On location: The English Whisky Company

St. George’s was the first English-built distillery dedicated to making single malt in 100 years. I believe the St. George’s name and cross branding has gradually & subtly been fazed out since Brexit in order to avoid negative associations with the far-right.

sign
Photo by Ashley Desmond

The EWC first begun filling casks in 2006 followed by the opening of a visitors centre in 2007.

tour room 2.jpg
Existing visitors centre opened in 2007

It’s currently a great time to visit the distillery as only ten days ago [Sept ’17], they opened a new shop/cafe/visitors centre. Not that the existing visitors centre is too shabby, only the new one is able to cater for 75 food covers at one time. The new centre also houses the shop that contains a very full array of ‘The English’ whisky as well as a large selection of whisky from numerous other distilleries.

visitors centre view
The new visitors centre, just opened in September 2017

We lucked out today as given there was no production, the chief distiller David Fitt [DF} was taking our tour. With no previous whisky experience or bio-chemistry qualifications, DF [linkedin] begun his apprenticeship in 2004 with Greene King before moving to the EWC in 2008. Ex-Laphroaig’s Iain Henderson came out of retirement to train David for 4 months after which time he [DF] became chief distiller, blender, bottling, tour guide,.. most impressive.

David
David Fitt in his element – Photo by Ashley Desmond

Whisky production only runs four days a week, making enough juice to fill a mere three 200ltr barrels a day. To put that into context, their annual production is the same as what Glenlivet produce in 2.5 days. That equates to 60,000 lpa [for the EWC]. Furthermore their angel’s share at 4% is twice as the Scottish average making EWC’s whisky a much rarer commodity, a condition that commands relatively higher prices for each bottle.

still house

As a general rule their small whisky runs are a marriage of around four barrels, meaning EWC whisky is genuinely small batch without the company making a big song & dance about it.

warehouse.jpg
Photo by Ashley Desmond

GEEK ALERT

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  • Water source: A chalk aquifer that runs underneath the distillery and continues all the way down to Dover.
  • Maltings: Crispmalt.com based in Ryburgh, Norfolk.
  • Mill: 2-roll mill made by Alan Ruddock of ARengineering
  • Mash tun: [looks like a 1 tonne mash].
  • Washbacks: 3 stainless steel washbacks with 5500 litres sent to the wash still. Why are washbacks called washbacks, does anyone know?
  • Stills: One pair of stills: Wash still [2750 litres], spirit still [1800 litres]. The run lasts around 6.5 hours, the heart running for around two.
  • Spirit: The double distilled spirit comes out at 73%, reduced to 68.5% before being casked. There’s a triple distilled whisky offering also.
  • Casks: Stacked five high in bonded warehouse #1. Around 90%+ of their cask use is from Jim Beam ex-bourbon. The rest is made up of a combination of ex-sherry, wine etc,… These casks are likely to be used for full maturation and less likely for finishes.
  • Finishes: Refreshingly, DF regards a finish to be around 6 months to a year. Any more and it’s more like a re-rack. I couldn’t agree more.
  • Bottling: Prior to filling, they bottle-flush their bottles with their own whisky. I’m not sure whether this is common practise or not but it’s never come up on other tours before.
  • Staff: David & his assistant Steve who make the whisky are well outnumbered by the other 8 staff [and owner] who manage the rest of the operation.
  • Market: Aside from specialist whisky shops, they provide a small supply of their whisky to Tesco and a significantly larger bespoke order for M&S which is much like the ‘Original’ with a light ppm touch.

stills.jpg

 

TO THE JUICE

[The] English Whisky Company New make spirit [2017] 73%

  • N: Rounded yet forward with apple peal & pears, much like how the wash smelled.
  • T: Sweet metallic<barley.
  • F: Sweet>coppery oat-y=barley with oven-baked pears and half-stewed apples.
  • C: Deliciously drinkable and well rounded.

Not scored

 

[The] English Whisky Company NAS ’Original’ [2017] Ob. 43% WB0

whisky original.jpg

According to DF, chill-filtration wasn’t an issue bottling at 43%, but at 46% they would have been pushed. That totally validates the EWC’s commitment to the whisky itself.

  • N: Again like the new make spirit, you can smell the pears that were omitted from the wash. Most reminiscent of the young yet decent Mackmyra Bruks though this is a little wine-y.
  • T: Nicely sweet with chilli toffee, allium spices, cinnamon>cloves and sweet doughy putty. Soft warming crescendo.
  • F: A semblance of a waxy mouthfeel with more allium heat prickles, putty=flour and a milky/creamy finish.
  • C: Decent enough and working just fine at 43%.

Scores 80 points

 

[The] English Whisky Company NAS ‘Smokey’ [2017] Ob. 43% WB71[1]

whisky smoked.jpg

EWC’s peated grain order measures 55 ppm with around 35ppm surviving once bottled.

  • N: Savoury creamy peat with a rasher of bacon.
  • T: Allium & vegetal smokiness with liquorice wood and only a mere surgical hint.
  • F: A short-medium length finish though without much action, save for another half rasher.
  • C: Fair.

Scores 78 points

 

And if you think whisky is only about nosing and tasting, think again. ’Why the cat in a bowler hat?’ asks AD. Answer: First of all, the bowler hat or Coke was designed in Norfolk:

Norfolk farmers.jpg

‘Although the Coke (pronounced “cook”) is celebrated for its style now, its creation stems from something altogether more sensible: nobleman Edward Coke, younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester, wanted a superior hat to that of the top hat which kept falling off his gamekeepers’ heads on the Holkham Hall estate in Norfolk. Coke wanted to create a hat that was hardy enough to protect heads from low-hanging branches and poacher attacks so on 25th August 1849, he trod the boards of Lock to place an order.

bowler.png
lockhatters.co.uk

A prototype was swiftly made by Lock’s chief hatmaker, Thomas Bowler, hence how it received its other more recognisable moniker. On inspection, Edward Coke tossed the hat to the floor – and proceeded to jump on it to assess its durability. It duly passed this colourful test and the bill for 12 shillings was settled. To this day the Earl of Leicester continues to purchase the hat, to which his ancestor gave his name, for his gamekeepers after they have completed one year of service’. lockhatters.co.uk

As for the cat, the ‘Norfolk Farmer’s’ label originally sported an English gentleman in a bowler but was considered too twee/too predictable. The cat in a hat offered a refreshing twist but has no significance to the whisky or hats or the distillery whatsoever.

[The] English Whisky Company NAS ‘Norfolk Farmer’s Single grain [2016] Ob. Batch 01/2016 [1998 bts] 45% WB0

  • N: Creamy malty cocoa.
  • T: Unbelievably vivid milky/creamy mocha and cocoa, and with a fizzy spiciness.
  • F: The cocoa continues with some creaminess at the end.
  • C: I’m surprised to see they are still selling the same batch from last year. Basic yet very unique grain whisky.

Scores 79 points

 

Further reading:

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