Every year, English whisky gets better and better, just like its wine.
The county of Derbyshire has just launched what is believed to be the first English Bourbon, aged on a transatlantic voyage. “Never Say Die” is named not after the James Bond film but the first American-bred colt to win the Epsom Derby in seventy-three years. That was in 1954.
The bourbon, which was distilled and matured in Kentucky, has been ocean-aged on a six-week trip across the Atlantic, before finishing its maturation at the White Peak distillery. Husband-and-wife team Max and Claire Vaughan founded White Peak Distillery in 2016,
Distilled in the style of a traditional Kentucky Bourbon, the final maturation has offered the whiskey a ‘unique’ flavor profile, thanks to the colder, less humid UK temperatures and exposure to ocean air throughout its maritime
On the west coast of Lancashire, true American spirit meets authentic Northern soul with Bankhall Distillery Bank Sweet mash. American Vince Oleson used to work as a head distiller of the Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn, New York. He is originally from Arizona. Then relocated to the delights of the famous seaside resort named after a historic drainage channel that released discolored water into the Irish Sea. Now he is challenging whisky expectations by making the first Blackpudlian or Sangrownian whisky.
The original Bankhall distillery, which closed down between the wars, was in Liverpool. There were originally five English whisky distilleries in the area. “The distillery has a youthful atmosphere and bourbon-style whiskey has a younger profile than Scotch,” says Oleson.
“Younger people are more likely to drink bourbon and to mix it, whereas there is a reluctance to use single malts for mixing. So it is a fun drink. We call it Kentucky by the sea, but we are serious about the product. Blackpool is a perfect place to craft our whiskey. Sea air, irreverent energy, and raw spirit.
“I’m a spiritual New Yorker so the idea of Blackpool as the Coney Island of the UK was rather appealing! It makes a great launchpad for our adventures in distilling. We like to change the conversation about English whisky from being so ridiculously single malt focussed.”
England’s northernmost distillery, Ad Gefrin, has its debut blended whisky called Tácnbora, made with a combination of Scotch and Irish whiskies.
Ad Gefrin is an Anglo-Saxon museum and distillery located in Wooler, Northumberland, which is due to open to the public in February 2023. Tacnbora means “standard bearer” in Old English.
The Spirit of Manchester Distillery has also unveiled its “Founders’ Club”. Giving consumers the chance to “follow the journey” of Manchester’s ‘first’ single malt whisky.
The St George’s Distillery at Roundham in Norfolk is England’s oldest whisky distillery, making England’s most premium whisky, “The English” – “Original, 11-year-old, Smoky Oak, Rum Cask, Triple Distilled, First Fill Bourbon and Double Cask Bourbon and Oloroso and the Sauternes cask, “North Star”.
The Nelstrop family has spawned plenty of first-class imitators such as the Dartmoor Distillery, Oxford Rye, and the lakes Distillery in Cumbria where Dhivali Gandhi is the chief whiskey maker.
In a few years’ time, you will be able to taste North East England’s first single malt whisky. It comes from the Durham Distillery founded by Jon Chadwick in 2014 and was born out of a passion for craft spirits inspired by America’s East Coast drinks scene.
“Our brand identity incorporates elements of the city – our logo was inspired by Durham Cathedral’s Medieval Rose Window, originally glazed in the 15th century by Richard Pickering and is commonly referred to as the greatest example of Romanesque architecture in Europe, whilst, our brand color palette is inspired by the ecclesiastical purple from the Bishop’s vestments.”
The English whisky industry is maturing every day. There are now over twenty English whisky makers.
Actor-turned-bartender Alex Wolpert’s “London Rye Whisky” is the first London-distilled whisky to be drunk in 114 years. Wolpert founded the East London Liquor Co in 2014. The distillery at Bow Wharf is a former glue factory. The company offers its second release “London Rye® Whisky”, aged in ex-peated & Pedro Ximénez with an abv of 47% as well the first East London Single Malt aged in ex-bourbon & rye and “ELx Sonoma”, a specially blended whisky in collaboration with Sonoma Distilling Company.
From the eighteenth century, whisky was produced in Liverpool (Bank Hall and Vauxhall distillers) and Bristol. The grain whisky was mainly sent to Scotland and Ireland to make blended Scotch and Irish whiskey. Production ceased at London’s Lea Valley distillery in Stratford in 1905.
“Bimber Distillery” in Acton, west London released its first single malt – aged in re-charred oak casks- in September 2019. Dariuz Plazewski, the founder and master distiller, is Polish – “bimber” is Polish for “moonshine”.
In Highgate, north London, former Wall Street trader Ian Hart makes “Sacred Peated English Whisky.”
Whiskies are also being made outside of London. And still in Bristol where the “Circumstance Distillery” makes small batch English whiskies including a “Circumstantial Mixed Grain” and “Circumstantial Wheat”.
The Cotswolds Distillery in Philip’s Field, Shipston-on-Stour is the brainchild of Dan Szor, a New Yorker and financier. His “Founder’s Choice” is aged in shaved, roasted, and pre-charred American oak red wine barriques. Mary and Janis (the stills) use malt from the UK’s oldest maltings, Warminster Maltings which was founded in 1885.
Based in the village of Humanby, near Scarborough, “The Spirit of Yorkshire’s” Filey Bay Moscatel is a sherry-finished release. Distilled in 2016, the single malt was first matured in bourbon casks for three tears before being finished in Hogshead barrels which held sweet Moscatel grapes for ten years.
Inspired by Tasmanian whisky, a former scientist, Dr. Abbie Nielson, and ex-chartered accountant, Christopher Jaume will be launching another Yorkshire whisky from 2022-2024. The Cooper King distillery started producing gin in early 2018 and casked their single malt in 2018. It is the country’s first self-built whisky and gin distillery. It is powered by 100% renewable energy. Casks are handmade at White Rose Cooperage by Alastair Simms, one of England’s last master coopers. The distillery is named after owner Chris Jaume’s great-great-grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cooper King, who traced the family’s history back to Yorkshire in 1030 AD.
“Hick’s and Healey’s” 7-year-old single malt “whiskey (spelled the Irish way) is the result of the partnership between a Cornish brewer and Cornish cider-maker. Ludlow Whisky Co in Clee St Margaret, Craven Arms, Shropshire makes “Young Prince” and whiskies.
Based in a 17th-century barn in the Peak District National Park, Karl & Lindsay Bond’s “Forest Whisky must have the best address of any English artisanal whisky distiller- Chambers Farm, Bottom of the Oven. Macclesfield Forest, Cheshire.
Although the best name must go to a whisky named after a tunnel on the Grand Union Canal, “Cattle Creep” is matured in Madeira casks by The Wharf Distillery which takes its name from the old Galleon wharf in the Northamptonshire town of Pottersbury. In 2019, Daniel Bonner and Laurence Connisbee became only the eighth English distiller to release an authentic whisky since 1903. Further casks of “Cattle Creep” are slowly maturing and pre-orders for Cask II will be taken. They also make “Fyre, the Anglo-Saxon for fire water.”
| Photos courtesy of the Whisky Exchange