Some people are surprised to hear that England has a history of whisky distilling but, in fact, both malt and grain whiskies were produced in London, Liverpool and Bristol up to the end of the 19th century. Now, after a lull of over a century, the last few years have seen a renaissance of English whisky production – led in 2003 by Healey’s Cyder Farm in Cornwall, who used the small still they normally produce cider brandy from to distil ‘wash’ from the St Austell Brewery to make whisky.
However, the production at Healey’s is only small scale and it is probably the more recently built St George’s distillery at Roudham in Norfolk that is better known. The Nelstrops, whose background is in farming, decided that the good quality barley and water available in Norfolk could be put to good use producing whisky and by the end of 2006 had a distillery up and running, and their first spirit in cask.
With an emphasis on small batch production and using local ingredients the distillery is carving a niche for itself in the whisky world as a respected producer. Each of their expressions is a ‘Chapter’ in the new book that they are writing and from the early days they garnered awards – a score of 94 points from Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible not being something that is easily achieved!
Mature for its years (maybe because maturation in England tends to be faster than in Scotland), citrus, pear drops and malt are some of the descriptors used for the whisky. Both peated and unpeated expressions are available, with most being matured in bourbon cask but some special, limited editions being matured in other casks – such as the Chapter 12 sherry cask matured whisky which has just been released.
It’s an exciting time for English whisky making with a new distillery in London due to open any day, Adnams brewery now using their gin and vodka stills to also produce whisky and plans for a distillery in the Lake District. With St Georges Day coming up on 23rd April there can be no better time to try a whisky from the St Georges Distillery and raise a glass to the resurgent English whisky industry!