Whisky – Mine’s an English

Taking on one of the world’s most powerful brands

With its lofty peaks, peaty water and the steady drip of rain on heather, Bassenthwaite seems an ideal place to make whisky. The nearest Scotch distillery is just 60 miles away. But when the Lakes Distillery, which has just been given planning permission, bottles its first casks of single malt in a few years’ time, strict EU rules will make it something quite different. It might look like Scotch and taste like Scotch, but the dram will be English.

“It was a stroke of genius coining ‘Scotch’ for a drink that can be made successfully anywhere,” says Andrew Nelstrop, a Norfolk farmer who in 2006 opened England’s first new distillery for more than a century. With the help of a former Laphroaig distiller – a contribution more crucial than any amount of peat or rainfall – St George’s Distillery now sells its English Whisky Company single malts to supermarkets in England, distributors overseas, and even in Scotland. In December Adnams, a Suffolk brewer, will bottle whisky that has been sitting in casks for three years – the time it takes for the European Union to recognise fermented cereal mash as whisky. The London Distillery Company in Battersea is soon to start barrelling a single malt aimed at young urbanites.

When that happens, England will have roughly the same number of whisky distilleries as it did in the 19th century. The reasons they closed are murky: a scarcity of equipment as Scottish whisky took off probably played a part. But the resurgence of English whisky is no mystery. Global demand is surging. In emerging economies it is the high-status tipple for a burgeoning middle class. Growth is strong even in mature markets like America. Over the last decade exports of Scotch have risen by 87%, reaching £4.3 billion ($7 billion) in 2012.

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