Did you know that there are Whisky distilleries in England distilling “English” whisky?
In fact there are now 24 active whisky distilleries in England.
One that caught my eye recently was Dartmoor Distillery in Devon after a friendly exchange with their social media team a week or so ago.
The origins of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery can be traced back to Islay in the Hebrides several years ago, where a group of whisky enthusiasts had travelled to make whisky. On their return, they began to question why there weren’t any whisky distilleries in Devon.
Devon’s climate and soil is perfect for growing great quality barley, the granite geology of Dartmoor is a wonderful filter for clear spring water, and the exceptional air quality with sea breezes provide great storage during maturation.
With outstanding local malt producers like Warminster Maltings, one of the oldest established traditional barley malting houses in the country, and more cask beer brewers than any other county in England, all of the components to make a very fine single malt whisky were already present in Devon.
After working at Bruichladdich Distillery on the island of Islay back in 2009, founder Greg Millar dreamt up the project. With the help of Simon Crow, this dream became a reality and Dartmoor Whisky was born.
Greg scoured the globe for the very best still to create their new make spirit, and found a beautiful 1966 copper cognac still in the heart of the French countryside in Cognac. The still arrived in Devon in 2014 and was soon installed in its new home, the Old Bovey Tracey Town Hall. This wonderful Victorian building proved the perfect place to house the new distillery and gave the historic old building a much-needed new lease of life. According to the Dartmoor Distillery team,
“Frank McHardy, a master distiller with over 50 years of experience at Springbank and Bushmills Distilleries, travelled from Campbeltown in Scotland to assess the new project. We were delighted when Frank agreed to be our Master Distiller, and he has guided us throughout each stage of our process to ensure that we produce a very fine single malt whisky”.
Dartmoor Whisky is made using local ingredients wherever possible.
All ingredients including barley and spring water are from neighbouring Dartmoor National Park.
Their barley is originally grown at Preston Farm, just up the road from the distillery in Dartmoor.
Since the closure of a more local maltings in Newton Abbot on the east side of Dartmoor National Park, the barley from Preston Farm is now malted at Warminster Maltings in Somerset.
While neighbouring Somerset is best known for cider production, it is also a leading brewing county with over 20 active breweries and over 100 local beer brands. Warminster is Britain’s oldest working maltings. Barley is malted there using the traditional techniques of germination floors and good old-fashioned manpower, turning the barley with a malt shovel daily.
One freedom that English whisky has is that unlike say Irish Whiskey which must be mashed, fermented and distilled in the one location, beer wash for the Dartmoor Whisky Stills is brewed by local cask ale producers to a recipe, specified by Master Distiller Frank McHardy. Another freedom of English Whisky is that like Irish whiskey, but unlike Scotch whisky, they are not restricted to the use of oak casks allowing greater innovation in maturation.
The primary or wash distillation takes the beer wash from around 9% to 25% ABV. After three primary distillations, the ‘low wines’ are then returned to the single copper pot still for second distillation to produce the finished spirit at around 70% ABV.
This double distillation model using a single pot still makes for an interesting case study for the Irish Whiskey industry who will shortly be considering whether or not to amend the Irish Whiskey technical file to permit the double or triple distillation of Irish Whiskey using a single pot still for all distillation cycles.
The new make spirit is then transferred into carefully-sourced barrels for the maturation process to begin. Dartmoor Whisky is matured in three barrel types to create three core expressions: American Oak Bourbon Casks, French Oak wine Casks and Spanish Sherry Casks.
Dartmoor Distillery are now showcasing their current whiskies with the new Dartmoor Whisky Discovery Set, a whisky tasting set featuring three miniature 50 ml bottles of their three core expressions.
Each set includes;
- 1 x 50ml Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky
- 1 x 50ml Ex-Bordeaux Cask Single Malt Whisky
- 1 x 50ml Ex-Oloroso Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky
Presented in a beautiful gift box, this whisky tasting set is a great introduction to the South West’s only whisky distillery. Featuring three miniature bottles of our current releases, you can experience the full Dartmoor Whisky range and identify flavour notes with the accompanying tasting notes.
Dartmoor Whisky Core Expressions – Official Tasting Notes.
The Ex-Bourbon Cask expression is matured solely in a single American White Oak cask, giving it a light golden hue. It has a sweet vanilla aroma and notes of toffee, crème brûlée and marshmallow on the palate.
The Ex-Bordeaux Cask expression is a smooth and well-balanced whisky. Distilled in a barrel from the Bordeaux region of France, this expression takes on aromas of the highest-quality French red wine. Expect soft fruit on the nose and wine gum fruit flavours on the palate with a hint of coconut and chocolate.
The Ex-Oloroso Sherry Cask expression is distilled in our beautiful copper still from the Jerez region of Spain. The barrel imparts beautifully sweet and rich flavours on the whisky, with notes of sherry, hazelnut, marzipan and sultanas on the palate complemented by a full, fruity aroma.
This is a great way to explore Dartmoor Whiskies before investing in a full bottle. The set also makes the perfect gift for those with a passion to learn more about English single malt whisky.
You can find out more on their online whisky shop here.
I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Dartmoor Distillery yet, but I do have some old sailing buddies and contacts in Devon who are long overdue a visit! Sounds like a possible road trip or even boat trip for next summer!