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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 July 2007, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Whisky galore but none to drink
Patrick Byrne
BBC News, Norfolk

The first whisky distillery built in England for more than 100 years.

The first whisky distillery to be built in England for over 100 years opens its doors to visitors next month but none of them will be able to taste a drop.

The English Whisky Company is to open a visitor centre at its 1m East Harling distillery in Norfolk on 18 August.

Production is well under way but the whisky has to mature and cannot be sold until at least Christmas 2009.

However, they will be able to see master distiller Iain Henderson at work.

The distillery is the brainchild of farmer Andrew Nelstrop, 35, and his father James.

Everything about the distillery has an authentic ring, from the look of its building with a characteristic malthouse cupola, to the copper coloured whisky stills.

Norfolk is said to be ideal for whisky making because it is a prime barley growing area, has a strong tradition of brewing quality beers and has good sources of underground water
Andrew Nelstrop

The Nelstrops wanted a distinctive flavour for their brew so they hired an expert from Scotland to create the right recipe.

Merchant seaman Iain Henderson, 72, came ashore after getting married and took up a job in a whisky distillery and has never looked back.

His qualifications read like a Michelin guide to the best distilleries of mainland Scotland and the islands.

The expert was brought out of retirement by the Nelstrops and crossed the border to bring the joys of whisky-making to England.

'Bourbon barrels'

Andrew Nelstrop said local people were apprehensive about the plans for the distillery but warmed to the idea once they saw that the buildings would have real character and production would use traditional techniques.

Mr Nelstrop said: "Norfolk is ideal for whisky making because it is a prime barley growing area, has a strong tradition of brewing quality beers and has good sources of underground water.

You have to be an engineer, chemist, manager and have a feeling for whisky to be successful as a distiller
Iain Henderson

"These are the basic ingredients you need to make whisky but the real skill comes from the master distiller.

"We are storing the maturing whisky in Bourbon barrels from the United States and already have a secure warehouse full of stock.

"However, it will not be ready to drink until Christmas 2009 at the earliest. We also want it to mature longer to improve the taste even further."

I tasted the whisky by dipping my fingers into a sample and its taste was like "caramel" and similar to malts I know from Islay but was distinctive and different.

'Cattle fodder'

Mr Henderson said he used the traditional skills he had learnt at distilleries in Islay and across Scotland to create a distinctive taste.

He said: "You have to be an engineer, chemist, manager and have a feeling for whisky to be successful as a distiller.

"It is necessary to have consistent quality for barley, yeast and water.

"We buy Norfolk barley malted in Berwick which is the same quality as the Scottish distilleries use.

"The yeast breaks this down into a beer and we are lucky here at Thetford because all the water comes from our own well.

"The basic beer is then distilled to take of the alcohol and other volatile ingredients to make the whisky. The raw materials are made into cattle fodder."

A two-stage distilling process ensures that all the alcohol is gathered and eventually becomes whisky.

By 2010, for the first time for over 100 years, English whisky will be available distilled in Norfolk.




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