This article was written by Jamie McGowan, Trainee Solicitor. 

At MacRoberts, we know that understanding our client's business is necessary for us to deliver a high-quality and focused service. Most of the time we meet with clients, attend training, and maintain a strong professional network, but from time to time a good field trip is necessary for us to get a better feel for the issues and trends in each sector. Fortunately for me, my recent research trip involved a visit to the Fife Whisky Festival, which MacRoberts has proudly sponsored since its inception. This World Whisky Day, I wanted to share a little about my experience at the festival.

Fife is not traditionally considered a whisky county, unlike the more famous regions of Islay, Speyside and Highland – but one should not be so quick to forget the Kingdom of Fife, for it is there that we find the very beginnings of whisky.

In 1494, the monks of Lindores Abbey provided ‘eight bols of malt’ for James IV, King of Scots, which is the earliest evidence we have today of whisky distillation in Scotland. Centuries later, Scotch Whisky production became a central part of Fife’s local economy until the 1920s, when all the distilleries in Fife had to shut their doors due to hard times. However, in recent years there has been a revival of the Fife dram, with the opening of Daftmill distillery in 2005, and many others following it. The Fife Whisky Festival was therefore a unique opportunity for me to explore why Fife is becoming a whisky region of its own.

The venue was the Corn Exchange in Cupar, which provided the perfect market-town feeling to the event, allowing dram enthusiasts to pass easily from stall to stall, sampling a vast range of spirits and whiskies. There were various new and exciting projects at the festival which I had never encountered before, such as Nc’nean, a distillery which specialises in organic whiskies and gins which are all produced sustainably, and also Birkentree Highland Birchwater, which is actually a type of water taken from Scottish Birch Trees – and when added to whisky, it brings out the taste of each dram in a very distinct and vivid way.

My first visit to a Fife-based distillery stall was the Inchdairnie stall. They had a unique set-up at the festival, hosting their own tasting sessions. But the tasting session itself was also unique – instead of tasting cask-aged whisky, here we would have the unique opportunity to try some Inchdairnie specialities before they reached the barrel to mature. This is indeed a rare opportunity in Scotland, because something can only be sold as ‘Whisky’ under UK legislation if it has been cask-aged in oak for at least 3 years. So, I jumped at the unique chance to try some fine drams while they still know the joys of youth.

Our first delight was tasting the young and fresh version of the StrathEnry, usually sold when it has been matured for at least 8 years. The nose did not tell a lot; it was very reserved, although there were definitely notes of a light fruitiness, perhaps apple. The pleasant surprise with this drink was its strong notes of blackcurrant, with a delightful long finish. The surprising thing was that it was a very smooth drink, even in its youth.

The KinGlassie is one of Inchdairnie’s signature drams. In contrast to most lowland whiskies, it is known for a unique blend of smoke and sweet. Personally, I am a big fan of peated whisky. It takes me back – smoky fires, subtle warmth, safety. An excellent drink for a bright but frosty March day in Cupar. However, I was a little apprehensive about tasting a peated whisky before any maturation – my first thought when I saw the bottle was ‘this is liquid smoke’. I was delightfully surprised to find that it was a unique blend of butter and spice, warming the back of the throat without offending the raisin-tasting palate, followed by the two combining to create a wonderful peppercorn finish. The Inchdairnie sessions were certainly a highlight for many visitors to the festival, and everyone who attended came away both educated and somewhat warmed up by the smoke.

My next Fifer highlight was a visit to Daftmill’s stall. Daftmill Distillery, located near the Bow of Fife, is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, operating out of a mill and only producing a comparatively small amount of bottles each year. My visit was particularly special, because I had won the opportunity to buy a bottle of Daftmill 2007 – a bottle which is usually only available by subscription and to a select few. The Daftmill is a very sweet dram, but crucially it is known for the quality of the barley which the region produces, due to the arable land found on either side of the Ochil fault line.

Our last stop before leaving was at the stall of Lindores Abbey Distillery, where the journey of malt all began. There we enjoyed some of their MXDXCIV (1494) malt, which has quite a bit more of a sweet, vanilla flavour than their Aqua Vitae, which was designed to resemble the recipe used by the monks. 500 years after the first ‘bols of malt’ were distilled, the quality of the whisky at Lindores remains exceptionally high.

These are just some of many new and exciting developments for the whisky industry in Fife, which will hopefully lead to Fife becoming a distinct whisky region of its own. But to paraphrase Rabbie Burns, even now it is clear that Fife and Whisky gang the gither. The region is responsible for the birth of the dram, its soil is known for producing barley of an exceptional quality and the bespoke innovation of each new distillery in the Kingdom is bound to create a reputation for premium quality Scotch Whisky that will last for generations.

The best way to become a part of the Fife dram’s future is to visit the Fife Whisky Festival – your travels over to Fife on a cold March day may be quite frosty on the nose, but we can assure you that the palate is sweet, delicate, and at times smoky if consumed correctly, with a finish that lasts all year around. Slàinte Mhor.

Food & Drink at MacRoberts

MacRoberts' specialist Food & Drink team advises businesses at each stage of the food and drink supply chain, from assisting with supply agreements and supply chain liability to advising on packaging and advertising requirements and obligations. Our lawyers have a comprehensive grasps of the ever changing food and drink environment and understand the increasingly complex supply chains which operators and businsses must navigate.

Our team regularly publishes articles on the latest developments within the sector and their impact on food and drink businesses.

Contact our team, led by Euan Duncan, to find out how we can support your business.

Euan Duncan Partner, Chair