2009-12-11 05:19:58 UTC
A double English? Right away - with apologies for the 100-year wait
The English whisky has been matured in oak casks for three years
Whisky, as the world knows, is Scottish. If it's not Scottish it's Irish, in
which case they spell it "whiskey", or American, in which case they spell it
"bourbon". At a push it is Japanese, but best not to mention that in
The one thing it is not is English. The English make beer and gin and even
have a go at making wine occasionally, just to annoy the French. But the
whisky making they leave to their neighbours north of the Border.
Until now. Yesterday the first English whisky for more than a century was
bottled at a distillery in Norfolk, using English barley and English water
distilled by a team of English workers under the direction of a man whose
preferred tipple has always been red wine.
They were, however, trained by a Scot: some things are, perhaps,
a.. 'By George, I think they have got it'
a.. Rye beats Scotch to title of world's best whisky
a.. Anger at sale of English whisky
The first limited edition bottling at St George's Distillery, which has
already been well received by whisky aficionados, has long been a sell-out.
The next one, a peated version, goes on sale next spring and is, at the time
of writing, still available.
"But by tomorrow morning, who knows?" the managing director Andrew Nelstrop
said at the end of a day so busy that the small family firm in the village
of Roudham, near Thetford, stopped answering the phone.
For the Nelstrops, a well-established Norfolk farming family, the dream of
making whisky in a part of the country better known for turnips and turkeys
is one that they have been nurturing for more than 40 years.
"My grandfather said to my father, 'I cannot believe we grow all this barley
to send to Scotland to make whisky'," Mr Nelstrop, 37, said. "It stuck in my
father's brain for 40 years. He and I have been having the same discussion
about it for 20 years. Then, finally, we were in a position to do something
According to Mr Nelstrop - and this is a matter of some debate among whisky
experts - the last place in England to make whisky was a distillery in
Stratford, East London, which changed to gin production in the 1890s and
then burnt down.
"Virtually every country in the world makes whisky. The only oddity is that
the English have not made it before. The Scots took the role of making
whisky and the English took the role of making gin. But we've got the
barley - East Anglia supplies 60 per cent of all Scotland's barley needs -
and we've got perfect water."
The water for St George's comes from a supply 160ft (50m) below the
distillery via a borehole in the garden. The family - the company is run by
Mr Nelstrop, his father James, who is chairman, his mother and his sister -
took the decision to go ahead in September 2005 and were distilling by
November 2006. Three years and £2.5 million later, that spirit, matured in
charred, white-oak, bourbon barrels, can now be called single malt whisky.
With production of up to 200,000 bottles a year, it will sell for about £35.
Mr Nelstrop Sr is the whisky buff; Andrew Nelstrop admits that, before they
embarked on their distillery venture, all he knew about whisky was what he
learnt in his local pub. "I was very much take it or leave it," he said.
a red wine man."
Iain Henderson, the Scot formerly in charge at the Laphroaig distillery, was
persuaded to come out of retirement to train the Norfolk team. A Scot
teaching the English to make whisky does, Mr Nelstrop admitted, sound
implausible, if not downright unpatriotic.
"He gave us a year before disappearing up north again. And yes, they did let
him back in."
Water of life
- The name whisky comes from the Gaelic word usquebaugh, meaning "water of
- Early distillation practices originated in Asia and were used for the
production of perfume and medicine before arriving in Europe through the
- The Scotch Whisky Order 1990 states that a Scotch must be distilled from
water and malted barley, to which only other whole grains may be added. The
drink cannot be casked for any less than three years and one day, and must
be at least 40 per cent alcohol but no more than 98.4 per cent
- The industry in Scotland employs 40,000 people and generates more than
£800 million a year through export sales