The English Whisky Co’s Chapter 13 St George’s Day edition 2014

A velvety, vanilla-tinged single malt from an unlikely Norfolk distillery

English whisky may sound like a joke invented as a publicity stunt to enrage the “Yes” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. Don’t worry about having to pay import duty for Scotch from an independent Scotland – the joke would be – we’ll produce our own down south instead.

But until the late 19th century, English whisky was commonplace, with multiple distilleries in London, Bristol and Liverpool. The first English whisky distillery – on the spot in east London now occupied by the London Velopark – closed down in 1903, but it’s not a widely known fact.

And while whisky is produced not just in Scotland but in many countries, including Ireland, the US, Canada, Japan, India, Australia and Finland, it’s odd that English whisky seems so odd.

So you can imagine my reaction when I happened to drive past The English Whisky Company’s St George’s Distillery in a farmer’s field near Roudham, Norfolk. I assumed it was a gimmick, before soon discovering how wrong I was.

This is whisky that is seriously produced, matured for at least three years, mostly in bourbon casks shipped in from Tennessee, and is getting a rapturous reception from connoisseur magazines and blogs. It is also being exported to specialist shops in 12 countries including the US, Sweden, Russia, Hong Kong and China.

I picked up a bottle – No 1142 – of its latest product, Chapter 13 St George's Day limited-edition rare single malt (£50 for 700ml, pictured) – and it is as magnificent as critics say: a rich, velvety-smooth 45 per cent whisky you want to savour. I was getting vanilla, chocolate, toffee and creamy custard – which were in line with the tasting notes provided by operations manager David Fitt: “Raisins, toffee, vanilla, crème brûlée, with notes of lavender, eucalyptus and pine, and hints of dark chocolate and mocha”.

England’s whisky industry is still ultra-niche compared to Scotland’s, but with nectar this good, I will not be surprised if it becomes bigger – Scottish independence or not.


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