The world of whisky is rapidly changing, and for me it is becoming a very exciting place. As you are probably aware Scotland is awash with fantastic whiskies but our attention does not lay here. Our focus is on the developing world of whisky from England and Wales.
England and Wales have had a long history of whisky production, but this had died out with whisky production in Wales in the late 19th century and in England with the closure of Lea Valley Distillery in 1903. Recent times have seen light on the horizon for whisky production, with the rise of craft gin distillers now turning their hand to the production of whisky.
The number of times I have heard that rum will be the next gin, although there are some outstanding rums being produced, for me it is hard to look past whisky. Firstly, let's address the fact that we can not grow sugarcane in the UK, but what we have is a long history of growing grains and malt. Perfect for turning your hand to the production of the amber nectar!
Well it's the amber nature of the spirit where issues arise. To be legally called a whisky the spirit has to be aged for a minimum of three years in oak. It is therefore a lengthy process that doesn’t generate income quickly. Another issue is the fact that oak barrels aren't small, ex-bourbon casks contain around 200 litres with sherry butts pushing the 500 litre mark! These need space, a lot of space, which isn’t something smaller producers have.
On the other hand many have seen investment and through the use of incentives like Kickstarter there are producers dipping their toes into the world of whisky. Key players in changing English and Welsh whisky are The English Whisky Company and Penderyn.
The English Whisky Co., located at the St. George's Distillery was the first whisky to be produced in England in 120 years. They began producing a spirit in 2006 and have since produced thousands of casks. They have utilised the barley that has been grown locally, which was originally sent to Scottish distilleries giving the whisky a beautiful sense of terrior. Building a range of different styles of whisky including peated varieties such as The Smokey and limited bottle runs. Experimenting with a variety of ageing techniques has led to small batch releases, with the 1st Fill Bourbon Cask Matured Small Batch being a very delicious example.
Penderyn were the forerunners when it came to the revival of Welsh Whisky production. A distillery located in the Brecon Beacons was established in 2000. They use a combination of distilling techniques. Calling upon a refined spirit produced by Faraday stills that are now being blended with a heavier oilier spirit produced in the traditional copper pot stills. Ex-bourbon barrels are used during the ageing process with the spirit often being finished in Madeira casks. Penderyn Madeira Finish is their core whisky and a wonderful expression displaying flavours of tropical fruits.
These producers have, alongside the craft gin movement, opened the gates when it comes to the revival of English and Welsh whisky. I predict that the market will continue to grow and we are excited to grow our offering adding to the outstanding examples already on the shelf.
Cotswolds Distillery known previously for their gin has now established themselves and is delivering outstanding quality whisky. Their Signature Single Malt Whisky is a triumph of a quintessential English whisky, produced using locally grown barley which is then traditionally floor malted. Like many new distillers they are playing with long fermentation processes, creating exceptional flavours in the wash prior to distillation.
After the distillation process the whisky is aged in re-activated red wine and ex-bourbon oak barrels that have been shaved, toasted and charred. The combination of barrels gives the whisky rich honeyed vanilla flavours with uplifting red fruit elements.
The world of English whisky is rapidly becoming an exciting place to explore, and this is the right time to explore it. So why not try a bottle and let us know what you think.