Single malt whisky distilling comes to Yorkshire

12th April, 2017 by Amy Hopkins

An experimental new distillery that focuses on provenance and traceability has opened in Yorkshire, producing the county’s first single malt whisky using local barley.

Spirit of Yorkshire is distilling its single malt whisky in traditional pot stills as well as a column still

The ‘grain to glass’ Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery is an extension of Wold Top Brewery, where milling, mashing and fermentation operations are based, creating the alcohol wash for the whisky. Distilling operations are based in the village of Hunmanby, 2.5 miles away from the brewery.

Brewery founder and local barley farmer Tom Mellor set up with distillery with his friend David Thompson last year, using his concerto spring barley crop to make single malt whisky. All water used in production is sourced from chalk aquifiers below the farm.

Spirit of Yorkshire plans to eventually offer full traceability of the barley used in its whisky. “The distillery is an extension of the brewery, which itself is an extension of the farm,” said Joe Clark, director of whisky at Spirit of Yorkshire. “We only use barley grown ourselves, so lots of traceability. We want to put field numbers on our bottles eventually.”

Mellor and Thompson were mentored by revered whisky expert Dr Jim Swan, who died earlier this year, in setting up Spirit of Yorkshire and commenced their innovative whisky-making operations last year.

“In terms of production, we are following his [Jim Swan’s] rule book,” added Thompson.

While milling, mashing and fermentation takes place at Wold Top, the producers have “full control” over this part of the whisky-making process since ingredients and machinery are “kept separate” from brewing processes.

The manual distillery has been designed to “offer a lot of copper contact” and features a wash still and spirit still, as well as a four-plate column still – said to be the first created by Forsyths.

In the whisky industry, column stills are largely used to distill grain whisky, but Spirit of Yorkshire will distill its spirit “traditionally” using the wash and spirit stills for six months of the year, and then distill malt in the column still for six months.

The column still operates in conjunction with the spirit still, as spirit vapour is redirected from the spirit still away from the condenser and through the column, which creates a “light and very high abv new-make”.

Innovative cask programme

The pot and column still liquid will be aged separately, but will then be combined for Spirit of Yorkshire’s core expression – which will be exclusively aged in first-fill Bourbon barrels from Old Forester.

Spirit of Yorkshire plans to release a whisky aged in Yorkshire oak

Around 90% of the distillery’s whisky will be aged in this type of barrel, but an experimental maturation programme includes a limited number of small barrels and a range of Sherry casks, including PX, fino and oloroso, both butts and hogsheads.

In addition, the distillery has filled a small number of ‘staved, toasted and roasted’ (STR) red wine casks and some oloroso casks that contained Sherry macerated with Seville orange peel.

Spirit of Yorkshire is also in discussions with a local estate to fell some trees to create casks from Yorkshire oak.

In total, 400 barrels have been filled so-far and are stored in maturation warehouses based on-site at Mellor’s farm. “We are trying to completely the cycle – from Yorkshire barley to Yorkshire oak,” added Clark.

Spirit of Yorkshire expects to release its whisky – which will be bottled on-site at the distillery – at 3.5-years-old. “But if it’s not right, we are not going to rush to market,” added Thompson.

The distillery, which has not received any outside investment, will exclusively produce single malt and has no plans to move into white spirits, but may release a partially aged ‘young spirit’.

“We want to be classed as a serious whisky producer, not a ‘craft’ distiller who set up the distillery as a hobby,” said Mellor. “This is a serious enterprise and we just want to concentrate on whisky – that’s why we are not making gin.

“We don’t want to buy in industrial alcohol and then make a gin as there’s no provenance. We are not buying product from here, there and everywhere – it’s not part of our ethos.”

In order to help fund production, 100 of the distillery’s casks have been sold under an ‘Explorer Club’ for £2,850 each.

Spirit of Yorkshire has been able to implement experimental production processes since English whisky is not subject to the same rigorous regulations as Scotch brands, according to Thompson.

“What we always said was, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just want to be a bit different,” he said. “You can get stuck in tradition and that’s not what we want. We can learn from tradition but we do not want to be stuck in tradition.”

Currently, Spirit of Yorkshire is distilling four times a week and has an annual capacity of 80,000 litres of pure alcohol, with room for expansion.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery also features and café and shop and will start to offer tours from Easter Monday this year.

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