Today, as part of my partnership with The Craft Whisky Club, I chose to interview two inspiring guys willing to bring a new distillery to the English whisky landscape and currently trying to gather funds to make this all happen – let’s find out more about their project!
First of all, could you please tell me a bit more about you guys, the founding team behind The Dartmoor Distillery and why did you decide to set up a whisky distillery in Devon – England?
The founding team comprises Greg Millar, Simon Crow & Andrew Clough.
Although of Scottish ancestry, as you may deduce from Greg’s surname, Greg is in fact Devon born & bred. Greg is a master plasterer by trade, and has developed a number of businesses in the Dartmoor region. As well as a passion for Scotland and whisky, Greg is also part ‘Breton’ at heart, with a property just over the water, and many friends in France. It was during one of Greg’s many times in France that he was introduced to Master Cognac Distiller, Miguel D’Anjou. It was only through this friendship that Greg was able to obtain our beautiful ‘Alembic’ still, and even then it was with the promise that if the still was not recommissioned, it would be returned!
Simon came to Dartmoor when he and his family purchased The Edgemoor Hotel in 2008. After a career in commercial furnishings, Simon followed other family members to Devon. Simon was returning to family tradition, as his great grandfather was a publican, and on his maternal side his great great grandfather was a wine merchant! Simon’s passion comes from an early start in life home brewing beer and wine.
Andrew has almost forty years experience in finance, accountancy and business management. Andrew moved to Devon in 1987, initially working at the Aidee Pottery in Bovey Tracey, where he met his future wife. They presently live in Chudleigh. Since 2007 he has worked as a freelance accountant, with a broad portfolio of clients which include working with Simon & with Greg. It was therefore inevitable that Andrew would bring his financial expertise to the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery project.
There’s actually quite a few English distilleries now producing single malt whisky – do you think “English whisky” will soon be recognised as a category in itself ? And what, according to you, makes English whisky unique (or at least different from its closest and famous neighbour Scotch)?
We hope that English Whisky will soon be recognised as such. Before the wars, there were distillers in England, and there is no reason why not to make great whisky in England. I do not think English whisky needs to strive to be different or unique, I think it just needs to be good.
Let’s talk whisky: what will be the production capacity of Dartmoor? What about the raw ingredients used? Distillery equipment (you chose a Cognac still – why?) Casks? On-site warehouse? Any specific maturation strategies or experimentations?
We plan to produce approximately 100 barrels annually, around 50,000 bottles.
Our Barley will be grown at Preston Farm on Dartmoor. Tuckers Maltings is just a few miles from the distillery, they have been traditionaly malting there since 1831. This is where our barley will be malted. (See http://edwintucker.co.uk/maltings/) Dartmoor Brewery at Princetown on Dartmoor will then produce our barley wash to our Master distillers specification, see http://www.dartmoorbrewery.co.uk/ Our whisky will also be cut with the finest Dartmoor spring water.
Fine whisky requires a fine copper still. Not too big, or there would be less contact with the copper. A good shape to encourage vapour ‘reflux’, and a steady – not too fast condensing of the spirit vapours. Our pot still is of 1400 litres to receive a 1200 litre charge. It has been hand beaten using 11-12mm thick copper. The head, leading to the swan neck is bulbous to maximise reflux. A central copper ‘wash warmer’ is incorporated, to pre warm the wash, and double the period of contact with the copper.
Our condenser operates at a rate of 50 litres per hour, ensuring a gradual condensing of the spirit vapours.
We sourced our still from Cognac Master Distiller Miguel D’Anjou who is the third generation distilling fine cognac from his farm near Pons, in the Cognac region of France. Commissioned by his grandfather in 1966, our still lay dormant since being decommissioned in 1994 when the family installed two larger stills.
We will be using three types of cask, American bourbon, Spanish sherry, and French oak wine casks. Some will be stored within our distillery, The Old Town Hall, but the majority will be stored in our bonded warehouse on Dartmoor. We will also experiment using different sizes of cask, maturing some spirit in 100 litre casks.
Are you willing to produce any other spirit than single malt whisky?
Yes we have sourced a 400 litre alambic still that will enable us to produce Dartmoor Gin. We will also have a cream liqueur and fruit liqueurs.
What kind of flavour profile will you be looking for? Are you working with any recognised whisky figure to achieve your goals?
Although there is peat on Dartmoor, as a National Park it is no longer permissible to cut peat for fuel. Tuckers maltings have never toasted barley over peat, and so we do not intend to produce ‘peaty’ whisky. With our cognac still heritage, we intend to produce dark wine influenced whisky.
Our Master Distiller is Mr Frank McHardy, and we are delighted that he has consented to oversee our production. Frank has specified our Barely wash recipe, he will guide our distillations, select our barrels, and determine how we bottle our whisky.
Frank McHardy joined the Scottish whisky industry at Invergordon grain distillery in 1963. He went on to work at Tamnavulin and Bruichladdich. He first started work for Springbank Distillery, Campbeltown in 1977. With the exception of a decade as Master Distiller of Bushmills Distillery in Ireland, Frank has been with Springbank, and he retired as their Master Distiller in 2014. Though officially now retired, Frank oversees distillation for a small distillery in Australia, one in Ireland and now, Dartmoor Whisky Distillery. In 2014 Frank was the 19th person to be inaugurated into Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, see:
When can we expect the first Dartmoor Single Malt to be released? Will it be only available in the UK or are you already targeting other key export markets?
Distillation is due to commence in August this year, and so the first release is likely to be towards the end of 2019. Our whisky will not be ready to bottle until Frank tells us it is.
In the first instance our whisky will be available through our online shop on our website, and directly from our Distillery visitors centre. Our production volumes are not big, and we do not currently have plans to target other key export markets.
It is worth noting that the pre-order sign up list for our first batch of whisky will be first made available to our backers on Kickstarter and our upcoming equity-based crowdfunding campaign. Once it’s gone it’s gone!
How do you see the future for the distillery? How do you picture the distillery in 5/10 years time? Are you planning to add on-site malting facilities or any other addition? Tourism strategy?
Starting a whisky distillery is a long term vision, we see our distillery remaining high quality, low volume. The Old Town Hall is a confined site, and so malting and wash mash will remain away from the distillery, but of course, still very local. We do plan to continually develop our visitors centre as a great tourist attraction for our town, Bovey Tracey.
If you want all of the above to really come true and offer a distillery to Devon – The Dartmoor Distillery is currently running a crowdfunding campaign here !