Sunday, 2 October 2011

Proud to be English?

Walk around most English towns and you will do well to see a Cross of St George. Compare that to equivalents in Wales and Scotland and it is clear that English nationalism is in a very different place. It begs the question, how proud one can publically be of being English?
Whisky has been similar. Scottish – perfect and loved, Welsh – be proud and sing from the hilltops, English – there is none. Recently this status quo has been challenged.  
James Nelstrop had a goal to create whisky in England and in building the St Georges distillery in Norfolk he has, with the help of his son Andrew and a merry band of like minded others, achieved just that. Having waited well over a century for whisky to flow from English stills again it is worth noting that Hick’s & Healy in Cornwall have recently released a 7 year old malt and Adnams (the Suffolk brewer) is due to release in 2013.

I met Andrew Nelstrop, of the English Whisky Co, recently at a Whisky Lounge event and had the chance to sample 3 of the Whiskies in his range. Having sent me a bottle of ‘Chapter 6’ it seems only fair that I share my thoughts on it here with you.
So, the stats to start with; my Chapter six was distilled in May 2008 and bottled in May 2011. It has been aged in American Standard Barrel casks (numbers 600-603 no less), cut to 46% ABV, is un-peated and non chill filtered. All of this is very kindly detailed on the label of each bottle – very useful indeed.

As for the drinking, it is well worth experimenting with. To view, Chapter 6 is a very pale, almost straw colour. With only 3 years in an ASB this is no real surprise. On the nose, I get a real sweetness which came as a bit of a revelation to me – a hit of caramel and something of soya in there.  In the mouth I get some green fruit, apples and pears but the overriding character is of the grain. As with the pale colour this is to be entirely expected with such a short maturation. The finish is not overly complex but does linger which is bit of a joy.
Maturation really is the key here. The usual time we are used to our Scotch Malt ageing for is 10 years plus, Chapter 6 has been in for 3. The English Whisky Co talk about how the Norfolk weather is better with hotter summer days and less of a winter deepfreeze than their cousins in the Highlands get. In turn they say this means a faster maturation than the Scots see. There is a lot of truth in this, warmer temperatures create a greater interaction between spirit and wood and hence time is shaved off. However, even decent Bourbon spends longer than 3 years in wood and Kentucky gets some major temperature swings with average summer temperatures pushing 90° day in day out.
The truth is that ageing Chapter 6 for only 3 years  leaves the resulting whisky feeling slightly immature, it is not a straight replacement for 10, 12, 15 year old Scotch Malts we are familiar with. This should not detract from what the English Whisky Co has created though, in fact this 3 year maturation should be celebrated. So few whiskies actually convey their new make spirit and raw ingredients. Yes, we hear lots about them from the marketing guys and they undoubtedly have a huge influence  but in fact it is the wood and the finish that are front and centre. Really tasting the malted barley used, some the finest there is from the farms of Norfolk, is something of a revelation.
Priced at £34.99 direct from the Distillery this is not a cheap Malt but I would certainly recommend everyone to have a bottle in the cabinet. Chapter 6 is different from what you are used to, it is interesting and most importantly it is highly rewarding. The Scots are very proud of the Whisky and of flying their flags. Now regardless of how often you see an English flag flying, we can indeed be very proud of our Whisky production.
Still to come to the new whisky world – Chapters 9 and 11 the introduction of peat.............
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