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A Guide To Every English Whisky Distillery

Last November, a cluster of restored Victorian factories in Birmingham hosted an event marking a unique niche milestone in whisky history. The world’s first in-person English Whisky Festival hosted hundreds of eager fans, exploring and tasting whisky produced in new English distilleries. Featuring tipples from 26 producers, it marked the most extensive collection of English whisky ever presented to the public (disclaimer: I hosted a masterclass as part of the festival).

Liam Hirt, co-founder of Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery, saw it as a unique opportunity:

“It was quite exciting. We’re all quite good friends in the English whisky industry. So it’s nice to catch up with everyone and see what everyone’s doing.”

Richard Foster, festival organiser and founder of whisky appreciation club Exploring English Whisky was understandably pleased with how his work paid off:

“It was an absolutely phenomenal day. We were full, it was buzzing, and the feedback on all the whiskey and the brands has been phenomenal. English whisky is just going to get bigger and better and we can’t wait to do it next year.”

The festival was the latest milestone for this growing industry, which began life with the founding of Norfolk’s English Whisky Company in 2006 and cider-makers Healeys producing the first English whisky since the 19th century in 2003. Now, distilleries producing whisky are located all over the country.

While the festival itself was a special occasion, it is a reflection of the hard work English distilleries have been doing to set themselves up. Where in 2019 I wrote up a comprehensive list of English distilleries that only included 16 producers, that number is now up at 34 and still growing. These are small operations, especially tiny in comparison to the Scotch whisky produced north of the border, but several have already won prestigious accolades for the quality of their young whisky.

These distilleries are also doing a good job of organising themselves. The English Whisky Festival follows last year’s founding of the English Whisky Guild, which aims to provide a networking and trade body for English whisky producers according to Cotswolds Distillery founder and EWG founding member Dan Szor:

“There is strength in numbers, and while most of our numbers are still very small there is a shared sense of excitement at how far and how fast English whisky has come in a relatively short time, and a shared feeling that we are all in at the start of something that could be both significant and durable.”

Currently numbering 17 member distilleries, the EWG’s major policy goal is to enshrine a protected GI (Geographical Indication) for English whisky, a legal protection similar to Champagne or Scotch, helping entrench a clearer a legal framework for the category.

Now that so many distilleries have established themselves and started producing, 2022 marked a new chapter in the history of English whisky – one where distilleries are starting to form a dedicated community and, especially through Foster and his team’s efforts, attracting fans who are drawn not only by a new whisky ‘category’ but also by the innovative ways each distillery is approaching the whiskymaking craft.

So as an update to 2019’s list, here’s a quick rundown on what each distillery producing English whisky is up to, ordered alphabetically (note that I haven’t included whisky distilleries currently under construction, but here’s an excellent map that includes these):

Ad Gefrin

Where: The town of Wooler, in Northeast England by the Northumberland National Park.

Description: The distillery will open to the general public this year, and is currently maturing what will be its first single malt, made using local grains. Currently, there’s just an English/Scottish whisky blend available.

Adnams Distillery

Where: Southwold, on the southeast coast.

Description: The distillery is only one part of a business group that includes a large brewer and a chain of hotels and pubs. The distillery itself produces many different kinds of spirits including whisky.

Bankhall

Where: Blackpool, a seaside resort town in the northwest.

Description: Owned by Halewood Artisanal Spirits which also controls Whitney Neill gin amongst many other brands, Bankhall is currently making mostly corn whisky, inspired by American bourbon production.

Bimber

Where: West London.

Description: Bimber, which is the word for moonshine in Polish (founder Dariusz Plasewski is a Pole and a third generation distiller), is making really high quality robust whiskies in west London. Bimber’s releases regularly sell out, and the team is currently working on a new Scotch whisky distillery in Speyside, Dunphail.

Circumstance

Where: Bristol.

Description: This microdistillery in Bristol’s Easton neighborhood makes a variety of spirits, and is experimenting with all kinds of yeasts and grains at the moment with its whiskies, and is releasing some of these experiments before they reach the legally required 3 years of maturation to call it whisky.

Cooper King

Where: Sutton-on-the-Forest, in Yorkshire.

Description: Inspired by distilleries in Tasmania, co-founders Chris Jaume and Abbie Neilson are making gin and vodka while their whisky matures in small 100-liter casks. The distillery itself runs on renewable energy and has produced one of the first carbon-negative gins in England.

Copper Rivet

Where: On the docks in the riverside town of Chatham.

Description: While it is producing gins, a vodka, and liqueurs, Copper Rivet has already released its own pot still and column still whiskies under its Masthouse range.

Cotswolds Distillery

Where: In the heart of the Cotswolds national park.

Description: One of English whisky’s more established distilleries, Cotswolds has won plenty of awards for its products. To me, its whiskies always manage to sneak in a wonderful note of green apples across both aroma and palate.

Dartmoor Distillery

Where: Devon’s Newton Abbot, in the south of England.

Description: Devon’s only whisky distillery has enlisted 50-year industry veteran Frank McHardy to make its spirit using an alembic still. The distillery has already released a variety of single malts.

Doghouse Distillery

Where: Snuggled in a warehouse in southwest London.

Description: Though mostly focused on gin and vodka, there’s also whisky maturing at the distillery – I had the pleasure of trying a very pleasant not-yet wheat whisky cask sample a couple of years ago.

Durham Distillery

Where: The distillery just moved to the center of the very picturesque city of Durham in the northeast.

Description: Though currently waiting for its whisky to mature to the required three years of age, it’s possible to buy casks. Like many other English distilleries producing whisky, it’s also making gin and vodka.

East London Liquor Company

Where: East London, it’s in the name.

Description: All kinds of spirits are made here, but the distillery (the facility is fully visible from the site’s excellent bar) has also experimented with single malt and rye whiskies, as well as an experimental blend where its whisky was mixed together with some from the Sonoma Distilling Company in California.

The Forest Distillery

Where: Outside Macclesfield in the Macclesfield Forest within the Peak District national park.

Description: Located in a former inn, this is the UK’s highest altitude whisky and gin distillery, overlooking the Peak District national park. In addition to the gin, most of the whisky from here (under the brand name Forest Whisky) consists of blends sourced from somewhere else while the distillery’s spirit is maturing, but there have been releases where some of their own stock has been blended in.

Healeys Distillery

Where: Truro, in Cornwall.

Description: Hicks and Healeys whisky is a collaboration between the St. Austell brewery and cider company Healeys who worked on this distillery project together. Together, they created the first English single malts made since the 19th century, first released in 2003. Not very many whiskies have been released from here in the past 20 years though, and it’s tricky to find a bottle.

Henstone Distillery

Where: Oswestry, just outside Wales and south of Liverpool.

Description: Other spirits are made here but whisky is the focus. Four young core range expressions show plenty of promise, and there’s a corn liquor that’s pretty much made in the same style as bourbon but can’t be legally called as such.

The Lakes Distillery

Where: In the stunning Lakes District in the north.

Description: An established operation located next to an alpaca farm, the Lakes Distillery specializes in whiskies matured in ex-Sherry casks and for the most part boast rich, fruity flavors and aromas.

Isle of Wight Distillery

Where: The Isle of Wight

Description: Though primarily a gin distillery, the Isle of Wight Distillery does officially have a cask of whisky that it distilled using local barley that has now matured for over three years, marking it as the first official whisky made on the island.

Mercia Whisky

Where: Bishton, outside the Cannock Chase national park north of Birmingham.

Description: A whisky distillery focusing on rye whiskies, Mercia’s stock is still maturing but its new make, as well as a rye spirit matured for four months is available to buy. The distillery are also selling casks and gin.

The Oxford Artisan Distillery

Where: Just on the outskirts of the city of Oxford.

Description: The distillery known as TOAD is producing mostly rye whisky to a very high standard, using a unique method of regenerative agriculture to grow their heritage grains used in distillation.

Pocketful of Stones

Where: Penzance, in Cornwall, where the pirates come from.

Description: Pocketful of Stones is making a variety of gins, cider brandy, and also whisky which is sold under its Hell’s Stone brand, named after a rock dropped in Helston during a mythical fight between a dragon and St. Michael. The distillery even recorded an official song for it.

Retribution Distilling

Where: The town of Frome, outside of Bath.

Description: This little distillery is making gin and white rum while also maturing some casks for aged rum and whisky. There’s a variety of club membership options that will allow you to be the first to try the aging stock, as well as new make spirit from the still.

Spirit of Birmingham

Where: Birmingham (in England)

Description: While its whisky matures, Spirit of Birmingham is making beer, vodka and gin to keep the business running. The distillery’s first ‘baby cask’ seems to still be available for sale too, which originally was filled with 24.4 liters of spirit.

Spirit of Manchester Distillery

Where: The northwest city of Manchester.

Description: The distillery, in addition to producing a number of different spirits, is currently maturing whisky that it plans to release eventually – and has a Founder’s Club whose members will be the first to try it.

Spirit of Yorkshire

Where: Hunmanby, by Filey Bay on the east coast.

Description: Spirit of Yorkshire is releasing a wide range of young whiskies matured in a variety of casks under its Filey Bay brand that are certainly worth exploring.

St. George’s Distillery (The English Whisky Company)

Where: Norfolk, in the southeast.

Description: Known officially as The English Whisky Company, this is England’s first dedicated whisky operation in a very long time. This small farm distillery is owned by the Nelstrop family and boasts some of the oldest whiskies in England (if it’s over 10 years old, that’s really old by current standards).

Ten Hides Distillery

Where: On the Poulshot farm outside the city of Bath.

Description: Founded by a former army officer, Ten Hides plans to make whisky but will focus on gin and rum until its spirit has matured.

Shropshire Hills Distillery (Wardington’s Original)

Where: Ludlow, in Shropshire.

Description: Though it started with gin, this distillery makes almost every kind of spirit, including a few column distilled malt whiskies (branded as the Ludlow Single Malt).

Weetwood Distillery

Where: Kelsall, in Cheshire.

Description: A brewery that has also turned its hand to distilling, Weetwood has made what it believes to be Cheshire’s first single malt, on top of its rums, vodkas, gins and brandies and wide selection of beers.

West Midlands Distillery

Where: Rowley Regis, in the west midlands.

Description: The distillery is just one part of a wider booze operation that also makes mead, wine, and other alcoholic drinks. While West Midlands has already released a number of rums, there are some whisky casks currently maturing, the distillery has projected a release for 2024.

Wharf Distillery

Where: Towcester, in Northamptonshire.

Description: This craft distillery makes almost every kind of hard spirit – brandy, vodka, rum, gin, and whisky too. It currently has a single malt and grain spirit (which means it’s not yet 3 years old).

White Peak Distillery

Where: Ambergate, north of Derby

Description: The distillery recently released its first whiskies under its Wireworks brand to wide acclaim, though it also makes gin and rum.

Whittaker’s Distillery

Where: Outside Harrogate, within the Yorkshire Dales national park.

Description: While its whisky is still maturing (however, there is gin available), this is the only English distillery offering a little whiskymaking course where attendees help make the mash that eventually gets distilled into spirit.

Wrecking Coast Distillery

Where: The seaside village of Tintagel, known now for its legends about King Arthur.

Description: Starting as a gin distillery, Wrecking Coast aims to eventually release whisky but at the moment is sourcing and bottling German rye whisky as a marker of what it wants its spirit to taste like.

Yarm Distillery

Where: In the market town of Yarm, outside Middlesbrough in the northeast.

Description: A family-run craft distillery making rums and gins, its first whisky will be released in the summer of this year.

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