View Full Version : Why no "English" Whiskey
I've always wondered, since there is Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whiskey, why isn't there English (or for that matter, Welsh) Whiskey?
There is no English whisky because the English make the best gin in the world, which is laurels enough. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Seriously, whisky was distilled in England at one time, certainly in the North Country. Some writers theorise that whisky came to England from Ireland (the Middle Ages) and went into Scotland overland from the south.
However, no (legal) whisky has been made in England for a very long time. Possibly, the always strong Celtic connection to whisky persuaded the English that Scotland and Ireland make it better than anyone else, so why bother? Or possibly Albion felt whisky was not truly a drink for Englishmen (beer and gin, amongst other things, fulfilling that mandate), so the local industry may have faded from lack of support in the patriotic sense..
Possibly whisky was felt (largely) unneccessary in the equable English climate. The weather can get rather ... unequable in the Borders, Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and environs, but there they could get cheap whisky from Scotland - certainly after the Union.
Wales has occasionally made whisky in the 19th and 20th centuries - the Celtic tie perhaps explaining the essay - but it hasn't endured there.
In a word, the Scots and Irish are champs at whisky making and that together with other factors has ensured their long-standing monopoly of the trade in the British Isles.
There is actually a brand new Welsh whisky on the market. Itīs called Penderyn and to my knowledge it is a genuine Welsh product as opposed to some earlier stuff which, in fact, was Scotch mixed with herbs grown in Wales.
Well done Hedmans; we must speak then of Scottish and Irish hegemony in whisky-making but not monopoly. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
I found a reference on www.maltwhiskey.org (http://www.maltwhiskey.org) to Prince of Wales, which is apparently a vatting of Welsh whiskey with other malts.
I think your "weather" explanation is very plausible. But gin and ale also may have been enough. Germany and Austria have some spirits but beer consumption is so great that the spirits just are not as important.
After reading all the other responses to date I find myself wondering whether historical transportation capability and markets were a factor.
IOW, why go to the time and expense of distilling if nearby consumers are happy to consume the fermented product, and it's economical to get it to them?
Such patterns, once established, could hold sway for generations, even centuries.
Good point, Dave, the English summer is short and generally cool, which means fermentation could occur almost year round even before mechanical refrigeration. So, beer was available (cider in the cider lands) and thus, why bother with distillation? In Scotland, barley and hops were dearer than in England, certainly hops were because this was a crop associated with England and it had to be imported. (To this day traditional Scottish ale is less hopped than English beer). And a malt-only beer was more perishable than a hopped one.. Yet, in Belgium and other lands where beer is known and established, local distilling was, too, so perhaps other factors were at play in England (different religious traditions may be at work, in part, for example). The English temperament may be as equable as the weather generally is in England, thus precluding a sustained interest in strong drink. More than once I have been told by English friends that "whisky is Scotch drink" which may indicate a rooted cultural pattern despite the oceans of whisky that flow down into England from Scotland. There may be tax factors, now lost in history, which explain, or reinforced, the absence of a distilling trade in England. But certainly the general, year-round availability of good beer would have diminished interest in distillation, no question.
It could be argued, though surely by no one here, that whiskey is a product of incomplete distillation and, hence, somewhat crude. Of all the cultures that have had distillation technology, relatively few have made whiskey. Most cultures that have distilled from grain have pursued a high proof distillate that was then flavored to the maker's taste with herbs, fruit, etc. Barrel aging, which is the whiskey-maker's alternative to high proof distillation and flavoring, is inefficient because it takes so long.
Another way to look at it is that whiskey-making is more akin to brandy-making and may have related cultural roots, and also may have developed prior to the technological improvements that made clear spirits possible, "possible" in this case meaning "palatable."
I suggest that whiskey-making developed earlier and continued to be more compatible with the natural and technological resources available in those regions even after technology made the cheaper and faster clear spirits possible.
Good points, since the question was why no whisky in England not why no distillation.
My points are:
(i) the English are not really big into spirits as a whole; gin has been influential but it was class-based (a naval, colonial and middle and business class drink rather than a strictly national one). No spirit, aged or otherwise, acquired a national resonance in England as whisky did in Scotland and America, for example;
(ii) the above probably is liked to climatic and temperamental reasons but other factors may explain the English attitude to hard drink: what is clear is to this day the national alcoholic drink in England is beer; and
(iii) in the places cereals were distilled other than Scotland, France and America, the availability of cheap wooden barrels was likely an issue. Think of the steppes of Ukraine and Russia, not much wood there. Yes, parts of the Baltic had a lot of wood but not the industry or capital (I surmise) to develop and transport large barrel inventories, not until recently that is but now good quality rectified alcohol is established there, so no whisky-making tradition can implant. I believe the Scots, by dint of their early, notable railway, shipping and financial expertise, were able in the 1800's to ship barrels more easily than in these other parts of Europe.
> It could be argued, though surely by no one here, that whiskey is a product of
> incomplete distillation and, hence, somewhat crude.
> I suggest that whiskey-making developed earlier and continued to be more
> compatible with the natural and technological resources available in those
> regions even after technology made the cheaper and faster clear spirits
So this brings up the question of when whiskey was legitimized in
non-whiskey-producing areas, where the clear spirits (or beer, or whatever)
were favored. Today we have the notion that aged whiskey is a fine
and honorable product, but certainly in the past it was just seen as
crude local fire-water.
In 1853, someone got the idea of taking very flavorful Scottish malt whisky, cutting it with nearly-neutral grain whiskey, and selling it to the English. It worked. The brand was Usher's, the first blended scotch.
Chuck, that's an absolutely great answer.
I love straightbourbon.com.
The question "why no English whisky" could soon be irrelevant: there are serious plans to establish a malt distillery in Cumbria, near the town of Staveley.
I don't think teh availability of local beers was a factor. Beer production and whiskey production were two massive industries in Ireland in Victorian times. They were able to survive side by side.
The English would have also had the whole commonwealth as it;s market if it wanted to produce whisky.
England is in an ideal location to produce whiskey. It has all the raw materials. It also had lots of Scots who would have come down to teach them how, but no. I have no idea really.
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