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  • Writer's pictureJames Lawrence

Ten Years of English Spirit

Today we are celebrating our tenth birthday! It’s been ten years since the English Vodka Company (later renamed to the English Spirit Distillery) was formally established on October 22nd 2011. It's a very special day for our company, especially as one of the UK's first artisan distilleries to reach their tenth birthday at all. In this post, we look back at the last ten years, and to celebrate how our Master Distiller's aim 'to make the best spirit money can buy' has taken us on a truly magnificent journey to make us the unique company we are today. Grab a glass, pour yourself a measure of your favourite tipple and join us for a stroll down memory lane.

John Walters pouring English rum
Make mine a rum please!

Back before English Spirit was even a twinkle in John’s eye, he made his first foray into distilling after hearing a now infamous broadcast on Radio 4 about distilling eau de vie in France. Wanting to prove it could be done in Britain too, he built a 4 litre still and distilled a grape eau de vie: which proved to be sufficiently tasty to encourage him to have a few more goes at distilling spirits. That first experiment set off a chain of events that took John on a fulsome adventure of discovery and flavour.

“We made a grape wine, fermented it and distilled it twice and tried it. At that stage we were drinking a cognac we’d bought, and ours was better. And I thought hmmn, that’s £140 a bottle, that’s . . . not a lot. So we made other things, an elderberry eau de vie and some vodka and they were better than you can find [commercially]. I looked at the numbers and thought ‘this will work, there’s plenty of scope here for making superb spirits, but offering them at a price people can afford’.” - Dr John

Today, we distil the UK’s widest variety of different spirits and liqueurs distilled under one roof. We distilled Britain’s first rum, sambuca and baijiu. We’ve won World’s Best Vodka, World’s Best Gin, World’s Best Rum and many more prestigious international awards. Today, John has over 30,000 hours of experience at the stills, and is regarded as one of the UK’s most expert distillers. His philosophy on distilling spirits is the same today as it was then: only the best, nothing less.

Not long after establishing himself as a full-time distiller, our HMRC officer pointed John in the direction of our first contract production job: a vineyard in Coggeshall, Essex. Like John, the owner was starting out in the drinks business, and approached John to see whether he could turn any of her initial trial runs into a spirit. Or as he remembers it: “Can you turn my crappa into grappa?” He took up the challenge and did just that: which set us on the course to producing spirits for other companies too.

Today, we have firmly established a reputation as the UK’s only ultra-premium contract distillery. Our clients and partners are some of Britain's most respected producers, brands and legends. We work with anyone from household names, to royal warrant holders, famous British legends and celebrities, and quality brands of all sizes. We have been fortunate to work on some superbly exciting projects, like distilling some of the world’s rarest teas, and using locally grown sorghum grass to distil Britain’s first baijiu. We are proud to work with some truly fantastic people: the best in their respective fields, as part of our mission to be the best in ours.

“I really do see ourselves as the only Michelin-star-equivalent contract producer for anyone in the world who wants that service. Our clients regularly win top awards for their products within their first year. So people come to us knowing that whatever they conceive of, that we will produce the best version that’s possible to make of that.” - Dr John

The last ten years have also marked some serious changes of scenery for us. In 2011, John launched our distillery at the Old Salt Depot in Dullingham, Cambridgeshire. The HMRC interview for our licence there was conducted outside the shed on deckchairs! In 2016 our operation moved to the Black Barn at Great Yeldham Hall in Essex, a historic site with room for plenty more stills and expansion of production. Our distillery at Great Yeldham Hall, still operational today, is the only one of its kind in Europe; not to mention producing nearly two million bottles in 2019.

I set up Cambridgeshire’s first distillery at the Old Salt Depot, in the small and quite unwelcoming village of Dullingham. Kicking off with just one 200L alembic still and a reflux column, that to be quite frank, was no cop. It was a challenge to make 120 bottles a week. Now at my Great Yeldham distillery, we have 20 plus stills, with 280+ still turns a week and I love what I do more and more each day. - Dr John

In addition, and in what could be described as a fondness for old barns, John acquired another site in 2017 at Treguddick Manor in Cornwall. The old agricultural barn there was meticulously planned, designed and handcrafted by our team to create the newest home of English Spirit: a state-of-the-art distillery, café and visitor experience, with five special geodesic domes to house our ingredients. We are one of the only English distilleries to have two distilleries: each very different from the other, but both superb places for us to do what we love and do best: to make truly superb spirits & liqueurs and share them with people for the continuous enjoyment of now and the future.

It’s safe to say that the last ten years have been many things for us: an adventure, a rollercoaster, a great success. But most importantly, it’s been a lot of fun. We look forward to our company’s next ten years: we can’t wait to see what we can achieve.

“It’s about harnessing a dream, and bringing new things into reality. it’s easy to copy something else, but difficult to make an entirely new route altogether.” - Dr John


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