First official English whisky launched

Adam Gretton Three years after barrelling its first spirit, St George's Distillery in south west Norfolk is preparing for a seminal moment when it finally launches its first official whisky.

Adam Gretton

It was dreamed up by a Norfolk farming family frustrated by the complete lack of whisky producers in England.

And three years after barrelling its first spirit, St George's Distillery in south west Norfolk is preparing for a seminal moment when it finally launches its first official whisky.

Hundreds of brimming oak casks have been gathering in storage at the English Whisky Company at Roudham, near Thetford, since it began distilling at the end of 2006.

But officials from the country's only whisky-maker spoke of their delight yesterday as they geared up to sell their first run of the 46pc-strong amber nectar.

A select group of journalists from across the world - including two from the Scottish birthplace of the alcoholic drink - were the first members of the public to taste Norfolk's first official single malt whisky, which will go on sale in two weeks.

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The Norfolk distillery, which received a royal visit from the Prince of Wales two years ago, has already made its mark on a global scale by shipping out its 18-month-old malt - which has to be called 'whisky spirit' rather than whisky - to places such as Japan, Singapore, France and other parts of Europe.

But Andrew Nelstrop, managing director of the English Whisky Company, said he was bracing himself for a rush of visitors when its three-year-old spirit hits the shelves on December 16.

More than 2,000 bottles of the 'Chapter 6' whisky have been made available and a dozen members of the world's media were given a sneak preview yesterday - including the EDP.

The tipple received a positive response from members of the Foreign Press Association and two Scottish newspaper reporters, who flew to Norfolk especially for a tour and taste test.

Mr Nelstrop said it was “very exciting” to be on the verge of releasing the distillery's first official whisky made from locally grown barley and water from an underground Breckland aquifer.

“The first few years have been very difficult because when we send it out, it is not yet whisky. It tastes lovely, but from this year it is single malt whisky and there is no need to explain it.”

“Whilst the whisky being released could still be considered young, we believe it to be very well presented. We hope it will provide an insight into how our whisky is maturing and therefore a glimpse of our future products,” he said.

The idea of a Norfolk whisky distillery was first raised by Mr Nelstrop's grandfather, George, who could not understand why English people drank the spirit, but never made it.

The English Whisky Company's first official product follows the opening of the �1m distillery, shop, caf�, and conference centre as a tourist attraction in the summer of 2007. The family firm aims to sell 100,000 bottles a year by 2012 and its first peated whisky will be ready next summer.

Mr Nelstrop said the warmer temperatures in England meant that the whisky would be fully matured in about ten years.

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Barry McDonald, from the Herald Scotland, said: “It is quite nutty, sweet, and quite distinctive.”

“A lot of whisky drinkers can be quite snobbish about whisky and I am sure there are some whisky drinkers in Scotland that would not touch English whisky, but I think most people are fairly open-minded.”

Jo Strickland-Skailes, reporter for the Aberdeen Press and Journal, said: “I think it is delicious. It is such a small drop in the ocean that Scottish distillers are not seeing it as competition. A lot of people are in support of anything that supports the whisky industry, regardless of where it is made.”

Alexei Makartsev, UK correspondent of the Rheinische Post in Germany, said: “It is soft and sweet and an unusual colour because it is pale. It tastes excellent. I think Germans will be suspicious at first because they associate whisky with Scotland, but they will recognise the quality.”

Chinese radio journalist Ningjing Li added: “I am not a big whisky drinker, but I liked the taste and I think a lot of well-educated Chinese people who like western culture will love this.”