When you think of whisky, you probably think of Scotland. Home to over 130 distilleries, Scotch is one of the UK’s biggest exports with a history dating back hundreds of years.
Although whiskey has had its ups and downs, it has not stopped being made in Scotland and is currently experiencing another boom with a host of new and ghost distilleries opening alongside record prices. auction for old and rare drams. .
Scotland’s lost distilleries aren’t the only ones waking up, as England is also experiencing a whiskey distillery boom.
Like Scotland our neighbors have a history of whiskey making but unlike Scotland the production of English single malt whiskey came to a halt around 1905 when the Lea Valley distillery in Stratford closed. It belonged to Distillers Company Limited, one of the forerunners of Diageo.
There are now over 30 English distilleries, slowly making a name for themselves and producing some really good and innovative drams.
Whiskey editor and founder of OurWhisky, Becky Paskin is enthusiastic about the choice and techniques used to make English whisky.
She said: “The English whiskey scene is one of the most exciting on the planet today.
“Distillers across the country, from the Isle of Wight to Durham, are making great-tasting spirits using innovative techniques and ingredients from collaborations with other companies.
“They borrow yeast from nearby breweries, age whiskey in barrels already used to mature their other spirits, and even play with locally grown grains like rye and oats.
“What makes these distilleries so fascinating is that each cultivates a style of whiskey that reflects their environment and local culture.”
While English whiskey makers are brimming with creativity and innovation, what influences and techniques come from Scotland?
Deborah Carter, Marketing Director of the Cotswolds Distillery, explained that they had been guided by well-qualified Scotch whiskey icons.
She said: “When we started making whiskey in 2014, we had the help of some Scottish whiskey legends, Harry Cockburn and the late Dr Jim Swan.
“Together they had nearly 100 years of knowledge of ‘grain to glass’ whiskey production, which we were able to combine with the best in class ingredients from the Cotswolds.”
When asked about English whiskey styles, Carter said: “Similar to whiskey categories in other countries, English whiskey is a diverse category with over 30 distilleries currently producing whisky.
“As a result, there is a wide variety of whiskey inspirations and styles depending on factors such as the types of casks used and the different production methods.
“Our house style here at the Cotswolds Distillery is immediately apparent when tasting our delicious, rich and fruity new make spirit, which is the result of a long fermentation using multiple yeasts, a slow distillation process and cuts of high distillation.
“Launched in 2017, our award-winning Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whiskey is aged in highly active shaved, toasted and recharred (STR) ex-red wine casks and premium first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, providing our signature full of flavor. “
Max Vaughan, co-founder of White Peak Distillery in Derbyshire recently released his first whisky: Wire Works Whisky, named after the former Wire Works building in which the distillery is built.
This whiskey uses unpeated English malt combined with peated Scotch malt for their lightly peated core.
He said: “That peaty element is to add a background flavor complexity. We also make single malt whiskey with local Derbyshire barley and malt whiskey using a varied mash bill which includes malt black, chocolate malt and oats.
White Peak stills are inspired by some Islay stills, as Max explained: “Our founder has a cask in Bruichladdich and there is a passing resemblance between the shape of the still, but our still designs are our own, based on the style of whiskey we wanted to make.The copper pot stills were handcrafted to our design by McMillan Coppersmiths in Prestonpans.
Dr Jim Swan also brought his expertise to this distillery: “When we were in the discovery and research phase, we spoke to a number of contacts and experts within the Scottish industry, who were very generous with their time and advice,” Max said. .
“This included Dr. Jim Swan who remotely assisted our co-founder in developing his first financial model to present his business case.
“Thanks to Jim, we were introduced to the STR cask, which then led us to experiment with different STR cask compositions and explore how this variety influences our house style during maturation.”
Vaughan also spoke of being the first distillery to establish itself in the area, saying: “Having grown up in Derbyshire, the founders have a strong sense of place and provenance.
“As the first distillery to establish itself in this region (an area more renowned for its brewing heritage), it is important that our spirits celebrate and highlight the region of which we are proud to be a part.
“This is reflected in the design of our equipment and in the whiskey making process in many ways. In addition to our bespoke copper pot stills, brewing and fermentation are key elements for flavour, including the use of yeast of spent beer for our long fermentations.
“We work closely with Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell, from where we collect live yeast every week. We love the flavors it gives us and the connection it creates with Derbyshire’s brewing heritage.
“Our whiskey also spends its entire life cycle at the Wire Works, everything is made on site and we have ample space to mature all our inventory on site to complement our Derbyshire provenance.”
Andrew Nelstrop, owner of The English Whiskey Co, explains how Scottish techniques and people helped them launch their distillery in Norfolk.
He said: “Our distillation equipment has been designed, manufactured and installed by Forsyths of Scotland, who are considered to be the best manufacturers of stills in the world.
“Our first distiller was Iain Henderson, who previously ran Laphroaig; he came to Norfolk to run our distillery initially and train his successor.
“Alongside that, our distillery is a traditional double pot still, very similar to those found in Scotland. It is designed to make the best whiskey and to make nothing but whisky.”
And, like other English distilleries, The English Whiskey Co uses a mash bill with 100% English malted barley.
Incorporating water from their Breckland aquifer, the whiskey is aged at the distillery in their own maturation warehouses – the resulting whiskey matures differently from barrels matured in Scotland due to England’s drier and warmer climate.
As the English whiskey sector continues to grow, Becky Paskin summed up the sentiment of people inside the industry and of whiskey fans across the country, saying: “This is an unprecedented time for English whiskey; never in modern memory have we had so many choices. “