Now I’ve visited my fair share of distilleries over my years, from well established ones with over a hundred years in business to new ones that have only been open a year. So when I told the wife I was going to visit another distillery, well she just rolled her eyes at me. This I’m afraid was because I was being like a little kid, well at least a little geeky.
I was visiting White Peak Distillery in Derbyshire, a completely new craft distillery that was being built. So the visit wasn’t going to be about looking at shiny copper stills, this was going to be about meeting the team behind it. Getting to see what they wanted and had planned for the future, why they had chosen to get into the distillery business, the reasons behind the location etc.
So last Thursday the 28th of July I set off to meet the White Peaks team, based at the outskirts of Ambergate not far from Matlock and Derby. The first thing you notice as you enter the site is the backdrop and foreground. With a hill full of woods behind and the Derwent river directly in front, it’s a very tranquil and pretty scene. Now the buildings that the distillery will be set in are an old wire mill built at the end of the 19th century, it is a beautiful industrial building that has a lot if character about it. The area is a building site at the moment so doesn’t look it’s best and I suppose to some people it will just be a big empty building but I could see it’s potential charm.
Now I was meeting Max the man with the dream of owning a distillery, after he kindly agreed to have a chat with me about the project. After being pointed in the direction of where Max would be I walked into a small room to find a mini lab with it’s own little still on a bench. I was greeted by a big smile and welcoming face, this was Shaun the head distillery a guy that seemed to have an endless supply of enthusiasm. He lead me across the yard to the main buildings and to Max, another warm smile and for someone who was in the process of building a distillery a very calm person.
After the a quick introduction he gave me a quick tour around the interior of what will be the distillery, for me this was great to see an empty building and then be told were everything was going to go. It was like seeing a blank canvas for a painter and then being told what the outcome would be and how this was going to be achived, very interesting for me to try and imagine what the end product will look like. We then went back over to the original building that Max and Shaun called their R&D bunker, here we started to chat more about what was happening and what had been achieved so far.
Max started to think about this idea of a distillery in Derbyshire quite a while back, with a business plan set out he looked at it and put down several times over the years. That is until one day he decided he didn’t want to look back in ten years time going if only, so he went for it and now he’s waiting for the building and installation to be finished so he can start his work. When we talked about why he had chosen Derbyshire and this exact location, it became clear Max had a passion for the area. This wasn’t just about the beautiful countryside although that does play a part in it. No it was also about the heritage for the area, with so many historical connections to the industrial revolution which was also evident in the wire mill and neither Max or Shaun wanted this hidden from the people that will visit. So much so that they are making a conscious decision to re-use items from the wire mill for new and unique purposes, you only have to look at the pigeon hole units that they are now using for storing the R&D spirits in.
Max also talked to me about the brewing heritage in the area with around 70 breweries open and producing, he wants to be able to incorporate some of that history and heritage in the distillery itself, something that they are already working on. All of this was great news to me as a big history fan, it was nice to see someone wanting to highlight the industrial history of the building and the surrounding area. Using the items found, restoring the windows to the original styles and also using the original water cooling platform from the wire mill for their own cooling system. There was one more little thing that Max talked about that I thought was a great idea, this was his ideas on how to incorporate the surrounding area as part of the attraction for the distillery. I’m sure I’m not the only person that drags their partner along when they go visiting distilleries, now my wife is not that interested but comes along anyway ( I think it’s to make sure I don’t buy everything). Max talked about how to make this visit interesting for everyone, from the shop experience to his idea of walks. I thought his idea of planning some walks around the area through the woods and other craft businesses in the area, like the craft bakers a short walk away was perfect. I could do the tour and the wife could do any of the other activities that she found interesting, giving us both a nice day out.
While I was talking to Max about this, I was also being taken on a tour of Shauns R&D developments. He told me about the numerous experiments he had done, looking at different malted barley, fermentation, cut points etc to use. Telling me how he had narrowed his choice down to what he thought was the way to go. I was then lucky enough for him to take me through his selection, I was presented with three new makes to try. All were identical in the way they were made with one exception, the yeast was the only element that had been changed.
The first sample was made using distillers yeast, the nose was almost typical new make with that sour note being prominent but not overpowering. It wasn’t as harsh as I was expecting with quite a lot of fruit and sweetness to the nose. The palate was better still with an initial punch from the alcohol settling to be quite sweet with an unripe fruity note as well. The second sample was a mix of distillers and brewers yeast, now the nose on this was way better than I was expecting. It had the faintest sour note that melted away to honey and some lovely fruit notes, the palate didn’t match the nose. It had a big harsh punch then some unripe fruit notes that all vanished quite quickly. I told Shaun that if I could have the nose from the second sample and the plate from the first, it would be a match made in heaven for a new make. He then told me to try the third, this was also a mix of distillers and brewers yeast but at a different ratio. The nose was great with a burst of smoke that faded to reveal a soft sour note with a sweetness to it and lots of fruit, it reminded me of being in a bakers first thing in the morning. With those fresh baked pastries covered in a fruit preserve, the palate kept up this level. With an initial burst of smoke with some punch from the alcohol, that gave way for the sweet honey and fruit I had got glimpses of on the nose.
I told Shaun that if it was my choice I’d be using the third sample, it was the best of the lot in my opinion. Thankfully that was the one Shaun was wanting to proceed with, I must admit that did give me a smile, knowing that what I had thought was the best new make, was actually the one that both the distiller and owner thought was the best. I was then given the opportunity to try what will be the distilleries London Dry Gin, I’m not going to go into to many details as I really hope to do a review of this as soon as it is available to buy. Yes it is that good, I’m not the biggest Gin fan but if I could have bought a bottle I would have, I will say it was the most balanced Gin I have every tasted. I could have poured a nice big glass with a couple of ice cubes and sat on the cooling platform, just watching the world go but in this beautiful location and what a perfect way to finish the day that would have been.
Now the team at White Peak are hoping to have the distillery open towards then end of the year, I for one can’t wait to go back and see how much has changed and what the blank canvas turned into.
So I would like to say a huge thank you to Max, Shaun and Archie for taking the time to chat. It was a great experience and one I found very informative, giving me an insight that I have never had before.
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