Why no tradition of whisky distilling in England?

The first written mention of whisky distilling in Scotland dates from the late 15th century, at Lindores Abbey in Fife, Scotland. The mention comes from an order made by James IV, who by then had moved the Scottish capital to Edinburgh, so knowledge of the stuff must have been widespread throughout Scotland (at least, not confined to the Kingdom of Fife). Edinburgh isn’t too far from the English border, and at the time, towns in northern England were regularly switching from being held by English and then Scottish forces.

Despite this, to my knowledge there doesn’t appear to be a tradition, in England, of manufacturing whisky. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of barley, water or yeast: the English were regular beer brewers, but I can’t find mention of them ever making the leap to distilling the stuff.

Was there a tradition of making whisky in England? If so, how far back does it go? If not, can anybody speculate why?

(I’m aware of newly opened distilleries in England.)

They have been making gin for a long while in England. I guess they left whisky to the Scots.



Gin wasn’t all that popular in England until the reign of William of Orange, who was Dutch, and gin had been popular there.

I’m not sure either but it’s an interesting question. I was going to suggest the Corn Laws, but they weren’t enacted until 1815, so that can’t be it.


Distillation was introduced to Ireland and Scotland by monks (the first mentioned distillery is an abbey, as you noted). It didn’t take hold in England due to anti-Catholic sentiments.

Distilling whiskey in Wales dates to the early 18th century at least. I checked Penderyn’s website, and they claim a ridiculously early date, but the modern, continuous tradition of whiskey distillation is at least 300 years old. I doubt if they got it directly from the Scots, but they may have.

ETA: In the early 1700s, Wales was legally part of England, if a rather distinct entity linguistically and culturally.

Not enough peat in England; plenty in Scotland and Ireland though. Burning peat is used to dry out the wet malt, and it delivers a characteristic smokey/peaty flavour.

Not sure what you mean here. Peat is not necessary in the malting process (and Irish whiskey–at least most–don’t use peat, as far as I know, in the fire). Besides, England had plenty of malt around, used in, of course, beer.

Probably just easier to import Brandy from the French and leave the barley for making beer with.

This is a very interesting angle – my followup would be, how soon after whisky distillation became common (or even known) in Scotland/Ireland…did it become a known import to England? These things tend to be driven by fashions, but it seems like SOMEHTING that could get you, well, drunk quickly would be immediately popular – did the English have another distilled spirit? Gin, as mentioned, came later (and was introduced after a fad in europe, if i recall).

It can’t be because of peat. Lowland whiskys, like those made around Edinburgh, use wood and coal for drying the malt. If anything, it would be this style that would be imported into England, as peat use is limited to the islands and highlands whiskys, furthest from the English border.

Another reason it can’te peat is that there is plenty of peat in England, the Thorne wastes probably dwarf anything in Scotland, and that is just one area, get down to Norfolk and you have even larger peat areas.

The Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland is the largest peat bog in Europe.

English whisky bottled for first time in a century

Mmmmm … three year old whisky. Looking forward to the ten-year anniversary of this thread (and twelve, fifteen, eighteen …)

Tip a glass to their success!

(nevermind that it’s only eleven in the morning here, it’s at least four in the UK!)

Pure speculation: might any existing domestic grain spirits have been displaced by rum in 17th/18th century England?

They were talking about the new distillery on Radio 4 this morning, and they said that whisky had been distilled in England, but had died out (for no reason given). The last English distillery, in Cornwall, closed in 1909.

Whiskey distillation goes back as far as the 11th century in England, though whether it originated here, in Scotland or in Ireland, is unknown. Early operations were often associated with monasteries, but later became commercial ventures.

In addition to the Norfolk Whisky Co., whisky manufacturing is also underway at the St. Austell Brewery in Cornwall; though the malt is being aged by eight years, and unavailable before 2011. Present and former English distilleries are listed here.

A side question: How popular is whisky drinking in England? If I went to a bar in London would they know what a Seven and Seven is (Seagrams and Seven Up). Could I get a glass of Makers Mark? Jim? Jack? Or would Scotch be more readily available? How about Rye or even Irish Whisky?

Sorry for the threadjack :slight_smile:

Not sure about a Seven and Seven, but Jim Bean, Jack Daniels and, usually, Maker’s Mark would be available in most pubs and bars, along with a reasonable selection of different scotch. They’d have Jameson’s too.

Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, I presume? At least one of those would be on offer in any bar or pub worthy of the name. Bourbon is pretty popular here. Rye less so, but Canadian Club is widely available. Any pub will have at least Jameson’s, and naturally a range of Scotches. I’ve never heard of Makers Mark or Seven and Seven, which sounds like an absolute abomination.

[ETA] oops, should have refreshed before reply