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It’s a far cry from the grandeur of Speyside but located on an anonymous industrial estate to the east of Bristol city centre, among the soft play centres and sign companies, there’s whisky being made. The distillery called Circumstance, the creation of two friends: Liam Hirt, a cardiologist, and Danny Walker, who has worked in or around bars all his life, including a short stint as a brand ambassador for Diageo which didn’t suit him.

The pair started distilling way back in 2007, making gin in a basement as a hobby, but in 2013 they opened a distillery near Bristol university named Psychopomp. After Pychopomp naturally, came Circumstance in August 2018. It’s a very small outfit, with a 1900-litre stainless pot still which can be connected to two column stills, a four plate and a 12 plate. Alcohol comes off the smaller column at around 70-72% ABV, preserving plenty of character. There are also a couple of tiny 300-litre gin stills which are used to make contract gin.

They work with a wide variety of raw materials including malted barley, oats, corn, rye, molasses, and triticale (a cross between rye and wheat and the only grain that isn’t UK grown). They also experiment with crystal and chocolate malts, and rice, as well as with an Irish-style single pot still spirit made with a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.

To ferment their barley spirits, they use a distillers yeast combined with a saison beer yeast. For oats, corn and rye, mead yeast is used. No enzymes are added so all the mash bills contain some malted barley to get things going. They ferment at low temperatures, which according to Scott gives fruity flavours. Fermentation times are measured in days rather than hours; some take two weeks to finish.

The maturation warehouse is basically a shed within their industrial unit, with 30-litre chestnut barrels both charred and uncharred, and some ex-bourbon from Jim Beam. Before putting the spirits in they seasoned some casks with tea and some with coffee. Wood comes not just from barrels but also oak spindles. This was copied from small distilleries in the US but the Circumstance team wanted to use English oak so they found a skilled woodworker to carve something to their specification which was then roasted.

Rather than wait the customary three years before they can call them whisky, the team has been releasing wood-aged spirits already, like Circumstantial Barley and Mixed Grain. Though the labels are minimalist, there’s exhaustive information about each bottle on the website.

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