky seems to be drifting away from transparency and lurching towards nebulous marketing ploys, the chronic, final-stage whisky nerds (and I include myself in this description) will always be drawn to honesty amidst the storm of non-age-statement liquid and humongous wooden boxes. And this leads us to why Daftmill has become an instant hit; finally, here is a distillery whose whiskies speak with integrity, sincerity and honesty.

Though Daftmill began production in 2005, there was no garish press release or opening of a plush visitor centre. In fact, over the next decade Daftmill put zero effort into marketing at all, releasing nothing until the spirit was 12 years old. This may well be because their de facto “Head of Marketing” is also the sole distiller, farmer and is in fact the distillery owner. Daftmill is the only family-owned and -operated distillery currently releasing whisky and is a true farm distillery.

Francis Cuthbert on the farm, Fife. Photograph: Calum Rafferty

The distillery is owned by brothers Francis and Iain Cuthbert, with Francis heading up the distillery. It is crucial, however, to note that the distillery is a secondary business to their farm. While the farm is busy through spring and autumn, the distillery is silent; only in the less agriculturally labour-intensive months – across winter and summer – will the distillery come to life. This means that Daftmill barely fills 100 casks per year – making it one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries. While this seasonal production cycle is today unique among distillers, it harks back to the 1800s, when farmers would produce whisky only a few months a year, often as a way to use up, preserve and add value to barley.

The low amount of spirit produced also means that Francis can grow all the barley he requires for distillation on his own land. So far, Daftmill is the only distillery that has released whisky made exclusively with its own farm’s crop.

For those who are lucky enough to visit the distillery in Fife (which is not open to the public), it is instantly clear that Daftmill focuses on quality above all else. Generally showing guests around in his farm overalls, Francis is perhaps the humblest man in the whisky industry. With a sense of humour so dry it’s evaporated, Francis will rarely compliment his own production – and yet clearly puts a dogmatic focus on producing spirit of the highest calibre.

And the result? The beauty of Daftmill’s whisky is in its seasonal and vintage variations. Some years – such as 2006 and 2007 – come across as vibrant, floral and very fruity drams, while 2008 and 2009 display a drier, sometimes herbaceous note. And yet there is a certainly a common distillery character running throughout.

Daftmill’s only downside is that the tiny output means its whiskies often sell out on the day of release. Progressive initiatives, however, such as their partnership with The Whisky Bars of Scotland, are proof of Francis’s determination that their whisky will reach the hands of those who want to drink it.

For me, Daftmill is quickly earning its place amongst the “Grands Crus” of Scotch whisky distilleries. I believe in decades to come it will be spoken of in the same breath as Springbank, Glenfarclas and Bowmore – but for now we can certainly agree it’s a good, honest dram.