The realm of Scotch whisky is vast and varied, with each region harboring its unique historical legacy. Although lesser known than its counterparts, such as Islay or Speyside, the Lowlands region is getting back onto whisky afficiando’s radars.
The Scottish Lowlands boasts a heritage dating back to the late 18th century. Unfortunately, the distillery landscape in the Lowlands endured a severe downturn a century later. At the onset of the millennium, only three distilleries—Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, and Bladnoch—remained operational, a stark contrast to over 100 producers once flourishing in this region. The rise of the Speyside region in the 19th century’s latter half, World War I, and the Prohibition era severely impacted the Lowlands, with 22 distilleries closing their doors during the 1910s and 1920s.
Fast-forward a century later to the 2010s. This period heralded a new era for Lowland Scotch whisky. The region saw its distillery count rise to 17, with several more in the pipeline. This time, the urban-centric location of the Lowlands, being the most populous area in Scotland and housing major cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, became its strength. New distilleries found an undeniable tourism advantage, aiding them financially during the initial years when mature whisky had yet to be produced .
The influx of new distilleries is not just a numbers game; it’s about evolving the traditional Lowland whisky character. Distilleries like Lochlea in South Ayrshire and Kingsbarns in County Fife (and the subject of this review), among others, are carving a niche by either adhering to the traditional Lowland style or diversifying their offerings. This evolution is crucial as it enriches the Lowland Scotch whisky landscape, making it an exciting field for whisky aficionados and connoisseurs .
The story of the Lowland region’s resurgence wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the revival of Rosebank Distillery, dubbed the “Queen of the Lowlands.” Closed in 1993 due to lackluster tourism opportunities, Rosebank is set to rekindle its legacy, thanks to the changed whisky climate and Ian Macleod Distillers’ initiative. The revival of such iconic distilleries is not merely a nod to the past but a robust step towards a promising future for Lowland Scotch whisky.
It’s been a long while since I reviewed a Kingsbarns whisky, so it’s time to put that right. Sadly, as of 2023, this Dream to Dram single malt Scotch from Kingsbarns has been retired, to be replaced by their new Doocot offering. Regardless, I’m still giving this one a review, to look back at where it all started with an eye to where Kingsbarns is headed. This Dream to Dram is made from 100% malted barley grown in County Fife. It was matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and STR (shaved, toasted, and re-charred) casks, is non-age stated and was bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Very citrusy right from the start. Orange zest, but maybe a little bit of lemon zest as well. Candied pineapple and ginger are also pretty prominent. Even ginger chews make an appearance. The vanilla and cinnamon from the ex-Bourbon casks shine though. Cracked white pepper tickles the nostrils. Underneath all of this is a faint dried strawberry character from the STR casks. After a while, I’m getting a really nice shortbread cookie note. Curious…just before I go in for a sip, there’s a slight cheesiness. Danish Blue or Stilton perhaps. Not off-putting at all. I kind of like that savoury edge.
Palate: Sweet, creamy honey dominates the entry. Vanilla isn’t plodding too far behind. It’s clear that these are not only first-fill Bourbon casks, but quality ones too. If anything, they are perhaps dominating a little too much over the distillate early on. Once the mid-development kicks in, it’s a different story. This becomes malty and spicy. The citrus from the nose is definitely evident, but it’s grilled rather than zesty or candied. Cinnamon is the dominant spice and is almost a little overpowering towards the end of the development. A slight shortbread note fades in and out. Honestly, I would have liked to have tasted more of this. This becomes just a tad bitter towards the end, but the citrus prevents this from tipping too far that way.
Finish: I was expecting the bitterness to overtake the finish, but instead this is lovely and balanced. Shortbread, citrus and spice playing in perfect harmony.
With water added
The tropical notes haven’t faded at all. Grilled pineapple dominates and is even joined by kiwi. The zest is still there, but its signature isn’t as strong. Cinnamon is by far the main spice. I’m getting freshly cut apples and maybe a pear or two. Something I didn’t get on the nose previously. The shortbread is very faint. The honey sweetness sticks around from the entry all the way to the finish and the bitterness is no where near as strong.
I have to admit that I’m a real sucker for the traditional Lowland style and this Kingsbarns Dream to Dram ticks all of the boxes for me. I really encourage Scotch drinkers to discover what this region has to offer including blended malt bottlings such as Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean. With the exception of a small number of distilleries, Lowland Scotch was lost to the sands of time for generations. It’s good to see new distilleries re-lighting the flame.