English Whisky: The Ultimate Guide
The History of English Whisky
Many people would consider English whisky to still be very much in its infancy – and as relative “newcomers” to the English whisky scene, we would tend to agree. However, the future of the industry is very bright.
Although newly emerging, English whisky production dates back to the 1800s, with evidence of distilleries in Liverpool, Bristol and London. In 1887, British brewing and distilling historian Alfred Barnard published “Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom”. The book provides a unique insight into Victorian distilling practices, listing four distilleries that Barnard visited in England by the late 1800s. However, by 1905 the Lea Valley Distillery had closed its doors, marking the end of English whisky production for almost a century.
With the establishment of Hicks & Healey in 2003 and the English Whisky Company in 2006, over the past two decades there has been a resurgence of English distilleries across the country. Smaller, independent producers have directed their attention to craft spirits, taking an approach that centers value and innovation. In an age of increasing mass production and digitalisation, new distillers share a hand-crafted and smaller-scale approach, leading to a whisky revival that has been embraced by UK consumers and increasingly, across the globe.
Unlike gin and vodka, which can be distilled and bottled within the space of a few weeks, there is a legal requirement to age whisky for a minimum of three years. While whisky cannot provide an immediate cash flow, the higher value of the spirit is future oriented, especially with the potential for creativity in the revitalisation of English whisky to develop its own unique style.
The View on English Whisky
There has already been some high profile praise for what English whisky is doing in the industry, in terms of approach and quality. English distilleries are certainly not here to cut corners, they are here to put England right in the centre of the world of whisky, which for so many years has been dominated by Scotland, Ireland, the US, and more recently, Japan.
Unlike Scottish single malt, which must comply with Scotch Whisky Regulations, English whisky producers have greater scope for innovation. Most notably, Scottish distilleries are legally bound to use oak casks for maturation, while English whisky producers are free to experiment with new woods, and therefore new flavours.
With consumer tastes and palettes evolving, there have been many developments in the global whisky scene. With recently raised tariffs on Irish whisky and Scotch, The Times published an article in October 2020 detailing how American consumers have started to develop a taste for English and Welsh whisky.
Reporting on the first festival dedicated to English whisky, Felipe Schrieberg from Forbes highlighted in this article the exciting future of English whisky:
“A new crop of whisky producers in England have taken their own unique approaches to production, and the results are often absolutely delicious”
Following the English gin renaissance, new figures from the HMRC show that the number of English distilleries have risen from 66 in 2014 to 228 by 2020. This is a tenfold increase from the 23 English distilleries in 2010. With the exciting developments of new whiskies entering the market, England has the potential to become a world-class whisky producer.
The English Whisky Distillery Map
Dartmoor Whisky – English Single Malt Whisky Distillery
As the only whisky distillery in Devon, we use local barley and natural ingredients to craft our single malt whiskies, cut with pure spring water from Dartmoor National Park. Defined by both the region and our maturation process, the flavour profile of our whiskies are influenced by the granite geology and unique climate of our rural surroundings. As a result, our whisky has an unrivalled quality that captures the true spirit of Dartmoor.
Our Master Distiller Frank McHardy is recognised for his expertise and contribution to the whisky industry, including the revival of the Glengyle Distillery in Scotland. With 50 years of experience as a master distiller, working at both Springbank and Bushmills Distilleries, Frank guides each stage of our process to ensure Dartmoor Whisky Distillery produces beautiful single malt whisky every time.
Our three main whisky expressions are Ex-Bourbon, Bordeaux, and Sherry. After being distilled in our Alembic copper still, our whiskies are aged in these unique casks to influence the flavour of the final spirits.
- Our Ex-Bourbon whisky is aged in an American barrel, providing its light golden colour. The bourbon cask results in notes of vanilla, toffee, and subdued flavours of aged oak.
- Hand-selected from one of the best wine regions in France, our red wine cask from Bordeaux balances delicate and rich aromas. When aged in this cask, the single malt whisky finishes with a distinctive sweet and floral complexity.
- Aged for three years in a single Oloroso Sherry Cask, this was the first ever expression from Dartmoor Whisky Distillery. With distinctive sherry aromas and rich, fruity notes, the high strength and full body of an Oloroso provides its characteristic roundness and sweet flavours.
English Whisky Distilleries
Amazingly, there are now 24 English whisky distilleries either with currently maturing or matured whisky ready for sale. These include:
Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, our distillery crafted Devon’s first single malt whisky. Our beautiful ex-Cognac still has been fully refurbished since its decommission in 1994, restored back to its former glory and now producing smooth, sweet new make spirit. Inspired by the rugged land of Dartmoor on which we live, our mission is to produce single malt whisky of pronounced quality that encapsulates the true spirit of Dartmoor.
Reviving Cornwall distillation for the first time in 300 years, Hicks and Healey were founded in 2003, influencing the revival of English whisky. Made with barley grown in South East Cornwall, the company’s process of double distillation takes place in the smallest legal still in the country at only 1,200 litres, enabling a longer interaction between the spirit and the copper.
This Bristol distillery specialises in organic grains and long fermentations with non-traditional yeasts. The distillery uses ‘New World’ techniques, where you are not constrained by old traditions but free to use your own ideas and ingredients. Recently, the distillery collaborated with tech firms to produce the world’s first artificial intelligence gin. The distillery also prints a unique code on each of their bottles, describing the process by which the whiskies or grain spirits are produced in fine detail.
The whisky distillery on Dartmoor National Park is currently under construction.
Using slow distillation techniques and local, sustainably sourced ingredients, the Isle of Wight Distillery crafts a blended range of spirits ranging from gin to vodka and rum. In December 2015, the first Isle of Wight whisky was developed by the distillery. With a unique recipe using Island barley, the new spirit has been maturing in oak casks, with a release date to be announced.
As one of the few distilleries in the UK which undertakes the complete process of brewing and distilling from grain to glass, Copper Rivet Distillery hand-crafts their small batches of gins, whiskies and vodkas in Kent. Applying the same skills that local craftsmen once fashioned for world-class ships in Chatham’s historic dockyard, the distillery aims to reinvent this craft for the 21st century.
As Oxford’s first craft distillery and Britain’s first organic grain-to-glass distillery, these spirits in handmade stills use populations of ancient heritage grains to create distinctive flavours. Inspired by the decision to build a copper still from scratch, The Oxford Artisan Distillery approached steam engine craftsmen and some of the last great historical industrial coppersmiths in England. The distillery is currently laying down casks for future whisky production.
Since 2014, the East London Liquor Co. have been producing and importing a range of spirits, including gins, vodka, rum and whisky. Striving to be as commercially ethical as possible, the London company aims to make their spirits accessible in price without compromising on taste.
Initially founded in 1807, the distillery was re-established in 2011 to make the first London whisky in over a century. Building on the traditions of the Georgian era with a contemporary twist, the independent craft distiller has created spirits in collaboration with The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.
This London company released their first single malt whisky in September 2019. With traditional methods including floor malting and low fermentation processes, these whiskies are distinguished by their “fruit forward” character.
East of England
Established in 2006, St George’s Distillery is England’s oldest whisky distillery. As the home of The English Whisky Co., the Norfolk distillery has over 200 different whiskies, each matured and bottled on site. The distillery releases its drinks under two brands: ‘The English’, their range of single malt whiskies, and ‘The Norfolk’, consisting of grain whiskies and liqueurs.
Copper House Distillery is located within the Adnams brewery in Southwold. Generating water and steam for their brewery, the distillery is one of the most energy-efficient in the UK. Launched in 2010, Adnams was the first brewery and distillery in England able to produce high quality spirits directly from malted grains all the way through to the finished product, using the same local ingredients to make their spirits as their beers.
Crafting grain-to-glass spirits with unique Northamptonshire heritage, Wharf Distillery has a wide range of English whiskies, gins, brandies and liqueurs. Using locally sourced grains and fruits, the artisan distillery uses botanical blends for their spirits.
Based in Herefordshire, this family owned distillery creates award winning gin and vodka from potatoes grown on their farm. Using botanicals to complement the mineral earthiness found in their spirits, this ensures a distinct and full-bodied flavour. Currently, the distillery is laying down whisky casks for production.
With a small 200 litre copper still in the Shropshire Hills, the Ludlow Distillery uses a refining column to make their spirits extremely smooth and sweet. Using a combination of used bourbon barrels and re-charred old whisky barrels, this makes their whisky age more quickly. In 2018, The distillery made Shropshire’s first ever single malt whisky, the Young Prince.
Distilling gin, whisky, vodka and brandy, the Henstone Distillery was established in 2015. Starting whisky production in 2017, the spirit is being aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks, with their new make whisky expected to be ready for sale by the bottle in January 2021.
From the visitor experience to the yeasts and botanicals used in their spirit production, the environment and rich history of the Peak District is inscribed into their gin and whisky. Distilled and aged on site, White Peak Whisky has a special blend of live yeast with links to Derbyshire’s brewing heritage and long fermentation processes.
Housed within a stone barn in the Peak District National Park, the Forest Distillery produces single malt English Whisky in their 500 litre pot still. Predominantly using organic and foraged ingredients, all water used in their whisky and gin production comes from their own natural spring, helping to enrich the taste of their fresh, natural flavours.
While travelling across the US, the founders were inspired by the small micro-distilleries making Bourbon along the East Coast. Combining an urban distillery with the backdrop of the historic city of Durham, this small-batch craft distillery specialises in gin, vodka, flavoured gins and cask aged spirits, with their whisky production date to be released.
Established in 2015, Whittaker’s Distillery is a family business in the heart of Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. Directly involved in their local produce scene, signature botanicals are used in the production of their award-winning gin, and the distillery are currently laying down casks for whisky production by the mid-2020s.
Founded by a scientist and an architect, the Cooper King Distillery use a self-built distillery powered by 100% green energy to produce their hand-crafted premium spirits. Inspired by their experiences in Tasmania and their Yorkshire surroundings, the small team focuses on flavour and traceability instead of quantity.
Filey Bay was the first single malt whisky made in Yorkshire, crafted from field to bottle. With barley grown on their family farm, Hunmanby, The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery take the best of tradition and apply new thinking to create their unique whiskies on the coastline of Yorkshire.
With a whisky, gin and vodka collection, the Lakes Distillery has an artistic ethos of “holistic whisky making”, and their whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi is actively involved at every stage of production. With a unique combination of yeast strains, the distillery’s fermentation process is pushed up to 96 hours, twice the industry average, to create a desired complexity and depth of flavour.
Buy English Whisky
It’s pretty easy to get your hands on a bottle of English whisky these days. With more shops selling spirits online, consumers are embracing the choice and range that English whisky producers have offered.
To shop the full range from Dartmoor Whisky Distillery, from merchandise and tours to our single malt whisky, find our product pages here.
Master of Malt is a well-established online retailer of single malt whisky, blended whisky, bourbon and many other fine spirits.
By diversifying and exploring new wood types, grain varieties and finishes, English whisky has an agility to meet and adapt to consumer demands. By focusing on flavour and territory over quantity and reach, the English whisky scene has exciting potential, and holds a growing stake in the future of the industry.
SIGN UP TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Be the first to hear about the latest news, events and releases from Dartmoor Whisky Distillery
If you have any questions at all then please do get in touch.
The Old Town Hall, Town Hall Place, Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, TQ13 9EG