Over 20 English distilleries are now members of the EWG, all dedicated to producing whisky in England to the highest standards. Throughout the year, we'll take a deeper at the different distilleries.
First up, Stephen Russell from Copper Rivet in Kent.
What does English whisky mean to you?
Quality, passion and diversity.
One of the wonderful things about English whisky is that most of the distilleries are fairly recently born. They were founded and are led by people with a passion for whisky so deep they set about creating their own distilleries to make their own whisky – which is a serious undertaking, not least in terms of time, which cannot be taken lightly!
Being founded by lovers of beautifully made whisky, I find that each distillery has drawn on sources of best practice from the category globally for inspiration. And, for the most part, each of us is approaching it differently. You have distilleries curating the very best wood to bring to whisky making, distilleries focusing on grain and grain provenance, those making ‘traditional’ single malts and those making rye whisky, and distilleries, like ours, which is concentrating on using brewing / fermentation and distillation technique as the primary driver of flavour.
So, even within what is a small but growing community, we already have wonderfully diverse whisky. We all have a unique personality. Add to that our geographic spread from the far north west of England to the very south east, we have entirely different climates and maturation environments which, again, leads to very different whisky flavour outcomes. I think this offers consumers a fascinating category to explore.
It's with this whisky lovers’ passion and the focus on how we create the flavour profiles we’re all developing that you begin to understand why the quality of the whisky being produced is so high. Add to that, as a new category with outstanding global role models, we English have no choice but to produce the very best whisky we can.
What makes your whisky (and distillery) unique within the English whisky sphere?
Our approach to Masthouse Whisky is to concentrate on grain variety and provenance, brewing and fermentation and distillation technique as drivers of flavour. We make three core expressions of whisky, where the distillate is entirely different in character and then we mature them in the same (ex-Bourbon) casks. So for Masthouse Whisky, casks aren’t a driver of difference in flavour and we really focus on the steps before putting the new make into casks to generate our signature easy drinking, fruity floral distillery character.
What is the achievement that you are most proud of?
Making whisky is a labour of love for us. And what’s wonderful is that the spirit is truly the product of a natural process. So, after three and some years of patiently waiting, disgorging and marrying our first few casks to make and bottle the first batch of Masthouse Whisky will likely always be what we’re most proud of. But, if I can have a ‘first equal’, the sense of pride we feel is enormous when we see people taking a sip and absolutely loving it – this is, after all, why we started to make whisky.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for English whisky in 2023?
The challenges facing English whisky are, in my view, the same as those facing everyone – rising costs, economic instability, stretched consumers. The advantage English Whisky has is that it’s probably the most exciting whisky region with so much going on and for consumers to explore, this is contributing to a sense of momentum which I hope will offset some of the headwinds I described.
Longer term – how do you assess the future for English whisky?
English Whisky has a very bright future, especially if it maintains its focus on quality and flavour. Everyone I talk to everywhere in the world is hugely excited by what we’re doing and wowed by the product.