English journalists take such a gimpy, puerile attitude towards whisky made outside Scotland.
You’ll recognise the brand of clickbait doggerel. It’s ubiquitous when Jim Murray’s annual kilt-shy top five hoves into view. “The best whisky in the world has been announced, and guess what … it’s not Scottish”… “Scots left reeling as xyz named No.1” … “whisky from Australia – yes, really!” … “By Rabbie Burns’ bollocks – have a butcher’s where this grog’s from.”
I suppose, on the British Isles, the tendency is to think of whisky much as the French think of wine, which is to shrug at everyone else’s with derisory insouciance. Grudging exceptions made, in our case, for America and Japan.
Perhaps I’m judging harshly. My friends and colleagues are always surprised when I launch into rhapsodies on whiskies from Sweden, Australia, India, Holland. There isn’t much so-called world whisky on mainstream shelves; the distilleries tend to be small, crafty affairs, and so they don’t often pick up the column inches. But when these distilleries are releasing whiskies – often exceptional whiskies – that are 10, 13, 20 years old, reading a constant slurry of “you’ll never guess” headlines becomes more than a smidge grating.
And of course the yuckiest, gushiest, most eye-rollingly predictable hackery is reserved for England’s whiskies themselves.
The way these journalists grizzle you’d think that England started making whisky out of “how do you like them apples?” pettiness, deliberately to piss Scotland off. And that hordes of frothing, righteous, maniacal Jacobites are forming ranks near Berwick; standing by to claymore the impertinent plagiarists into Sassenach sashimi. Which, patently, they aren’t. Or, at least, no more than they were already.
Honestly, you can’t read an article on the subject without patronising guff or – more commonly – a breed of “we’re-coming-Jocks”, elbows-out, oi-oi bellicosity dribbling its way through the copy. The problem, simply, is that journalists don’t seem capable of writing about whisky – from anywhere – without comparing it to Scotland’s. Other countries aren’t given space to shine – or shrivel – on their own merits. And of course, centuries of mutual loathing being what they are, it’s especially delicious to compare the English to “them up north”. Particularly for the English themselves, whose knowledge of history is astonishingly selective, and to whom condescension is second nature.
It’s nonsense to compare anything to Scotch. Firstly, because comparing “to Scotch” implies that all Scotch is of generally equal quality, which is piffle, and secondly because it implies that all Scotch is magnificent, which is equally fallacious.
As we have said unto death on Malt, particularly in 2018, there is an awful lot of Scotch being bottled these days at which your kitchen sink would turn up its nose. Just as there is Scotch that represents whisky at its most dazzlingly beautiful. There are also utterly fabulous whiskies being made in dozens of countries worldwide, each of which is equally capable of bottling an absolute stinker.
It is quite simply impossible to compare entire countries directly when it comes to the style and quality of their whisky. And absurd even to attempt it. Most importantly, it is time to stop holding Scotland, Ireland and America as untouchable, perennial yardsticks. As the appointed, entitled custodians of matured aqua vitae. That hegemony is over, the world of whisky has become a more diverse place, and drinkers are all the luckier for it.
With that, it’s time to have a go at this trio of English Whiskies from St George’s distillery in Norfolk. I enjoyed tottering my way through their original “chapters” series, but I’ve not really caught up since the new look packaging and range consolidation. Time to amend that. To which end we have “Original” (unpeated) “The Smokey” (peated) and “Sherry Cask” (also unpeated). The former two clock in at 43%, and the Sherry is cask strength. (Which I didn’t notice until it walloped me in the nose.)
The English – Original
Colour: Marlborough Sauvignon. Very light.
On the nose: Very simple, if pleasant. Soft malt, milk rusks, white flowers. Apples and pears. There’s not much of the cask really – a waft of vanilla and pepper.
In the mouth: Fireworks continue to not appear. Grassy, dairy, slightly lemony, cereals, malt, light vanilla, honey. All fairly humdrum, with not much intensity. Decent, if not especially fulsome mouthfeel, but really rather anonymous.
The English – The Smokey
Colour: Same as the Original.
On the nose: The English Whisky Co do smoke well. And they have done it well here. Kildalton-esque, but rounder and with less TCP. Ham hock beside mineral, salt-soaked stone. But – again – not much behind that. Pears. Honeydew melon. Pine. Still a bit simple.
In the mouth: Loads of pine and minerality on the upfront palate – real walk-along-a-beach stuff, complete with the ashes from last night’s campfire. But no real fruit to speak of in support. Texture’s still decent. Lots of maltiness with a few dabs of vanilla.
The English – Sherry Cask
On the nose: Most expressive nose of the trio; baked apples, brown sugar, Amontillado and honeycomb. A light sultana. Golden syrup. It’s still young, but any immature notes have been shaved off, and the sherry doesn’t dominate the robust malt. Pepper and a little pencil shaving.
In the mouth: Palate’s a whopper – and sweet. More apples and honeycomb. The syrup is almost treacle and the honeys are immense. But not as immense, it must be said, as the somewhat dominant and fiery alcohol. Tread carefully. Sultanas, grapes and toffee fudge.
Unlike Mark, I happen to be a fan of the English Whisky Co, but The Original and The Smokey leave me rather cold. Feels like they’ve been dumbed down a little, doubtless for the mass market. Which, as an ambitious distillery consolidates and grows is, I guess, understandable. But it doesn’t mean that you and I have to like it. I’d spend an extra tenner and get The Cotswolds.
The Sherry Cask is rather more fun, if a little wild and unruly. Alas, I can’t see it in more than miniature form on their website. But perhaps a miniature is enough.
No must-haves in the trio though, which is a bit of a shame. But all three of them are miles better than a load of Scotches I’ve had this year. And you can tell the Scots I said so.