It has taken three years and a lot of hard work
It was a day of celebration for hundreds of whisky drinkers across the country when the inaugural bottles of the first-ever Derbyshire single malt whisky were released this week.
By its very nature, malt whisky is a long time in the making and for full-scale craft White Peak Distillery and its co-founders Max and Claire Vaughan, the bottles represent several years of hard work and an investment of more than £1.4 million.
For a spirit to be classed as a single malt whisky, it must be made from malted barley at a single distillery and aged for at least three years.
Derbyshire’s own Wire Works Whisky began life in 2018 in the former factory belonging to Johnson and Nephew at Ambergate, near Belper, which Max and Claire bought in 2016 and started renovating the building to accommodate two large stills and hundreds of casks.
A pair of giant stills and hundreds of barrels full of slowly ageing whisky fill the old wire works in the valley and cold water from the River Derwent is piped around the building to help cool the stills in a sustainable way.
The lightly-peated whisky has been created using a combination of English unpeated and peated malted barley.
A flavour-focused four day fermentation used a unique yeast blend, incorporating live yeast sourced from a local Peak District brewery.
The final spirit has been matured in a variety of carefully selected first fill oak casks, including ex-bourbon and STR casks (re-conditioned casks that have been shaved, toasted and re-charred).
It comes after an earlier spirit, which had been aged for 24 months before being bottled, sold out in just 24 hours.
The first release has produced 5,016 bottles – and while many of the them had been pre-ordered online or shipped to retail outlets such as Booths, Selfridges and House of Malt – but only 15 casks have been used to fill those.
And with several hundred more casks filled, there will definitely be further releases later this year, with plenty to spare.
Max estimated that 4,000 bottles had been pre-ordered by customers online and around 40 retail outlets, and yet people were still queuing at 11am on Thursday when Wire Works Whisky went on sale for the first time, retailing at £65
The whisky is described as having “a delicious aroma of vanilla, chocolate, orchard fruit and orange peel, with roasted malt and toffee on the palate and a strong finish, with moments of café mocha, a hint of peat and liquorice allsorts.”
The husband and wife team, who both originate from Derbyshire, said they were delighted that they had finally produced the county’s first malt whisky.
Max said: “Setting up the distillery and getting to this day has probably been about a decade in the making when we first talked about this and by 2013, a fair amount of research had taken place and my father said to me that I needed to get on with doing something if I was going to.
“We wanted to find somewhere that would add something to the journey we were on and this site had the right credentials.
“It is a woodland home on the banks of the River Derwent that has a long history of innovation and forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The journey we’ve been on since we started the distillery has been amazing and full of challenges but we’ve never lost sight of making the best spirit we can and this moment of releasing our own single malt whisky.
“We’re realising a dream that our small and passionate team has been focused on since day one. We are exceptionally proud of our heritage and local provenance within the Peak District.
“In many ways we are only just at the start and we hope that our supporters and distillery friends have enjoyed celebrating this very special moment with us.”
White Peak Distillery is also home to Shining Cliff gin which has been a staple product while the whisky development process has been taking place.
The Covid pandemic, while stopping people from going on tours of the site, left time for Max, Claire and their team to concentrate on the spirits.
They also found time to make sanitiser, tapping into a supply of available alcohol and driving around to ensure that hospitals and schools received supplies.
Planning ahead is a bit part of the whisky producing process as there is such a long lead time until the product is ready and as the couple make sure the distilling process continues, they also have their sights set on expanding the areas their bottles journey to.
The company made sure it has the funding to go forward by raising more than £1 million from a crowdfunding campaign which saw 660 investors put their money into expansion plans for the business.
Max, who is an engineer and accountant by trade, said: “Our products have found their way to mainland Europe although Brexit has made that process more difficult.
“But in the next three to five years it would be great to become an international global brand.