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St Georges Day Special 1 - The Copper House Distillery

By Dominic Roskrow

The Copper House Distillery at the Adnams Brewery is Southwold, Suffolk, is a few months from taking English whisky to a new level. I went to check out the spirit at 28 months.

Winter came late to England's East coast, and it departed reluctantly. While it was with us it was fierce and intense, and even sleepy East coast seaside towns such as Southwold were still doing a good impression of Scotland well in to April.

A few miles north at St George's in Norfolk they'll tell you that the English East coast is milder and more suited to accelerated maturation when compared to that of the Scottish Highlands. You wouldn't know it in Southwold on a day like this, though.

Adnams Brewery sits at the heart of the town and its branches stretch out to the pubs, hotels and shops in the town. For those of you who not aware, Adnams is one of the most respected brewers in the whole of England, its full flavoured traditional ales sharing space with innovative and exciting beers, and a thriving wine and spirits business, which includes its own vodka, gin and absinthes from its Copper House Distillery - a perfect marriage of old fashioned English beer and a forward-facing modern and cosmopolitan drinks provider.

Oh and there's one other factor to bear in mind - they don't do bland here.

"We pride ourselves at providing the finest quality from grain to grass," says Jonathan Adnams. "We believe in having a big flavour so that you know what you're drinking. We'd much rather you said you didn't like the drink rather than have no opinion at all."

Which all makes for considerable room for excitement when it comes to the distillery's first whiskies. And unbelievably, we're now only a few months away from the distillery becoming England's second regular whisky producer.

There are four whisky spirits maturing here, and two are set for release at the very beginning of December, just after they turn three years old. Which prompts the obvious first questions: how can the company be so sure they're going to be ready for market, and are economic factors coming in to play here?


If at this point you're just mildly curious and only a little bit interested, then set your dials three or four notches higher. Let's not beat about the bush: Adnams is taking European whisky in to new and unchartered territory, is joining a handful of whiskies worldwide at the forefront of a whisky revolution, and offering whisky enthusiasts new and different tasting whisky, which is just as valid as some of the very best Scotch whiskies.

I'll go further and say that never mind three years - both of the whisky spirits are good enough for purchase now - and I'm making provision to buy a couple of extra bottles of each as soon as they are available.

"We are delighted with them but we have noticed the spirit change quite dramatically in maturation," says distiller John McCarthy. "We didn't know where the journey was taking us but we have tried to do something a little different but not cut corners. For instance we use a unique brewer's yeast and we do have not rushed fermentation. That has made a difference."

We are tasting the spirits at cask strength of course, and all the whiskies will be bottled at 43%, but they are rich and full of flavour.

The two releases both have their own quirks. The single malt whisky is matured in virgin French oak and unsurprisingly has a delightful spiciness; there's toffee and some citrus notes with water. It's a clean sharp and structured malt spirit, with liquorice and aniseed. But I'm a sucker for oak spice and it's here in lashings.

The second whisky is made from a three grain grist made up of 60 per cent wheat, 35 per cent of malted barley and five per cent malted barley. This mix has been used as an Irish Single Pot Still grist but here in England it's matured in toasted virgin American oak and it's awesome - with big candy, vanilla, coconut and gentle lemon and lime sherbet. In fact it's very zesty and fresh, and there are softer spices towards the end here.

You'll have to wait another two years for the other two whiskies - one a single malt matured in American oak bourbon barrels and an amazingly liquorice-soaked rye matured in Russian or east European oak.

Copper House have struck gold and these whiskies will be a snip at under £45 a bottle. Make a note in your diary for December 5. These will sell like hot cakes.