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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

English whisky sounds like an oxymoron. How can whisky be English? Well apparently there is no reason why not, it just can't be scotch whisky, and here we go with some more Scotch and Irish whisky industry myth busting.  Apparently a good distillery doesn't require a special, preferably magical, spring of gentle soft water, a hundred years of tradition and a master distiller who has worked on the site since he was 6 years old and was born in a cottage in the distillery grounds.   Apparently you can just build a distillery and make good whisky.  Who knew (other than the folks at Penderyn)?  You can also build a nice gift shop and a small cafĂ© to go with it and attract a healthy trade in tourists.

A different spin on the distillery tour, in that rather than a standard  tour guide (usual attire at the large Scottish tours include tartan skirt, blue jumper, a branded rain jacket or fleece and name tag) after a short video (I have seen better) the distiller comes and talks to you about the distillery and the process and then leads you around the small site.  I really enjoyed this interaction with the person who actually makes the whisky.  This particular distiller had been working in the brewing industry prior to coming to St Georges just a few years previously.  He was not born in a cottage on the site.  He also discussed St Georges water source, a hard water at 360 ppm Calcium, which is very different to the soft water espoused in Scotland.  Even Glenmorangie who famously use "hard water" in Scotland only has 160 ppm Calcium.  The process, other than aforementioned water hardness, is exactly the same as the major distilleries in Scotland with pot still double distillation at its core (unlike Penderyn) and as far as I could tell it would meet all criteria for being single malt scotch whisky if the whole operation was transplanted north of the border.  The other difference is they claim due to warmer climate in Norfolk, the whisky matures quicker so even the young expressions were comparable to the 10 to 12 years single malts from Scotland.

At the end of tour we tasted both the peated and non-peated expressions and I bought a bottle of Chapter 9, the peated one, and if you want you can read my review (3 out of 4stars).  I liked them both.  English whisky can be good.   I also a bought a coffee mug with the words "I would be rather be drinking English whisky" but that has since gone missing from my office!

I later realised that I had now visited a distillery in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Jameson) and only a trip to Bushmills in Northern Ireland would be required to complete a distillery visit in every country in the British Isles.

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Penderyn, Wales

Penderyn, Wales Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

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