Isabella Wemyss (Pronounced ‘Weems’) is the Co-Founder and lady behind Wemyss Malts Kingsbarns Distillery. With Whisky flavours such as Butterscotch Ice Cream, Hazelnut praline and Caramel Apple Sauce (to name a few), their aim is to delight whisky drinkers with distinct recipes whilst always striving for balance and smoothness.
To do so, Isabella expertly sources the whisky and oak casks to ensure they produce small-batch blended malt Scotch whiskies.
1. Hi Isabella. Your family own Wemyss Malts and their connections with the industry date back to the turn of the 19th century. When you do start to become involved yourself?
I became involved back in 2005 when we incorporated the company. We have come a long way since then: from our first bottlings to releasing our flagship single malt in January. Along the way, I have had to learn everything from scratch as I knew nothing (my background being law and tea!) I even spent two years studying part time for the IBD Diploma in Distilling, and developed an interest from that in wood policy and how the spirit and wood interact to make a delicious dram.
2. When you established the Kingsbarns Distillery, did you come up against any unexpected challenges?
It was a big step from being an independent bottler to actually distilling our own spirit. I don’t remember any unexpected challenges, although there were challenges in making very long term decisions as to spirit style and wood policy. We decided that ‘elegance’ was going to be our key note and I think we have got this right. The reception to our first Scotch single malt bottling has been hugely positive.
3. For those of us looking to learn more and become more attuned to the different tastes in whiskies, how would you recommend we start?
Our Wemyss Malts single cask range is named along flavour profile lines and I’ve found choosing a single cask which just sounds delicious to my taste buds is an excellent start! My favourite bottling was in 2007: a 16YO Speyside whisky we called “Coconut Cream”. My mouth still waters at the thought of it!
4. For 2019 you’ve released a selection of new single cask whiskies ranging from 18 to 30 years old. How would true whisky beginners go about choosing one of the new bottles for themselves?
Is it as simple as choosing from which one sounds the most appealing?
I think that’s the best way to start – the name gives such a great clue as to what it tastes like, and often I find myself inspired to re-sample our new bottlings just from the names.
5. What’s the aim for the years ahead?
For Kingsbarns, to continue with the quality of Scotch where the wood and spirit are balanced perfectly against each other, although perhaps with a few surprises to come in terms of some experiments we are doing with different types of wood. I can’t wait to see how they develop.
And just for fun…
6. What is your favourite food accompaniment to a good whisky?
I have a sweet tooth, and that’s why I love Kingsbarns so much. It has a wonderful sweetness to it – notes of toffee, custard, pastry and ginger syrup. It would go perfectly with a pannacotta, or even the custard doughnut I have just eaten! Kingsbarns is balanced between the sweetness of the spirit and the sweet character that comes from the bourbon wood. When we first nosed the casks for bottling the toffee and caramel notes came through really strongly.
7. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?
I’m busy preparing for a three week trip to Kenya and Rwanda, both to look at the other family business I am involved with in Kenya (being tea, where I first learnt to nose and taste – or in tea terms to “spit teas”!) and to spend some time with a charity called Send a Cow of which I am the Company Secretary. So I will have some great answers to this question in a few weeks’ time! The most exciting thing I know I will see is how families’ lives are changed by the work that Send a Cow does – I find this both inspiring and challenging compared to what we take for granted here.
8. What do you enjoy most about whisky?
The huge range of different flavours to discover – from heavily peated at one end of the spectrum to the light, sweet whiskies (such as Kingsbarns) at the other end. And all the complexities of flavour that you can find within a single dram. Being involved both with Wemyss Vintage Malts and Kingsbarns, I am incredibly lucky in that I can sample the whole range.
9. What do you consider to be your best find?
I can’t claim to have found Kingsbarns for the distillery, that was my brother’s find so I can’t take the credit. I do take credit for having “found” our Distiller Manager Peter Holroyd, however, and he in turn can take credit for our spirit’s elegance of style and consistency. We’re very lucky to have him and such a great team at the distillery.
10. When Isabella Wemyss isn’t dramming with Wemyss Malts, what is her ‘other’ tipple of choice?
Having said that I have a sweet tooth, I also enjoy dry juniper-led gins. Darnley’s Navy Strength is a cracking example of these, and my favourite tipple on a long summer’s evening is a Darnley’s Navy strength and tonic with lots of ice, some juniper berries and slices of lemon. Delicious, although it’s easy to forget that the strength is 57.1% and I can end up having more than one or two!
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