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Distillery in East Anglia Making English Whiskey for First Time in More Than 100 Years

The majority of single malt whiskey becomes good at about eight to 10 years

For the first time in more than a century, whiskey is being distilled in England, at a new company in Norfolk in the southeast of the country.

In the British countryside of Norfolk, they're cooking up something they haven't made here for more than 100 years. Whiskey - English Whiskey.

"You have this thought that whiskey's made in Scotland, and most people think, 'Well, whiskey's Scottish,' and you get this link between the two, but actually, really beautiful whiskey's made everywhere," David Fitt, chief distiller said.

The casks they're using at St. George's Distillery come from the United States. Fitt says distilling whiskey in this part of England makes sense. "We have in East Anglia where we are located, arguably the best malting barley in the world, we have water, we have yeast. That's the ingredients you need to make whiskey," he said. "So why hasn't anyone done it? Why does no one do it?"

In fact, barley from here is used in whiskey made in Scotland. But only whiskey made and stored there can be called Scotch.

Opening a new distillery is a long-term investment. It takes a minimum of three years before the product is ready. To boost profits in the meantime, the company offers tours. Fitt takes potential customers through the basics. "If it's a malt whiskey, you have to use malted barley to make it, it's as simple as that," he explained.

Whiskey wasn't always the honey colored liquid it is today. Fitt says hundreds of years ago it was clear, and rather rough. High taxes imposed by Britain in the 18th century drove most whiskey distilling underground. When the taxes were repealed there was an expansion of production in Scotland and England in the 19th century. But Scotland's distilleries thrived while the last English one closed in 1880.

Visitors to St. George's can get a chance to taste different kinds of whiskey, to get a sense for what they like.

In the shop, there are caps and shirts, glasses, flasks, even bears, but no English Whiskey. The first release, about 700 bottles sold out in three hours. They do sell some of what's distilled here, but because it hasn't been in casks for three years, it can't be called whiskey, just spirit.

"I've had the spirit. I haven't had the whisky yet," Ben Sloane stated. Sloan came hoping to find English Whiskey. "I think the first batch is all sold out, Hopefully I'll try one of the second ones," he said.

In London, it's no easier to get English Whiskey, says Alex Huskinson, assistant manager of the Whiskey Exchange. "Since it's been released there's been enormous demand for it. We've seen hundreds and hundreds of people, pretty much constantly," he said.

But just because it's in demand doesn't mean it's good. The Whiskey Centre has a rare bottle stashed away for one of its staff because it is rare. Its novelty value makes it an ideal collector's item or investment to sell later.

"This is the one I'm going to be sitting on for the next six to seven years, and then selling as an investment," Huskinson said.

But Huskinson says it's too young to be a really good whiskey yet. "The majority of single malt whiskey becomes good at about eight to 10 years. At three years old, it's very tricky to find out whether or not it's actually going to be any good," he said.

There are whiskeys from all over the globe here. Recent tastings have shown selections from India and the Far East rank among the world's best. England's distiller is hoping it too will find a prominent place in the whiskey world.