It’s no secret that craft distilling is on the rise across the UK. As you travel the length and breadth of the country you will find that you can barely move for new producers and, for the first time in recorded history, England (166) now has more licensed distilleries than Scotland (160).
While the boom in locally-produced gin is behind much of the initial growth, many of these new sites have long-term plans to produce whiskey as well. They just need a little time to let the spirit mature in the new warehouses sprouting from Salcombe to the Lake District.
While they wait for the magic to happen (and hope the angels don’t get too greedy), gin production is one of several ways these start-ups are looking to overcome the immense barriers to entry in a category where the core product comes with at least a three-year lead time. Alternatives, such as straightforward crowd-funding or the sale of whimsically named below-age products (such as Cornish Moonshine and various forms of ‘pure spirit’ but never ‘whiskey’) are also used to keep the bank account ticking over.
But with whiskey also growing as an investment vehicle – and brokers Rare Whisky 101 predicting that investments could yield up to 41% over the next ten years – several distilleries are moving straight to selling the hard stuff by the barrel– provided you are prepared to pay now and be patient.
Cask purchase is nothing new – many Scottish distilleries have been doing it quietly and on request for years, with consumers and bar operators using it as a way to produce their own exclusively labelled products, or to celebrate births, marriages or just a favourite holiday destination.
The other perks, aside from approximately 350 bottles of whiskey, include the delayed gratification and anticipation of taking delivery of a one of a kind product and the chance to drop in and visit your slumbering spirit in a dark and musty Hebridean warehouse.
Alternatively, and perhaps a little closer to home, The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) has just started to sell 225-litre barrels filled with its unique English rye spirit. While it is expected that their gin will pay the bills for now, TOAD was born with the intention of being a predominantly rye distillery and Master Distiller Cory Mason is already producing an exciting range of spirits from this notoriously difficult grain.
Difficult, because in Mason’s own words, with rye, “you are working with big sticky porridge from the beginning to the end”. Not the easiest product to manhandle through the bespoke Jules Verne style stills crafted for TOAD by, of all people, the South Devon Railway engineering workshop. But for the Californian, who cut his teeth at revered New York bar Employee’s Only before crossing the Atlantic to complete an MSc at the renowned International Centre for Brewing & Distilling at Heriot Watt University, it also has its perks. To him, rye is “punk rock” and “rough around the edges”, and he enthuses about its ability to play nicely with a range of unusual finishes, with red Muscat, Madeira and sherry all on the racks already.
Mason is also particularly excited about the grain the distillery uses, thanks to its exclusive partnership with archaeo botanist, John Letts. The Canadian researcher has dedicated over twenty-five years to promoting the resurgence of ancient and sustainable farming methods, and on his research farm, less than an hour from the distillery, Letts is working to re-establish these super-sustainable genetically diverse crops. One form of which makes up around 70% of the TOAD mash bill.
So with all these stories to tell, why wouldn’t you want to own a little piece of the history of this innovative and progressive distillery? TOAD is currently offering exclusive ownership of one of their brand new 225 litre oak barrels filled with the new make spirit for £6,000 (including VAT, but excluding UK duty and delivery). Each barrel will yield approximately 350 bottles (with your personalised label) of rye whiskey in around three years time. Until then, the cask will be stored (and insured) at the distillery before being bottled (at 46% ABV) and shipped to you.
Find out more at: www.spiritoftoad.com
By Alex Mennie