Over the last few years we’ve seen a rise in malt whisky being made in England. We don’t have the heritage of our whisky-making neighbours of Ireland and Scotland, but the tide is turning. Along with the behemoths of The English Whisky Company and The Cotswolds, a raft of distilleries – 27 at last count – are snapping at their carefully crafted heels and laying down casks. From Cornwall right up to Durham, distilleries are currently heating up their stills with more in the planning.
Many are still under the three years maturation time needed to be called a whisky in England, so only a handful have whisky out in the market – The English Whisky Company, The Cotswolds, Bimber, The Lakes, Spirit of Yorkshire, Adnams and Hix and Healy, are selling, but even in the next half a year we’ll see more 3+ whisky hitting our shelves. Currently, the big conversation is around whether English whisky deserves its own categorisation or not. Many (including me) think it does and now is the time to do it. We have makers whose approach was to always lead with their whisky, and possibly make other products, and there are those who were making other spirits originally, and are now turning their stills to make whisky. Right now, people are happy to follow Scotch as a marker for quality, but with Brexit and many jumping onto this whisky boom we need to make a mark now to protect this growing category in years to come.
I have seen first hand the passion and skill that is going into how whisky is produced in England, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of the people behind the bottles, as it were! One thing that stands out is that as they have to sell whisky at a very young age, so much care and attention is going into every level of production. From affects of different casks, local barley, fermentation time, filling strength and cut points, there is innovation and entrepreneurialism at every stage. From the larger distillery constantly looking at their supply chain and what they can do onsite, even when they are running out of space, to a husband and wife team using a beer wash from a local brewer, and a steel still with embedded copper. This ability to think on their feet and do things a little differently, is why a number of people are saying we should not regulate too soon, or at all. That it will stamp out this innate creativity if there are too many rules and regulations.
The state-of-play now is that it’s heartening to see distillery working groups having regular conversations with each other, slowly drawing in areas of trade and industry, but also making a point of engaging consumers in their thoughts as well. For my part, I am glad to be part of The English Whisky Society which is a consumer facing organisation with its first virtual festival coming in October. Spreading the love of English whisky and getting to know the producers is a place I am happy to be in.
Whatever your thoughts are on regulation, it’s a really exciting time and a huge opportunity. From not really having a history of distilling single malts, to nearly 30 distilleries in a very short space of time gives me a lot of confidence and enthusiasm about the future of English Whisky.
As the most land-locked whisky bar in the country, we’re going to be keeping an eye on all things English whisky this year to see how it is progressing. While you wait for our first roving report from our English Whisky Project, come and try a dram of the English whiskies already available at the bar from @Cotwoldsfistillery, @thelakesdistillery, @bimber and @spiritofyorkshire