Daftmill: finding the perfect cask


Photograph: Johnny McMillan

As we celebrate the release of the latest exclusive single-cask from Fife-based whisky distiller Daftmill, Jonny McMillan explains how we settled on the perfect cask on a visit to the distillery.

In Daftmill’s sleepy warehouses in Fife, 1,000 casks of the acclaimed distiller’s exquisite Lowland malt whisky are lying in wait. Soon, just eight of them will be released as single casks. Which brings with it the question: how does a distiller go about deciding which casks are showing to their full potential? Which have developed just the right balance, complexity and maturity to leave the warehouse in their purest form? And more to the point, when a retailer is choosing just one for an exclusive release, how do they know when they’ve found the perfect candidate?

In simple terms, the answer, of course, is to taste them. And, to select the single cask for Berry Bros. & Rudd’s exclusive new release from the distillery, that’s precisely what we did: driving through the idyllic Fifeshire countryside to spend an afternoon with co-founder Francis Cuthbert, and clambering around the distillery’s warehouses to draw out samples to taste. A few days later, armed with around 15 cask samples, our Retail Spirits Buyer Rob Whitehead and I spent an afternoon tasting the selection in St James’s. And, while all the samples had superb character, in the end it came down to two casks, an ex-Pedro Ximénez hogshead and an ex-oloroso butt, both filled in 2009. 

The PX cask was exceptionally juicy and full of rich dried fruit, though perhaps contrary to expectation it had a little more balance, with plenty of distillery character shining through on the nose. The oloroso butt was undeniably sublime; muscular, thick, spicy and quite mesmerising. Unable to choose between them, we instead opted for both: the PX cask is a forthcoming BB&R exclusive, and the oloroso butt will be a UK exclusive that’s available from selected retailers across the UK.

Many retailers have made the pilgrimage to Daftmill’s warehouse from across the globe to select casks this year, and with good reason. Among them has been Whisk-e from Japan, Kirsch from Germany, Le Maison du Whisky from France. They’ve also welcomed the notorious blogger Ralfy in collaboration with The Good Spirits Co, as well as The Whisky Shop and fellow Fife-based Abbey Whisky. Everyone was looking for something slightly different: while Le Maison du Whisky chose a deep, brooding 2009 oloroso butt full of luscious sherry character, Abbey Whisky selected a 2007 ex-bourbon barrel that exemplifies Daftmill’s signature Lowland fruity complexity. Each cask is unique, and all are seriously good drams.

These casks will be released steadily over the next few months from their respective retailers in various countries, and I’d encourage speed in picking one up when they’re released, as they’re unlikely to be available for long. If you do manage to secure one – or indeed if you’re one of the lucky winners of our ballot to buy a bottle – be sure to open it and enjoy it. As we know better than anyone, it’s a truly rare privilege.