Daftmill is a distillery a bit different to the rest. More than a decade of anticipation of its whisky have created a bit of a monster, with bottles selling out in seconds, websites going down in flames at the first sign of a new release, and auction websites rubbing their hands in glee. However, one thing that seems to be missing in a lot of the dialogue around the distillery is what its spirit tastes like. I’m lucky enough to have tried a few releases, including the first single-sherry-cask release – Daftmill 2006 cask #039/2006.
A brief history of Daftmill
Back in 2005, farmer Francis Cuthbert fired up the stills at his distillery for the first time. His family had been growing malting barley for distilleries for years, so he decided to build a distillery in the farm buildings next to his house and see what the fuss was about.
And then we waited.
Unlike most distilleries, releasing youthful whisky, new spirit or gin to keep cash coming in, distilling is not the primary business of the Cuthberts, and they didn’t need to rush anything to market. The distillery fills only a small number of casks per year and Francis only distils when he isn’t farming. When asked when whisky would appear, he’d simply answer, ‘when it’s ready’.
In the years since spirit first flowed from his stills, Francis has welcomed lots of visitors to the distillery, run occasional tastings of his spirit, and turned away offers of bottling or representation. He finally gave in to the pestering of Jonny McMillan of Berry Bros. & Rudd, who’d pop in to say hello whenever he was driving past, and Berry’s now look after the bottling and distribution of Daftmill’s whiskies.
The first whisky appeared in May 2018 and sold out via a massively oversubscribed ballot.
The past year and a half has seen Daftmill explode onto the whisky scene, although maybe not in quite the way Francis would have wanted. Due to the distillery’s limited stocks, bottles are being released as small batches and single casks, and they’ve been snapped up in minutes each time they’ve gone on sale. Unfortunately, it’s not always been to drinkers.
The inaugural bottling launched at £240 and now fetches upwards of £1,500 a bottle at auction. The subsequent releases have been around the £100-150 mark and now go for up to five times that. With so many bottles appearing at auction, it’s rare to hear of them being opened.
This bottle was picked up via the Berry Bros. ballot, specifically for opening at Whisky Squad’s 2019 high-end tasting. It may have only cost me £150 to buy it, but with bottles now fetching more than £500 at auction, it fell squarely into the high-end camp for the tasting.
Daftmill Sherry Cask #039/2006
I went to the distillery for the launch of the inaugural bottling, and while there, tried some of the other casks that had been laid down – Francis had run around the warehouse and pulled a few samples from each of the 13 years since the distillery opened so that we could see how it had developed over time. In among them were a handful of sherry-casks – Francis hasn’t filled very many – and one of them stood out: cask #039/2006.
A year later, it was bottled and sold as a Berry Bros. exclusive – 621 bottles at 57.4%:
Nose: Cherry Bakewells and pine needles – royal icing, buttery almonds and pastry with a sticky glacé cherry on top, all sat on a pile of dropped Christmas-tree needles. Fruit builds: fresh, stewed and baked apples with sultanas and raisins. The buttery notes become Danish pastries and pains au raisins. A core of blackcurrants emerges – Ribena, jam and tart, freshly squished berries.
Palate: Dark thick and raisiny – singed fruitcake, juicy Eccles cake innards and a kid’s lunchbox box of sticky Sunmaid. The pine needles from the nose are back, with a hint of mint and freshly stripped pine bark. Spice develops along with jammy fruit – cinnamon and cherry jam with a spoon of blackcurrant jelly on top. Leafy notes build underneath.
Finish: Softer and longer than expected: cherries and icing from the nose reappear and slowly fade away.
This is a very silly whisky. While the sherry cask this was matured in was obviously a good one, and that shows in the whisky, Daftmill spirit is delicate and the distillery character is all but hidden away by the wood. That said, if you want a big, rich and fruity sherry monster, you won’t go far wrong with this, just don’t expect it to reveal the soul of the distillery.
Opened at and poured for Whisky Squad’s late-2019 High-End tasting.