This week we’re talking a closer look at the latest release from the pioneers of English whisky, St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, which, as you might guess from the name, is triple-distilled.
It now seems difficult to believe but when the St. George’s Distillery, home of the English Whisky Company, opened its door in 2006 (its first release was in 2009), a whisky from England of all places was a novelty. Its founder, farmer James Nelstrop now looks like something of a visionary as English whisky has become a respected and rapidly-expanding category. Nelstrop senior died in 2014 but the business is still in family hands. I spoke with James’s son Andrew Nelstrop about the latest limited edition release.
It’s a bit unusual, a triple-distilled single malt. “When you open a distillery you write a list of whiskies you like, and those you don’t like, and then off you go”, Nelstrop told me. And on the like list was a traditional Irish triple-distilled malt, like Bushmills. So for the past 12 years the distillery has been doing runs of triple-distilled spirit. “We liked the results, put it in cask and wait a few years. It’s a delicate and light whisky, unusual for us, for people who like their Irish whiskey”, Nelstrop said. With such a delicate spirit, they had to be careful with the oak treatment: “it’s a mixture of first and second-fill bourbon casks, a good fit for triple-distilled, though lots of people said, ‘put it in sherry!’” The casks were filled in 2011 and the whisky bottled at 46% ABV earlier this year.
This is the first time the family have released a triple-distilled whisky. It’s part of the distillery’s small batch range only, 1462 bottles have been filled. For these special whiskies, according Nelstrop, they “pick three or four casks. We try to pick them from all the same year though if we have to mix a year or two up we will. The joy of small batch is it’s different every time.” The next small batch in the pipeline sounds very interesting, a peated malt aged in virgin oak casks called Virgin Smokey. The distillery also offer two or three single cask bottlings but these often sell out without a public launch such is the demand.
Overall St. George’s distills around 60,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. “We could if were were feeling terribly enthusiastic put out 250,000 litres,” Nelstrop said. “When you start you go flat out. Now at 14 years old, we’re matching sales to production otherwise you’re building a warehouse every year.”
He seems delighted at how English whisky has a category has taken off in the last ten years: “I don’t know if we expected it, father loved whiskey and always wanted to open a distillery. It was only when Adnams joined the fray five years later and then you hear that someone else has a go, and realise that there is going to be a category. Creating the category is terribly important. We are beginning to justify our own space in a shop or on a website. The rest of the world has become more aware of non-traditional whisky nations. You can ask for a Swedish, English, or Australian whisky in a bar. That’s been a massive sea change in ten years.”
As well as small batches and single casks, the distillery has a core range of single malts, pot-distilled single grains and a spicy Norfolk Malt ‘n’ Rye (with a cat on the label – why don’t more distilleries put cats on the label?). The Nelstrop are farmers but at the moment all the cereals in their commercial whiskies are bought-in, mainly from Crisp Malting. But, Winthrop told me, “we have barley from our own farm, all done on in-house floor malting. It’s expensive and hard work. We have our own whisky maturing, we’ve never sold any yet. When we release an age statement whisky then it’ll be estate whisky, as I call it.” That sounds worth waiting for.
Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:
Nose: Orange marmalade, chocolate sponge cake with vanilla custard, notes of anise and condensed milk.
Palate: Another helping of vanilla custard, with butterscotch, lemon drizzle cake, bitter dark chocolate and honeyed pastry.
Finish: Buttery toffee and liquorice on the finish.