With St George’s Day recently gone by, it feels appropriate to talk about some of the wonderful English whisky that’s available these days. This is our introduction to English Whisky.
Historically England was a big whisky producing country, with several large distilleries operating between the 17th and 19th centuries. Sadly these were all closed by the early 1900s, and it wasn’t until the last few years that new distilleries have started opening again. One or two distilleries, such as St George’s in Norfolk, have been making whisky for more than 10 years now. However, the majority are still in their infancy, meaning age statements on English whisky are rare. As of 2020, there are now 24 distilleries around England registered to produce whisky, although a large portion of those are still laying down casks and won’t release whisky for at least another year or more. We’ve featured some great English whiskies in our tasting boxes before, and they always go down a treat.
One of the really exciting things about English whisky is that because it’s still such a young category, distilleries don’t have to fit into a specific style of whisky-making. English whisky makers can be a bit more experimental, as they don’t have the decades-long cult followings that many Scotch single malt brands do, for example. They can be more free to play around with different grains, stills and flavour profiles as the category gets established. There are also very minimal regulations around English whisky, unlike Scotch which is heavily regulated by the Scotch Whisky Association. Check out this great infographic from York-based Cooper King Distillery about the rules and regulations of whisky in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. If you want to know more about what goes into whisky, you should read our post all about what whisky is made from, too.
That does mean that there is a wide variety of styles and flavours available in English whisky. Some producers go after the traditional Scotch whisky style with peated and unpeated single malts, and others head down a more exploratory route with different grains like rye or wheat, and unusual cask types.
Here are some of our favourites at the moment.
The first English whisky distillery in over a century, St George’s Distillery – a.k.a The English Whisky Co – began whisky production all the way back in 2006 in Norfolk. They now release both peated and unpeated single malts under “The English” banner, alongside fantastic single grains like this one, under the “Norfolk” name. This is a distillation of 8 different grains, and has a wonderfully unique flavour profile full of rich cocoa, buttery popcorn, coffee, caramelised apricot and a light touch of spice in the background.
Get it here, £49 Direct
This is a limited release from well-loved Cotswolds Distillery, as part of their new “Hearts and Crafts” range. This particular single malt whisky has been aged in French oak barriques which have been seasoned with Sauternes. The influence of the rich dessert wine shines through here with decadent notes of apricot, nectarine, golden syrup and honey, all in balance with the malty cereal notes from the barley. This is a really luxurious whisky, but there isn’t much of it, so grab it while you can.
Get it here, £74.95
I may be getting ahead of myself a little with this one as it’s not technically available yet at time of writing. The Lakes did put out some fine blended whiskies while waiting for their own to come of age, but it’s their single malts in the Whisky Maker’s Reserve range that really sing. We were lucky enough to try their No. 1 and No. 2 releases and all agreed they were excellent. Sadly, it seems a lot of people also thought so, and they are now both sold out. Good news though, as it appears a third edition is on the way, so if it’s anything like the last two be sure to jump on it.
Coming soon, £65
Northwest London-based Bimber have stormed onto the whisky scene since their first release in 2019. With glowing reviews piling in, it’s no wonder than their whisky has been selling out. This release is a single malt, full of rich fruity sweetness, tropical fruit, and spice. It’s been aged in re-charred American oak casks which the industrious folks at Bimber say they hand-charred themselves on site. Impressive.
Get it here, £64.95
Okay, you got me. I just had to sneak this one in, although it’s not old enough yet to be technically called a whisky. This is a sneak preview of their soon-to-be-released rye whisky, and if this rye spirit is any indication, the future is bright. The chaps at TOAD are grain nerds, which as a self-confessed grain nerd myself, automatically makes them cool. There’s a great creamy texture to this rye, and while you can taste that “eau-de-vie-like” new make still, it’s got a great complexity of fruit and spice flavours that make this one to watch.
Get it here, £39.95, MoM
Dartmoor Whisky Distillery started distilling in their repurposed cognac still in 2017, so their whiskies have only just come of age. If you don’t know them yet, this is also on our “one-to-watch” list because firstly, they’re using an old cognac still which is exciting to the whisky geek inside me, but they’ve also nabbed Frank McHardy of Springbank fame to be their master distiller.
We’ve chosen the bourbon cask release here because unlike strongly flavoured sherry or wine casks which can impart a lot of flavour into a young whisky, a bourbon barrel will subtly soften and enhance the flavours of the new make spirit rather than covering them up. This three year old single malt is delightfully tropical, with rich grilled banana notes and cereal. For fans of young whisky, this is a real treat.
Get it here, £59.50
This was just a brief introduction to English whisky It’s exciting to see English whisky distilleries championing rye as well, like TOAD, and also East London Liquor Company and the London Distillery Company. An honourable mention must also go out to our friends at Circumstance Distillery, in The Dram Team’s hometown of Bristol. They’ve already released some very interesting spirits since they started back in 2018, but we will be looking forward to trying the first whisky in a year or two.
With so many more distilleries due to release whisky over the next few years, it’s definitely an interesting time to be getting into English whisky. We hope to feature some more great English whiskies in our tasting boxes soon, so make sure to join the team now and don’t miss out!
If you liked learning about English whisky, why not check out our Introduction to Irish Whiskey.