English Whisky distilleries to try
The English whisky revolution is well underway, with a raft of new distilleries releasing an ever-growing number of whiskies recently.
As most English whisky distillers will tell you, the advantage they have over distillers in most of the major whisky producing countries is a significant amount of freedom when it comes to how the spirit is produced and matured.
Spirits such as scotch and bourbon are far more tightly defined and regulated. Some of the best English whisky producers are taking full advantage of the relative freedom by using interesting grains and mash bills, and maturing their spirits in an array of different casks, for example.
The Top 5 English Whisky Distilleries to try
English whisky favours innovation
While new distilleries laid down stocks and were waiting for the minimum three years of ageing for whisky, most produced other spirits, but now there’s no shortage of new English whisky out there, and a steady stream of new releases on the way too.
There are now apparently 40 active whisky distilleries in England. In May this year, a number of these banded together to form the English Whisky Guild, a trade body that will be applying to the government for a geographical indication (GI) for English whisky, covering production standards and regulations. The guild also aims to promote the category, and support its community of producers.
Below is a small selection of the country’s most interesting, innovative and pioneering distilleries, but there are plenty more out there to discover.
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Top English Whisky Distilleries to Try
East London Liquor Co
This Bow Wharf distillery was set up in 2014 by Alex Wolpert, with claims to be the first gin, vodka and whisky distillery in East London for over 100 years. Gin and vodka came first, naturally, followed by its first whisky, in late 2018. Its London Rye was made from 42% rye and 58% malted barley, with ageing in French oak, then ex-bourbon casks, and finished in former Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
A single malt followed, aged in bourbon and rye casks from Sonoma, as well as former bourbon casks from Kentucky. This year it dropped its latest London Rye, in new contemporary packaging.
Sustainability credentials are covered too. The new bottle for London Rye weighs 48% less than the previous one, using 60% less CO2 in production. And the distillery introduced Project Refill this year – visitors to the distillery can refill any 70cl spirits bottle with East London Gin, Vodka or Rum.
One to taste: London Rye Whisky
Made with a greater percentage of rye than before, including malted rye, and aged in a variety of casks, including regenerated oak, Hungarian oak, American oak and former London Brandy casks. 47% ABV, RRP £55
The Oxford Artisan Distillery
To talk about The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s whiskies is to talk about farming and heritage grains. This seed-to-glas distillery uses its own ancient heritage grains to produce all of its spirits, in partnership with Oxford-based archaeobotanist and grain expert John Letts. Grains are grown on five local organic farms.
The result is an interesting line up of whiskies – in addition to vodka, gin and a vintage sloe gin. Rye plays a big part in the collection of whiskies, but the distillery also produces a heritage corn whisky as part of its Grain Stories range. Expect to see more grains and more interesting whiskies from Oxford Artisan Distillery in the future.
One to taste: Oxford Rye Whisky, Easy Ryder
The 7th batch of Oxford Rye Whisky, this is a blend from nine different casks, all American oak aside from one sourced from Portugal, formerly used to age Moscatel Roxo De Setúbal. 50% ABV, £55
The Lakes Distillery
Established in late 2014, this Cumbrian distillery has been laying down stocks of whisky, while also producing gin and vodka. The focus here is on sherry-matured single malt whiskies, under the watchful eye of whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi.
In 2019 The Lakes began releasing its Single Malt in small quantities, and now has an extensive range, with an array of finishes. These are finished in casks that previously held orange wine, Moscatel, Manzanilla and more.
One to taste: The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No 5
The latest in the distillery’s top-end Whiskymaker’s Reserve range, which showcases different casks and the art of blending, No 5 is matured in Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez, and red wine casks, in a mix of both Spanish and American oak. 52% ABV, £70
Among the distilleries taking full advantage of the creative and experimental freedom presented by distilling in England is Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery. The team makes use of a long list of mash bills, different yeasts cask types to make an array of fascinating whiskies.
For those interested in all the details – and why wouldn’t you be – each Circumstance spirit comes with a reference code that can be looked up on the distillery’s website, giving information about fermentation, distillation and more.
One to taste: Corn 1:5:1:22:36
Recently released, this is produced from 70% corn and 30% malted barley, and matured with five different oak spindles, including chestnut and maplewood, as well as a new Andean oak cask. 41% ABV, £36
Copper House Distillery
Adnams was the first UK brewery to be allowed to set up a distillery, back in 2010. In amongst the drinks producer’s extensive range of spirits is a range of whiskies, from entry-level Adnams Single Malt to top-end Distiller’s Choice.
The distillery’s first whisky releases, back in 2013, were extremely limited, amounting to 20 casks. The two whiskies unveiled by Adnams at the time were a Single Malt and a Triple Grain, the latter produced from barley, wheat and oats.
One to taste: Triple Malt Whisky
Produced from 60% East Anglian malted barley, 35% wheat and 5% oats, Adnams Triple Malt is aged for at least five years in new American oak barrels. 47% ABV, £39.99
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