Geography is what defines most liquors – what is Scotch if you ignore the Highlands? Geography, or more specifically the climate, plays a significant role in distinguishing one whisky from another. While the essential ingredients of barley and water remain the same, the location of the distillery, the difference between mashing durations, yeasts, and casks used in maturation define the final product. Although England does not feature much in the whisky lore, some distillers were operating until the late 19th century in London, Liverpool, and Bristol. After that, the production of English single malt whisky ceased until 2013.
In 'Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,' Alfred Barnard notes that only four produced whiskey out of ten operative distilleries in 1887. The rest were making some form of industrial alcohol or neutral spirits.
Lea Valley Distillery in London and Bank Hall Distillery in Liverpool were producing grain and malt whisky. Vauxhall Distillery, also in Liverpool, produced grain whisky. And the Bristol Distillery was producing grain whisky, which was sent to Scotland and Ireland to make blended Scotch and Irish whiskey. However, by 1903, the last of these distilleries – Lea Valley – was closed by its owners, The Distillers Company Limited (the forerunners of Diageo).
Return to the whisky map
In 2013, The London Distillery Company (TLDC) started producing the first single malt whisky in England since Lea Valley's closure. However, the company went into administration in January 2020, hence ending the affair rather quickly. Two other English distilleries opened after TLDC remain in the single malt business, The Lakes Distillery, and The Cotswolds Distillery.
The Lakes Distillery is repurposing an old Victorian farmstead on the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake. In 2016, Heriot-Watt graduate Dhavall Gandhi was appointed master blender, having previously worked at The Macallan. Initially, they released a blended whisky called The One before releasing their first self-produced expression, The Lakes Genesis, in 2018. Besides whisky, they also make gin and vodka.
The Cotswolds Distillery began production in late 2014, with the first cask of single malt filled. They released 4000 bottles in late 2017 when a selection of casks reached the 3-year minimum age requirement.
The genesis of new age English whisky
It's too early to define English whisky by region, flavor profile or manufacturing process. With only two distilleries having whisky that has reached the minimum maturing age, English whisky remains a terribly rare thing. However, obvious differences in production exist between English distillers and their Scottish neighbors. Producers in England are not bound by the Scotch Whisky Regulations and tradition, which gives them the freedom to experiment. Moreover, the English weather is drier and hotter, which accelerates the maturation, causing the whisky to behave differently in the casks. All of this can lead to genuine terroir of English whisky expressions.
In conclusion, we cannot say if a unique English style of whisky will emerge very soon. But distillers across England are trying to establish their own true identity, challenging traditional whisky production. We can only hope that English whisky will bring a new dimension to the global whisky industry by showcasing quality, provenance, and clarity behind the journey the spirit has taken in its production.
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