The following originally appeared on Food Digital on May 8, 2013:
“There’s no such thing!” – a running joke in Scottish whisky circles about the existence of English whisky.
The English Whisky Company produced its first run of spirit in December 2006. The first new distillery to be built in England in over a hundred years benefited greatly from having Iain Henderson (who had recently retired from Laphroaig) at the helm. The current distillery manager, David Fitt, spent four months training under Mr Henderson back during the very early days of production and this shows in the high quality of the peated and unpeated matured stock.
With a farming background that dates back to the 14th century, James Nelstrop and his son, Andrew, founded a Norfolk distillery that not only sits within a pastoral setting but which draws entirely from local barley, local yeast, and, naturally, local water. They are very proud of using malted barley from Crisps of Fakenham, yeast from AB Mouri in Hull and water from Breckland aquifer.
A small distillery by most Scottish standards, the English Whisky Company uses three stainless steel washbacks, one 2800 liter (740 gal.) capacity wash still, and one 1800 liter (475 gal.) capacity spirit still. The warehouse currently holds approximately 2000 casks. While the bulk consists of ex-bourbon casks we’re beginning to see some sherry and rum matured stock released by the distillery.
Despite being in production since late 2006 and trying to gain access to the US market since 2011, The English Whisky Company finally launched in the US on April 15. Managing Director, Andrew Nelstrop, visited four American cities over six days pouring the company’s award winning whisky. Not surprisingly, the whisky was very well received and the distillery is quickly making a name for itself on this side of the Atlantic.
At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, their Classic Single Malt Whisky (US release) won a silver medal while their Peated Single Malt Whisky (US release) won Double Gold and was named Best Whisky in the “Other Whisky Category.” Quite an achievement given that these were the first two whiskies submitted to US competitions.
All of which goes to show that if you build a whisky company on an ethos of quality first that builds upon local knowledge and local ingredients while calling in the occasional whisky legend there’s room for more whiskies in this world than just Scotches. I’m pleased to see the English on the world whisky map and wish them the very best of luck. If the first six and a half years are a testament to what the future holds for The English Whisky Company then they will remain a distillery worth following and tasting at every opportunity.
“Oh, yes, there is such a thing. And it’s very good!”