Escape the festival: Savour the spirit of the Kingdom

Lindores Abbey Distillery will host an evening of music, poetry and fine local food at its second annual Music and Poetry Festival.
Lindores Abbey Distillery will host an evening of music, poetry and fine local food at its second annual Music and Poetry Festival.

The Kingdom of Fife is becoming quite a hotspot for spirits. Craft distilleries are very much of the moment and some ground-breaking drinks have emerged from Fife recently.

Yet the tradition of distilling in the area is one rooted in the past, when the north-east of Fife was an important religious centre and the monks would have created drinks for their own communities.

The first record of distilling has been traced to Lindores Abbey on the banks of the Tay. The owners of the “new” distillery there have found records showing that distilling was taking place on the site as early as 1494.

There is reference to aqua vitae, as whisky was known, which appears in the Exchequer Roll, naming Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, who was commissioned by King James IV to turn eight bolls of malt into aqua vitae.

As that was enough to make about 400 bottles, it shows the operation was not insubstantial.

Today, the three copper stills of Lindores Abbey Distillery are creating the spirit that will ultimately become whisky. In the meantime a visitor centre welcomes tourists and aqua vitae is on sale.

It is distilled in the pot stills and then infused with a blend of spices and herbs, including cleavers, Douglas fir, lemon verbena and sweet cicely, which all grow close to the abbey.

Another Fife drinks firm which can trace its roots back to past generations is Eden Mill, a microbrewery and distillery in Guardbridge.

Making its mark in the market with some popular gins, Eden Mill has also revived whisky making at a location where the famous Haig family made whisky, gin and beer for most of the 19th century.

Again, the distillery – and its sister brewery – is open to the public and, although full tours are usually available, for now they are limited to tasting sessions in the Gatehouse.

Smaller scale distilling can be found elsewhere in the Kingdom, with Gorse Gin from the Lundin Distilling Company being tasted at farmers’ markets this summer.

Created with 18 botanicals including foraged Fife gorse, it will be a match for its west Fife neighbour – the mega gin producer Diageo which has a bottling plant that handles Gordon’s Gin in Leven.

Meanwhile, Tay Spirits in Tayport is using fruit and grain from its doorstep to create the Never 25 range of eaux de vie.

Kecia McDougall, Tay Spirits’ founder, believes she has a formula which will put her ahead of the game. She chose to make eau de vie “because the gin market is now maturing”.

She added: “I wanted to make something different. With such high-quality grain and world-renowned fruit on my doorstep, eau de vie seemed the natural fit.”

The monks of Fife could obviously spot a good thing when they used the local produce to create that royal drink all those years ago.