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The finest whisky from…


Sorry, what?!

Yes, English whisky is the new kid on the block.  We all know the Scots, Irish and even the Welsh are known for their whisky, but the English?  Surely, we mean Gin?  No, we’ve not had a dram too many; English whisky is very much on the up.


So, when did we start distilling whisky in England?

The English actually had their first venture into the world of whisky making back in the 19th century.  A book called ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ authored by Alfred Barnard, a distilling historian of the time, gives details of four English whisky distilleries he visited; Vauxhall, Bankhall, Bristol and Lea Valley. Unfortunately, operations of these plants didn’t continue further than 1903, when the last remaining plant, the Lea Valley Distillery silenced its stills for good.

However, the book gives fascinating insights into not just the distilleries themselves, but the surrounding areas of every single active distillery in the UK at that time, with a profound appreciation for not just the landscape surrounding each, but vivid details of the local community, folktales and lore; a snapshot of the past uncovering the origins of many of our now ghost distilleries.

When did it all start up again?

More than a century passed before interest was once again ignited. First, in 2003, Healeys cyder distillery in Cornwall teamed up with St Austell Brewery.  Using the malted Cornish barley (Maris Otter) from the brewery, distillation and aging was then done by Healeys, to create Hicks & Healey Single malt Cornish Whiskey, the first English Whisky produced since 2003.  

Shortly after, in 2005, James Nelstrop and his son Andrew took the decision to fulfil a lifelong dream of James’s and open a whisky distillery.  Planning applications were submitted and in 2007 the distillery was officially opened by King Charles III, or the Prince of Wales as he was then known. And so, ‘The English Distillery’ in Roudham, Norfolk was born.  Whilst it might seem like an unusual retirement dream, the Nelstrop family tree is actually brimming with brewing! Farming was the family business as early as 1335, when William Nelstrop ran his Yorkshire farm.  In 1772, records show that Joseph Nelstrop commenced milling in Ackworth, then Stockport where the family continue to operate what is now one of the oldest and largest private mills in England.

Image courtesy of The English Distillery

How many English whisky distilleries are in operation today?

Since then, English Distilleries have been growing in abundance.  There are now approximately 45 – 49 distilleries producing whisky across England. Many have these have yet to release their first casks, as they are still laid down in maturation. Although they are not bound by the strict laws surrounding Scottish single malt whisky, a great number wish to produce whisky in the same manor and which can rightly be called single malt. However, exemption from those tight bonds also allows for a more diverse distilling journey, experimenting with different wood casks and as such, flavours.

What has driven this sharp increase?

Fuelled by the global success of craft gin and other spirits, English distillers have developed a reputation for their attention to detail and passion for their craft, especially where small batch production is concerned.  Collaboration with farmers regarding barley has seen a respect for quality and sustainability echoed throughout the industry, which in part, is consumer driven.

Premiumisation, as we know has been the catalyst for the upsurge in demand for alcohol.  An appreciation of not just the drink itself, but its manufacturing journey, heritage and quality is now paramount to consumers of both single malts and cocktails. In fact, the cocktail revolution is taking the whisky world by storm.

In November 2022, the first ever English Whisky Festival was held in a block of restored Victorian factories in Birmingham.  Hundreds of whisky enthusiasts gathered to experience all things ‘English Whisky’, from the ability to taste samples from 26 English distilleries, to taking a whisky masterclass.

Regulation & Support

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is a body whose aim is to “secure a sustainable future for the Scotch Whisky Industry.”  The English now have a similar body.  In 2022, the English Whisky Guild (EWG) was formed, for “English whisky to be recognised globally as a respected choice for whisky drinkers.”  Championing the drink, the industry, sustainability and the reduction of their carbon footprint, is at the heart of the EWG’s mission.

Additionally, the EWG have submitted an application to legally define a geographical indication (GI) for English whisky, and this is currently being reviewed by DEFRA.


With English distilleries having increased exponentially, it will come as no surprise to learn that from 2019 – 2023 the volume of whisky produced is forecasted to grow 189 per cent. It has already arrived on the shores of the U.S. and word is, they are loving it. It looks like English whisky is set for a bright future.

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