Construction has begun on the Kythe Distillery in Perthshire, with those behind the company promising to craft traditional, ‘old style’ single malt. Mourning the loss of the bolder, character-driven malts produced in the 1960s, those behind the distillery are eschewing many modern principles of both distilling and branding in order to pursue a more old fashioned approach.

Every new distillery invariably makes promises about having a quality-first approach to whisky making, and it could be easy to dismiss Kythe's endeavour as a grumbling “things aren’t as good as they used to be” gimmick. However, what sets Kythe apart is the fact that their whole production process is geared towards crafting what they see as traditional Highland whisky.

It starts with the barley. Kythe will be working with local farmers to produce heritage varieties of barley for their whisky. Many of these varieties have a low yield and are therefore used significantly less often in the whisky industry today in comparison to other, more efficient varieties. However, they are often protein-rich and flavoursome - in other words, ideal for crafting a great tasting whisky.

This ties in with the distillery’s ambition to focus on high standards rather than producing a ‘standard’ character or flavour. While these barley strains may be less efficient, they possess more flavour. Indeed, one of Kythe’s founders, Angus MacRaild, has been quoted as saying “efficiency is the enemy of character”.

Notions of character over efficiency are also highlighted in their production process. The distillery itself will include a number of older production features. Most notable will be the wood-fired wash still, a lesser-used practice today that was once common place. Both the wash still and the electric-heated spirit still will utilise worm tub condensers, another uncommon feature in modern distilleries due to their larger size and relative inefficiency.

Another guiding principle comes from their name. Kythe is an old Scots word meaning to show, to make or become known, or to appear, which is an idea that will influence the whisky they desire to produce.

The distillery are seeking to craft a luscious, fruity house style of spirit that allows for natural variances in character. Their final whiskies will be spirit-led and complimented by their casks, rather than buried beneath their weighty influence. Kythe’s spirit will not be hidden, rather will reveal itself to the drinker; it will become known.

Beyond the whisky, Kythe are also setting themselves apart from some of their contemporaries with the distillery itself. There are currently no plans to include a visitor centre, which is almost a prerequisite for a new distillery. Similarly, the distillery will be built within preexisting agricultural buildings situated on a working farm. In short, Kythe will be an intentionally un-Instagrammable distillery.

However, one area in which Kythe will share some similarities with other modern distilleries is that sustainability is at the heart of what they’re doing. All the equipment at the distillery will be bespoke and environmental concerns were considered with every design decision. The wood fire for the wash still will also heat and help power the rest of the distillery, helping lower their emissions.

Importantly, since the barley is such a key feature in their production plans, Kythe will also be helping their farming partners to support regenerative standards by investing in the maintenance and improvement of the local environment and landscape.

When looking at the people behind Kythe, it’s easy to see that old style whisky is not just a passing fancy for the team, but rather a longstanding passion.

Among other endeavours within the industry, both Angus and distillery manager Jonny McMillan have been influential in organising the Whisky Show Old & Rare in conjunction with The Whisky Exchange. Similarly, chairman Aaron Chan is an independent bottler who co-founded Hong Kong’s foremost old & rare whisky festival, WhiskyNow!. So who better to usher in the return of old style, traditional Highland whisky?

Production at Kythe is due to start in 2024, and casks of their old-style Scotch may become available for sale in the near future. Check their website for more details.