Darnley’s Gin Cottage Series: Smoke & Zest

Gin. Eventually, our Sunday ventures would lead us to this booming spirit that has gripped the United Kingdom and beyond for several years now. This isn’t the first time that we’ve reviewed a gin as such, with the debut actually being within a Golan Heights article, and on the horizon, Taylor’s thoughts on the Corsair effort. But this is the first stand-alone piece.

When Wemyss first approached us with the offer of a gin sample I thought about it for a few moments. The Sunday morning slot, is our bit of freedom, before later that afternoon, when the whisky returns. And that self-government we have, with this platform, means we can do whatever we like when we like. Of course, we’ll keep it whisky, or whiskey for the majority. That is after all our bread and butter. Yet, the chance to explore and try new things is welcome. We’ve already done vodka: at least gin offers a bit more than neutral spirit. We’re covering sake, brandy and much more besides – I even want to get into absinthe as there’s a distillery in Scotland doing their own. The world of spirits is fun and engaging, so I ask myself, why not?

Then, there’s the other aspect when it comes to gin. I’ve noticed that it remains as popular as ever with friends and family. Some actually, stepping away from whisky to explore gin and the flavours it offers. The efforts of those like Kintyre gin, or even Dornoch distillery that have seen gin being an unexpected bonus. And there’s few places that can compete with a setting of the Dornoch castle grounds, a sunny day and their gin-based creations.

So, let’s look a little more closely at this release and what felt interesting on paper. Firstly, the fact that it features Fife grown barely, meaning it is local to the whole process. Also, Fife is home to Kingsbarns (also owned by Wemyss) and behind the distillery complex, is a cottage that until recently lacked a purpose. This is now home to Darnley’s gin and their tour experience. A 350-litre copper still, allows the team to create and experiment with the freedom that gin grants those that distil.

Hence the garden cottage series that we have here, which has a limited nature to proceedings. Now, one of the most abused words in whisky is limited. Ardbeg will state such and then release 90,000 units of whatever it is they are selling this week. Other variants on limited include a time-limited emphasis, where the producer is free to produce as much as possible before the clock strikes midnight on the specific date. Let’s also not forget the limited releases that are purely driven by contract – such as the Game of Thrones series. Once the granted rights have expired, then your options are funnily enough, limited. Hence why we’re seeing so many GOT releases being heavily discounted.

Today, we’re reviewing the second in the Cottage series, christened Smoke & Zest. One of these being a traditional element of gin, but as for the smoke? Born out of experiments by distiller, Scott Gowans, a local smoker was brought in to utilised their experience in flavouring the barley over pinewood chips. This smoky aspect is supposedly enhanced by the presence of Lapsang Souchong within the recipe and after the Mackmyra Grönt Te, or the green tea whisky, why not?

Other ingredients utilised include coriander and Rowanberry harvested from the distillery grounds. Turkey, offers a zesty orange peel and it cannot be gin without angelica, and of course, the presence of juniper.

At least this release is limited to 2400 bottles, so the label applies. It is also the second in the experimental series and will retail for £29.95 from Wemyss directly, or Fife institution Luvians – I don’t know about you, but it feels like an eternity since I stuck a price on an article that wasn’t £50+, or it at least feels that way. The debut release, Very Berry Gin, is available via Master of Malt for £24.95.

Darnley’s Gin Cottage Series: Smoke & Zest – review

Colour: as clear as glass.

On the nose: smoked limes is my immediate impression. Initially, all lime and the smoke gentle works it’s way into proceedings. The fruit aspect is gentle. I’m reminded of blueberries, then liquorice, juniper and sage. There’s a nice balance noting candied orange and lemon peel. Nothing too detailed and the smoke is nicely judged.

In the mouth: you have to listen as the gin lacks the synthetic punch of flavours so often seen. A gentle experience. More citrus than anything else. Some black peppercorns and pine sap provide a bit more substance beyond the wisp of smoke.


A solid gin with a slight twist. If this had more texture, a rich oiliness and mouthfeel, I’d have gone higher. We tried this with a tonic water (as you do) and it brought out greater citrus qualities with a lingering blood orange taste. The smoky aspect had left the building. My better half, the experienced gin drinker of the household, commented nice, but that’s all, and for once I agree. An interesting twist to all of this was when my wife had a second pour and the smoke had become more promiment and off-putting.

Score: 5/10

A 10cl bottle was kindly provided by Wemyss for this article, plus the official photographs. There is also a commission link above.

  1. Mr Oliver Philp says:

    Hi Jason, thanks for the article. I had planned a trip to Fife in April for my anniversary, which included a trip to the twin distilleries at Kingsbarns (no prizes for guessing who was doing which tour). Unfortunately that was postponed but, with any luck we should be going in August so it’s good to get an insight into the product.

    Looking up the specs it seems this is a 50cl bottle, maybe worth mentioning as it would be almost £35 if it were in a 70cl bottle. But it’s 42.5% (bearing in mind gin only has to be 37.5%), it’s made in a pot still rather than a column still and it is a limited release, so not an outrageous asking price. Given the pot still aspect, I was surprised there wasn’t more of a contribution from the barley spirit at least in the texture.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Oliver

      Thanks for commenting and hopefully that Fife trip transpires soon. I’ve not taken the gin one yet, the cottage was always ‘out of bounds’ behind the distillery, but is situated in a nice spot.

      Good point about the 50cl, which will affect the pricing. I recall from the experimental Dornoch gins in their own pot stills, the viscosity was impressive and brought more character to proceedings. This one in comparison just lacked that nature or force. I was expecting something more. However, the series is experimental and who knows what’s next?

      Cheers, Jason,

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