One of England’s most interesting new whisky makers has released its first single malt. Here’s the lowdown on Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release, which just has arrived at Master of Malt!
The original Bankhall distillery was one of the bigger producers of English whisky. Located in Liverpool, near the docks, it closed down between the wars. Since 2019 there’s been a new Bankhall on the scene, still in the North West, but over on Burton Road in Blackpool. Can we take a quick moment to appreciate what a brilliant location for a distillery Blackpool is? It’s one of the country’s finest nights out and it’s about time it had its own whisky.
Good thing the new Bankhall creates an original whisky worthy of the city. The idea was never to recreate what was once made on Merseyside. The inspiration comes from much further afield. Instead, the Halewood Spirits-backed enterprise is making whisky with an American perspective, utilising the expertise of head distiller Vince Oleson, who swapped Widow Jane and New York for the British seaside to offer something different in the English whisky scene.
“I’m so grateful for the ability to make my mark on our whiskey, and English whisky as a whole,” Oleson explains. “Bringing my style to the spirit is rewarding, but having the ability to grow a team of passionate distillers, and help develop the category is truly amazing.” He describes whisky making here as being completely different from how it is in America. “As much as I’ve brought my know-how to your shores, y’all have filled my cup with the very history of whisky making.”
How is Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release made?
I’m speaking to Oleson because Bankhall has just released its first whisky. Which we have, of course (just click the link on the product name to buy a bottle). The brand has previously released aged spirit that wasn’t old enough to be labelled whisky, and while it was tasty and intriguing, it’s very exciting to see Bankhall break its whisky duct. It’s called Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release and it includes some of the first to flow through the distillery back in March of 2020, right after it got a license from HMRC.
Oleson gave us a full run-down of the production process: “It was made from English-grown malted barley from Crisp Maltings (Scottish Laureate varietal). We roller milled, mashed, and lautered the sweet wort, and fermented with Anchor Yeast 502, which definitely gave us a lot of the warm spice on the profile,” he says. “We then ran the 5,000L fermented washes through our hand-hammered McMillan pot stills, wash still, intermediate still, finishing still. They each have a 15% decline on their lyne arms so we retain a heavier profile even after three distillations. The spirit was then matured in a Speyside Cooperage char 4 virgin oak cask for a little over three years.”
Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release was bottled at 57.4% ABV, cask strength, and released as a single barrel, with a batch of just 225 bottles, all hand numbered by Oleson. You’ll notice that this whisky isn’t particularly American in style. But that was very much the intention. “This release is more English than American; an homage, a ‘cheers’ in a bottle! Expect a bold and rich dram, balanced by our elegant triple pot distilled creamy new make that is punching well above its weight of three years old,” says Oleson.
Tasting Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release
The launch of Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release is fascinating to me because I was expecting the first whisky to be a bourbon-style spirit. I’m told we can expect that in December after we get a peated whisky first this Bonfire Night. Clearly, Bankhall is ambitious to be more than a producer of only American-style whiskey in England. I was fortunate enough to visit the distillery a couple of years ago and saw first-hand that this is a comprehensive operation that isn’t quite as pigeonholed as some of the early marketing might lead you to expect.
Yes, Oleson has a deep understanding of American whiskey making. Yes, there was plenty of talk of mash bills and sweet mash. Yes, Bankhall is determined to do something different. But I also saw the kind of single malt we have here today in development, tasted peated new make, sampled all kinds of interesting cask selections, and witnessed a wider curiosity that stretched beyond simple imitation. This is not English whisky wearing a comedy cowboy hat.
Reading my old notes of the new make spirit I sampled, I can see I found it fruity with lots of bright citrus and berries, rich in buttery biscuity goodness, and very creamy in its texture. The whisky I tried this week in Bankhall Single Malt Cask Strength – First Release shows some of those elements, which says to me that there’s a definable Bankhall character emerging. To my taste, it’s full of orange, cinnamon, and butterscotch. I also think this whisky is a very good example of a virgin oak-matured whisky that isn’t drowning in tannins or vanilla (although there’s a healthy amount of the latter). It’s a solid debut and I’m very much looking forward to trying what comes next.
Nose: Vibrant fresh orange, toffee, marshmallow, cinnamon pastries, earthy vanilla, and oak char lead with hints of cola cubes, mint leaves, and tinned apricots in support.
Palate: Butterscotch-rich, like sucking on a Werther’s Original, with oaken vanilla and marmalade also prominent. In the backdrop, there are sweet notes of Yellow Fruit Pastilles, apricot jam, and nutmeg, as well as a melted butter element.
Finish: Rich pastries, darker fruits, cocoa powder, and toasted oak.