If you were asked to name an alcoholic beverage associated with England, you’d likely go with an ale. We are, after all, an island covered in grain. But there’s another liquid gold that can be fermented from grain mash – one more commonly associated with our friends to the north of Hadrian’s wall.
People are often surprised to hear of English whisky, but whisky was historically produced right across Britain, although to a lesser degree in the south than the north. But when the Lea Valley Distillery closed in 1905, English production came to a screeching halt.
Fast forward almost a hundred years and, in 2003, St Austell Brewery & Healey Cyder Farm in Cornwall began producing a single malt. They were followed by The English Whisky Co. Ltd in 2006, which actually released the first English whisky in over a century with a three-year product in 2009. And so the revival was off and away! There are now at least seven distilleries operating in England and another in Wales.
In England, the distilleries are clustered in the southeast and in the Lakes District, with the notable exception of Hicks & Healey all by itself over on the southwestern tip of Cornwall. London now has two distilleries, with the recent addition of the East London Liquor Company in 2015. English whisky is highly acclaimed and described as heavily peated with undertones of cream, apple and clove.
Wales, although preceding the English whisky revival by a few years with the establishment of Penderyn Distillery in Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000, hasn’t seen the same proliferation. Penderyn, however, is highly successful – despite being the smallest distillery in the world. Their first bottles went on sale on St David’s Day, 1st March 2004 and are now sold worldwide, but they are still the only distillery in Wales. Welsh whisky has been characterised as smooth and peated, with herbal and sweet notes of fruit and chocolate.
If you fancy a tasting tour, we’ve listed a few of the distilleries in England and Wales, along with links to their websites for more details:
33 Parkgate Road
221 Grove Road
The Welsh Whisky Company