There can’t be many bank managers who would be understanding of a new distillery’s decision to swerve gin revenue while waiting for their whisky returns, but it’s one of the quirks of Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery that I quietly marvel at. “We never would have been able to call it field to bottle,” says co-founder David Thompson, as he drives me through the verdant Yorkshire Wolds. “Our principles would have been broken [if we’d made gin]. It’s stood us in good stead, really. We’ve got through those three years and now we’re into our fifth year and people take us really seriously.”
Very seriously. Yorkshire’s first single-malt whisky distillery received seven awards from the IWSC in 2021 (two silvers, five bronze). They also just scored a prestigious Masters award from the 2021 World Whisky Masters for their Filey Bay Single Cask – Fino Sherry Cask #669, along with two gold and a silver.
For England’s youngest whisky distillery in these competitions, this is an extraordinary achievement.
Despite all the accolades, arrival at the distillery is…well, rather unglamorous. David had tried to keep my expectations low on the one-hour drive from York station to the village of Hunmanby, but from the exterior the vibe is very much ‘industrial car park with nondescript office building’. “We didn’t build a visitor centre,” says David, “We just decided, you know what, it’s all about the product and if it’s good enough people will come. It’s an industrial shed.”
He’s down-selling it slightly, because inside it’s another story. Certainly, it’s not pretentious, but there’s a certain Yorkshire authenticity combined with a rustic cosiness. Upstairs is the surprisingly charming Pot Still Coffee Shop, a popular local spot for breakfasts, brunches and afternoon teas, with its views into the working distillery and the tasting room.
Downstairs is the shop selling Filey Bay Whisky, named after the bay just six miles away, which can be glimpsed from the distillery’s windows. There’s also Spirit of Yorkshire merch, glassware, whisky literature, and beers from Wold Top Brewery. Why beers? Well, that’s where the other co-founder of Spirit of Yorkshire comes into the picture. Tom Mellor has a 600-acre sustainable farm just around the corner on one of the best malted barley grain areas in the UK. All the barley and spring water for the whisky is sourced from this farm. His brewery (set up in 2003), provides the wash to the distillery, chugging down the hill on a tractor twice a week in 10,000 litre batches. Tom and David were also mentored by the late Dr Jim Swan, often hailed as ‘the Einstein of whisky’. “He was instrumental in the stills and the science behind what we were trying to achieve,” says David.
Essentially, they set out to make an accessible, fruit-led whisky, something that might even be approachable for a non-whisky fan. Located outside of strict Scottish regulations, they’ve also been able to experiment a lot more by installing a piece of kit (a four-plate copper rectifying column), which they use alongside their spirit still to create more variance in flavour and a unique style.