The English distilling revolution is starting to get into its stride, and now Suffolk brewing legend Adnams is aiming to put its mark on the whisky making map. Bringing several hundred years of beer making knowledge to bear on the whisky making process, the company has installed an impressive still house, and is embracing the creativity and freedom that is embodied by the American craft distilling movement.
Chairman Jonathan Adnams says the idea was not to try to recreate Scotch but find their own way in distilling.
He adds: “Really we are cutting out own path, we are looking to produce spirits here with a grain to glass craft ethos, we are creating craft quality, not industrial alcohol. It has flavour and body.
“It started when I was reading a report about the growth of micro distilling in the USA, and at that time there was something like 100 of them. I thought that this might go the way the micro brewing did in the 60s and 70s. Where small company brewing became huge in the States and then washed over to the UK. I began thinking that we had the room.
“I came across the English Whisky Company, then Tyrells started producing vodka, then Sipsmiths emerged and I though that there was clearly a need out there for craft spirits. We had a viable site, and of course a brewery so it was an interesting idea.”
Having upgraded the brewery with state of the art equipment from Germany, it was a logical extension to bolt the distillery on afterwards, again with no expense spared. The £750,000 distillery features a beer stripping column, similar to the ones used in the Bourbon industry, a 1000 litre capacity potstill, a 42 plate rectifying column and a de-meth column.
Jonathan says: “I believe we are the first in the country to do this. With the investment in the brewing technology we have made, it gave us the Rolls Royce of front ends for a distillery.
“The Hauptman system we use is very sophisticated when it comes to brewing and mashing. It allows us to have more control over some of the processes than a standard distillery would.”
“It becomes like wall paper paste but because of the sophisticated technology we have we can get it through. Viscose is not the word"
Adnams started, like many craft distillers, with vodka and then moved to gin. Jonathan explains: “ We do everything in a single pass and we are the only people to do this as far as we know in this country. Once you have the vodka, then you can move to gin. This is a small batch process, everything comes off the still. We are running different times for the hearts, head and tails. I have no qualms about the standard of liquid coming from the still house, and if you are to make first rate vodka and gin you need a decent starting place, not industrial grade alcohol.
Currently the company has three types of whisky aging in its cellars. All based on locally grown, East Anglian malted cereals, with which are brewed to create a “distillery wash” – a 7% ABV beer, unhopped – using a unique two strain brewing yeast, that has been in use for more than 70 years.
There is a standard 100 per cent malted barley, a tri-grain made up of oats, malted barley and wheat and then a 100 per cent rye.
Distiller John Mac says the rye was a little difficult to do: “It becomes like wall paper paste but because of the sophisticated technology we have we can get it through. Viscose is not the word.
“We have a seven day fermentation for beers, and it's pretty much the same for the distillation side. The fermentation is pretty much done in the first three days but we find if it is left longer then it help to degas. There is lots of CO2 coming off, the yeast is very flocculent, we leave it to fall in and sink. This gives us hazy worts by the end.”
Jonathan adds: “We are big on our yeast management, is it fundamental to the flavour. Yeast is a brewer’s DNA, more so than any malt variety. Also the temperature at which it works is important.”
Soon to hit the shelves, to bolster an already impressive line up of two vodkas and two gins, is the Spirit of Broadside. Jonathan explains: “Essentially this is our Broadside beer run through the distillery, hops and all, and stripped back into eau de vie.”
The experimentation does not stop there, the new distiller is also investing in an impressive wood policy.
The 100 per cent malted barley spirit goes into medium toasted French oak, first fill, with untoasted heads; the three grain goes into American oak, medium toasted with toasted heads. The rye is in European oak medium toast with untoasted heads. Three recipes, three different casks. The Spirit of Broadside goes into heavy toasted Russian oak.
Adnams is now investing in packing and bottling facilities as well as a dunnage-style warehouse, as the space it is currently using for maturation, which is the original 1600s cellars under the brewery, is now full. The whisky is not due to be released until 2013, when it is ready, but already it is showing signs of maturing into a decent spirit.
Jonathan says that people are coming on tours and investigating the new distillery: “The visitor centre has had 12,000 people last year and going well this year. People are keen to learn about the art of craft distilling.”
100 per cent malted barley from cask number 1
clean, bags of fresh bread, red fruits, zesty, creamy. Water brings spun sugar, coconut and hard candy sweets.
Vanillas, hay, honeycomb. Water brings green apple, sharp zesty fruits, and the oats gives a creamy full mouthfeel.
100 per cent rye
Big dusty rye spice hit, coffee, tangy, liquorice.
Spirit of Broadside
15 months old: coffee red berries, a little ester note, slight hops.