The Whisky Tasting Club

England Expects

England’s only whisky distillery is entering its fifth year and its whiskies are already getting experts to sit up and take notice. The Whisky Tasting Club have launched a limited edition tasting of four of the English Whisky Co. expressions . I spoke to distiller David Fitt about these malts

Q. The first release ( Chapter 6) was only three years old and if it were a Scottish single  malt it would be dismissed as too young. Why has it worked with English malt?

A. I suspect the first release worked because initially people  bought it out of curiosity! However, we now have lots of repeat customers who really like it so we must be doing something right. In my opinion people also get too hung up on the age of whisky but to me, to a certain extent, age is irrelevant. When people enjoy whisky they enjoy it for the same reason as everybody else – flavour. If we like the taste it’s good, if we don’t like the taste we don’t like that particular whisky but it doesn’t mean the whisky is bad or the wrong age – it’s just not right for you. Age doesn’t mean better it means different but as I said before it will always come down to taste. Also, we do have a warmer climate here when compared to Scotland so the whisky will mature faster as heat accelerates the maturation process. Again, that’s another reason to be careful about age (for example try tasting a 7 year old Amrut and you’ll see what I mean). 

Q. English whisky is made the same way as Scottish whisky. Do the ingredients used contribute to it being different?

 A. Local barley is sourced as much as possible – we probably produce whisky with the same barley as everyone else as I believe lots of our local barley also goes to Scottish maltings as well as all over the world !! Our water is much harder than that used in Scotland as the geography of the land is totally different – we draw from a borehole  sunk into one of England’s largest chalk aquifers. Water is important  but the way I think of it is that you need a good, clean, pure source of water and that’s what we have. We typically use Jim Beam bourbon casks but do have some “specials” as well. We have red and white wine casks, Madeira casks, as well as Port and of course Sherry.

Q. The second release ( Chapter 9) is peated and made by legendary Scottish Iain Henderson, who made whisky at Laphroiag. Are his fingerprints on the English peated release, and how does it differ?

A. Our peated whisky I would describe as light if you like Ardbeg or Laphroaig but heavy-ish if you like Auchentoshan – it depends where your starting point is. I like heavy peat so for me it is at the bottom of my peatometer but if you don’t like peat it’s probably off  the scale (heaven knows what those people would think of Laphroaig). Iain’s influence is on the whisky as he made it but I think it is very different from Lahproaig but see that as a good thing. We want our whisky to be unique, not a copy of something else – what would be the point of that ? 

Q.  How have the two special releases which came out recently been received?

A. Chapter 7 was a rum finish and Ch.10 a sherry matured. These have proved very popular with all distillery stock now sold out.  The sherry is a bit heavy for my palate but both have matured really nicely.

 

 

Q. At what age do you think English whisky will hit its peak?

 A. It is a complete guess but I think between 7 and 10 will be a good age – however part of the fun is not really knowing the answer to that question. We will keep a small amount of stock to mature possibly up to 25 years to give a range of whiskies but all that is in the future.

Q. Much is made of Iain Henderson’s involvement at the distillery but you’ve been there some years now. Is your influence showing through and are you taking the whisky in a different direction to some extent?

 A    Iain was obviously very influential in setting up the distillery and the initial production – he made whisky here for about 10  months with me overlapping the last three of that. I have now been here three and a half years. When we bottle in the early part of 2011 the whisky will be “mine”. I did slightly alter the fermentation time and the way we mash, as well as a slight tweak on the cut so we will have to see. 

Q. Is English whisky carving out a unique place in the world of whisky?

A. I do feel the distillery has its own style and we do get a lot of comments that the whisky does taste very different – this is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Q. And do you have your own favourite styles and way of doing things?

 A.  I do like bourbon casks but have to say the rum is also really nice with our spirit. I wouldn’t mind messing about with a bit of new wood as well but we’ll have to see.

Q. And finally, what can we look forward to in 2011 from St George’s?

A. That would be telling !!!!

Biography of David Fitt: After working in education and the media in the mid to late 1980s, David went into the wine trade and eventually became a manager of a busy bar in the City of London. In 1990 he left London and came to live near Bury St Edmunds in East Anglia where he worked for the Civil Service for 11 years in a variety of management roles. In 2001 he joined the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds and began to learn about brewing. After 6 years he ended up as a Shift Brewer – basically responsible for all brewing and output from the brewery whilst on shift.  In July 2007 he came to St. George’s as the thought of making whisky in England was an opportunity too good to miss. The rest, as they say, is history.

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