Can you dust a website? I realise it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything (please don’t look how long it’s been) and I feel as though the site has collected quite a lot of dust and dirt during the time I’ve been quiet. However, since it’s a Wednesday we’re doing what we always sometimes occasionally do, World Whisky Wednesday! The very small, very underrated and very obscure portion of the week where I look at a distillery you’ve likely never heard of, its back baby!
And what’s first for the renewal of WWW? Well, last night we watched the live debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn (were politics always this awful?) and afterwards took a trip to the pub to drink, laugh, cry, drink, cry and then cry again, seriously, watch the debate, it was bloody terrible. But, a silver lining in all things right? Upon returning home from the pub we discovered a bottle of The English Smokey from St Georges Distillery, and it all fell into place quite nicely. So, sit down in your seats, pour yourself a dram and read this curious tale of the resurgence of English Whisky, Prince Charles and Organic Sheep (get your mind out of the gutter).
So, it all starts with James Nelstrop. The family can trace back their lineage to 1335; with William Nelstroppe holding a farm in Yorkshire, Joseph Nelstrop starting and running a mill in Ackworth in 1772 before the family moved to Lincolnshire in 1881, where James was born into a farming family. Setting his sights outside the UK, James moved through the world working in farming and business, from Australia to Russia and back to Norfolk, England, and onto Lakenheath where he worked with the Countryside Stewardship Scheme Farm with organic sheep and cattle. When reaching 60 and showing no signs of retiring, then James looked towards something else; Whisky production.
While England cannot boast of whisky history like Scotland and Ireland, whisky production was alive and well through the cities and countryside. In his 1887 book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, Alfred Barnard lists distilleries in Stratford, Liverpool and Bristol, though with the closure of the Lea Valley Distillery of Stratford in 1905, legal whisky distillation in England was halted.
Together with his son Andrew, James looked to restart whisky distillation in England after a century, focusing on using the best Norfolk barley and Breckland water available. Plans were drawn up at the start of the millennium, and while initially the idea was for a micro distillery James and Andrew were soon told customs and excise would not consider any stills smaller than 1800L, and so out with the micro, in with the macro; planning was applied for in late 2005 and approved early 2006, and in a wee field down by the river Thet construction began. So, they had their location, distillery and raw materials, but what about the distiller? For this, James and Andrew turned to Iain Henderson of Laphroaig fame, who agreed to lend a hand. Distillery manager David Fitt worked alongside Iain for some four months, learning all the while, and in December of 2006 the first English Whisky in over a century was distilled and began its long rest, with the premises opened by Prince Charles in 2007 (I told you to get your mind out of the gutter). Three years later, that first whisky was bottled and sipped all over the country, and now they have a whole range of products in all manner of casks, to sip, savour and enjoy. Speaking of which, that brings us neatly into…
Ohh, damn I love a peated dram. That flavour of rich charcoal and smoky turns running through your mouth, that’s a special feeling that can never be replicated. So, what has St Georges Distillery done? Well, they’ve taken Norfolk barley, malted it with Norfolk Peat to 45ppm, used Norfolk yeast for fermentation and Norfolk water for all the watery bits, aged in ex-bourbon American oak. That’s about as English a whisky as you can get, considering its pretty damn hard to grow American Oak outside of the states. No age statement is given, though it has to be at least 3 years old, and given the colour coming through there I’d saying we’re looking at least a few years older than that as they don’t add any of this new fan dangled E150 colouring or what not. And it does look something pretty. So, proper Norfolk bred through and through, no added colouring, non-chill filtration, and dropping into our glass today at 43%. I can almost smell the Union Jack rising from it….
Soft smoky tendrils start to reach up from the glass, grasping softly at the nose as old wood smoke sways back and forth. We start to track that down to the source, and find a fire of old wood, twigs, wet leaves and bark heaped upon iron rich dirt and set ablaze. In the middle of it all the fire parts, and as the smoke still rises, we can see the core of the flame; sweet malt biscuits, roasting pineapple, rock melon and brown sugar, a tasty treat put together for us to enjoy. Scattered through the smoke here and there we can find hints of smoking bread, grapes, seared orange rind and corrugated iron, all finished with a good backing of honey slathered ham. Its too tasty, and I’ve got to have a sip…
Oh, that iron comes through quite sweet on the palate, like an old pipe, a delicious flavour. Plenty of red iron rich dirt kicks about too, and then we find hot marshmallows, burning lightly over an open fire, with sticky dark sugars all about and wonderful charcoal soot. The smoke then builds more, a grass fire that has been struck and suddenly roars to life, devouring leaves, bark and tress before running out as it reaches paprika and pepper spiced cured lamb, and a touch of spicy nduja. Somewhere in the back there is a single eucalyptus leaf and sprig of mint just wafting lightly, before a long finish that curves away into the sunset; vanilla, caramel, fudge and soft sweet smoke.
I love me a peated dram, and this certainly did not disappoint. I felt as though I had entered a room at Christmas time, old brick and metal around me but a heavy cast iron wood stove roaring, filling the room with warmth and life, now there something not every dram can do.
Something I always marvel at is the scent of the ocean that follows, but that was absent from this whisky, the distillery being some 30 odd km away from the ocean. That breath of fresh air allowed the notes of peat and that sweet Norfolk barley to really shine through, and it took me by surprise but got me going back again, and again, and again. This is a cracking little dram. Great flavour, great fun, and a damn fine price too.
If you’re in mood for something different, a little left of centre, and you want to support a small distillery, you can’t go much farther than buying yourself a bottle of St Georges Distillery. Check out this link to learn more and pick up a bottle for yourself, if you don’t enjoy it, just send it to me, because I sure will love it. And if you are curious about the glass used for this review, why not have a look at the Neat Glass? It’s pretty funky, and sits well in the palm of. Have a look at them here to find out more. In the meantime, have fun, drink drams, and comment with what World Whisky you’re enjoying this Wednesday.
Please note that this review was not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, St Georges or otherwise, or by Neat Glass, and is entirely the words and opinions of the author Somewhiskybloke.