Within the next 12 months god’s own county will boast its first ever single malt whisky – we meet the team perfecting the Spirit of Yorkshire.
I f you’ve ever been to a Scottish whisky distillery, you’ll know the drill. Think white washed, ancient buildings, nestled underneath brooding skies, with the sound of a stream thundering down the mountains nearby.
Yorkshire’s first ever whisky distillery is a little different. For Spirit of Yorkshire, home is an unremarkable industrial estate on a B-road a few miles from Filey. However, while it may lack the obvious romance of some of its Scottish counterparts, it’s inside where the real magic happens.
“These two copper stills are the largest outside of Scotland,” says whisky director Joe Clarke. “Such is the demand, if you wanted to order them today, there would probably be a three to four year waiting list.
“Until fairly recently there was a perception that whisky was only really drunk by older men, but its appeal is actually far wider. I organised a whisky event a few years ago in London and I remember looking round and noticing how many women there were in their 30s and 40s.
“They hadn’t been dragged along by their partner. They were there because they loved whisky and while that is definitely something you wouldn’t have seen 10 years ago it does show you how much the profile has changed.”
Keen to be part in a thriving industry, Yorkshire’s first single malt was the brainchild of Tom Mellor and David Thompson. Mellor had already diversified from farming and it was having set up the award-winning Wold Top Brewery that he first began to wonder why no one in this part of the world had thought of whisky production.
“Initially, I suspected if no one was doing it there must be a good reason, but I looked and looked and couldn’t find one,” he says. “On the farm we grow barley and we have our own water supply. They are the two key ingredients of whisky and when I talked to David the pair of us decided we should give it a go.”
The reason no one else has brought whisky to Yorkshire might well be lack of patience. While it’s possible to set up an artisan gin distillery on a Monday and have your first bottles out by the Friday, whisky offers no such quick returns.
When the first bottles of fully matured Spirit of Yorkshire go on sale next winter it will be a full three years since the stills were first fired up and even then, the most prized single malts will need at least another 10 years in the cask.
However, over the last 12 months Tom and David have released a limited number of bottles of what’s described as a maturing malt. The fourth edition has just gone on sale and while it’s not the finished article, it has given the whisky world a first taste of what’s brewing in Yorkshire.
“It has been really lovely to see how the flavour has developed even in such a relatively short amount of time,” says Joe. “Some people mistakenly think that to be classified as a single malt it has to come from a single barrel of spirit, but actually it means a whisky produced from a single distillery.
“We are using both bourbon and sherry casks to mature Spirit of Yorkshire. Every single one has its own distinct character and to get just the right balance of tastes, for the final version we will combine flavours which we hope will reveal new depths.”
The clock has just ticked past 11am when Joe cracks out the tasting glasses and pours out a small sample of the lightly golden spirit. He offers water, but I go with the purist method of drinking it neat and definitely not on the rocks. Even for a non-whisky drinker it tastes surprisingly light and I leave not only with the back of my throat intact, but well on the way to conversion.
“We are not trying to rival Scotch, that would be foolish, but we are trying to create something unique in its own right,” adds Joe. “We started running tours of the distillery a little while ago and from all the feedback we’ve had, it feels like there is a real market for what we are doing here.
“The symbol of Spirit of Yorkshire is the gannet. We are just down the road from Bempton Cliffs which has the largest gannet colony on the UK mainland. Like them, the team behind Spirit of Yorkshire has prospered in this part of the world and while we are always exploring new ideas this is our home.”