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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

The Whisky:  The English Whisky Co. – Chapter 7

The Book:  The Woman in WhiteWilkie Collins


To a Scotch drinker a whisky made in England is nothing if not intriguing. As intriguing as a Victorian woman dressed all in white dashing along a moonlit path.


The decanter holds pale citrus gold, no added colour and non chill-filtered, both welcome attributes. A rum-sweetened nose, showing fruit & nuts and traces of marzipan. Malt and spicy citrus on the palate, with a hint of salt. Bears a subtle, earthy elegance. (46% abv)

The English Whisky Co. built the St. George’s Distillery in Roudham, Norfolk in 2006, the first English distillery for the production of single malt in over a hundred years! Scottish eyes rolled.

Founders James Nelstrop and son Andrew (with a 600-year family history of growing grain behind them) were unrelenting in their determination to get it right. They deliberately chose Norfolk for the ready access to local, top-quality barley. The chosen site also offered an excellent underground supply of clean, pure water. The Nelstrops commissioned Forsyths of Rothes to build their copper stills. They imported first-rate ex-bourbon casks from the U.S., together with a prime range of other casks that once held sherry, port, and rum. The highly respected Iain Henderson (recently retired from Laphroaig) came onboard to set it all in motion. David Fitt, after working under the guidance of Henderson for several months, followed him as head distiller.


The results (sequentially numbered bottlings they call “Chapters”, some unpeated, some peated) garnered impressive reviews. Our Chapter 7, first released in 2010, is one of the most lauded. The whisky was matured for two years in ex-Jim Beam bourbon casks, then transferred to two refill rum casks, one from Jamaica, another from Guyana. There the spirit spent a year, before being vatted together, and bottled by hand several months later.

Since opening its doors the distillery hasn’t looked back. It has already expanded its warehouse capabilities, with output approaching 200,000 bottles annually.

A new age of English whisky has arrived. Five more distilleries are now producing whisky across the country. And there have been more than a few words swallowed north of the border.


The first instalment of The Woman in White appeared in November of 1859 in All the Year Round, a weekly magazine started by the author’s friend Charles Dickens. No one would have predicted that, by the time the final sentences appeared nine months later, practically the whole of London had become mesmerized by the superbly plotted, lurid tale of deceit, adultery, and criminal intrigue among the upper echelon of English society. And perhaps no one more so than the author himself, Wilkie Collins. When the first printing of the whole novel appeared a short time later, it sold out on its day of publication. And when an eager publisher proposed an advance for his next book, Collins dashed a letter off to his mother. “Five Thousand Pounds!!!!!! . . .Nobody but Dickens has made as much.”


Indeed so. For a time Collins outpaced Dickens in popularity. Woman in White perfume was soon for sale, as were Woman in White cloaks and bonnets. Society couples danced to The Woman in White Waltz. But of all his books that followed, only Moonstone would generate as much interest and have lasting impact on English literature. Dickens had no true rival.

The Woman in White has come to be seen as the first “sensation” novel, paralleling as it did the societal scandals of the day, just as Moonstone would be seen as introducing the genre of detective fiction to English literature. In the years that followed both books would have a host of imitators, but none as good as what came from the pen of Collins.

The qualities of The Woman in White that so captivated Victorian England are as seductive today as a century and a half ago. The book is a true page-turner, despite our literary distance from the mannered, convoluted way the characters sometimes express themselves. “If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom every case of suspicion, and to conduct every process of inquiry . . .” begins the opening narrative. One gets used to it quickly.


It is the intricate plot, and its wealth of well-drawn characters — from the rich, demure Laura Fairlie, and her look-alike, the much-harried Anne Catherick, to the scheming Sir Percival and his corpulent, equally fraudulent partner, Count Fosco — that snags the modern reader. Collins gives each a portion of the narrative, and through them allows the pieces of the puzzle to tumble about, falling into place in the author’s good time. It is no wonder the serialized version had readers craving the next issue of the magazine. Master storyteller Wilkie Collins knew what he was about.

As a point of interest, Collins had a great fondness for Norfolk. It was there, in the village of Winterton-on-Sea (fifty miles from Roudham), where he had gone in search of background material for a new novel, that he found the second great love of his life, and in time the mother of his three children. It is not known if he drank much whisky while in Norfolk, but the spirit does make several appearances in the very well-researched book that followed.


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