Established in 2006, St George’s Distillery – also known as The English Whisky Company – is the first whisky distillery to be built in England in over 120 years.
What’s that? England’s first whisky distillery in 120 years? That’s right, believe it or not, the English were making whisky way back in the 1800s with distilleries scattered around London, Liverpool and Bristol, the last of which to close was London’s Lea Valley Distillery, which swapped to gin production in 1902 before burning down in 1903 – probably a message from the whisky gods.
Fast forward a century and enter James Nelstrop, a man with plan and scion of a 600-year-old grain farming dynasty. A high achiever, James enjoyed a spectacular career in agriculture, highlights including introducing direct drilling to Australia, overseeing rural reconstruction in Russia, bringing the first centre pivot to England and turning a worn out veggie farm in Lakenheath into the first whole Countryside Stewardships Scheme Farm for organic sheep and cattle, all to encourage the wild bird population.
Somewhat of a workaholic, at age 60 with no intention of retirement whatsoever, he added a final first to the list. Faced with excess barley from his crops and an abundance of fresh water running through his property, James a passionate whisky drinker just like you and I, did what any of us would do in his position… he built a distillery.
In establishing the first new whisky distillery in England in more than 120 years, James is celebrated as the father of modern English whisky, much like our own Bill Lark here in Australia. Now sadly deceased, his obituary notes that “what pleased him even more (than establishing St. George’s) was the opening of several other English whisky distilleries, which gave him a sense of achievement in being the founder of an entire national industry.”
James and his son Andrew set off on a mission to learn all they could, researching distilleries in Scotland, Ireland and Wales (sounds just like our kind of field trip), and returned to Norfolk to lodge their plans for a micro-distillery in 2005. Customs and Excise said no to anything smaller than 1800 litre stills, dashing any hopes of keeping the operation at the micro-distillery level, so after things were scaled up, approval for the distillery was granted in January 2006 and thus St George’s Distillery, home of The English Single Malt was born.
Timing is everything, and as luck would have it, Laphroaig distillery manager and all round whisky legend Iain Henderson was just about ready to retire, but was coaxed into joining the team for one last hurrah, and by December 2006 the first 29 barrels of English whisky were laid down. The obligatory visitors’ center featuring a whisky shop and distillery tours followed shortly afterwards in August 2007, culminating in December 2009 with the release of the first legal English whisky in over 100 years.
Producing some 150,000 bottles a year, the English Whisky Company is today leading a spirited resurgence in English whisky. We’re honoured and delighted to be working with this fantastic team to bring you a history-making example of their finest work, created and bottled exclusively for The Whisky Club.