Over the past weekend I made my way over to Shirley to check out Sheringham distillery for the first time. They are best known for their Seaside Gin, though they also produce Vodka, Akvavit, and William’s White, an unaged whisky. It all starts with malted barley from Phillips, which is mixed with organic white wheat in the distillery’s mashton to produce their signature wort. Yeast is then added, and the wort is fermented for about 48 hours to produce ‘wash’
Jason actually uses three different pot stills to produce his spirits depending on the product in question; all of them begin their distillation process in the large, central ‘wash still’. The first distillation produces what is called ‘low-wines’, clocking in at about 21-28% abv. It is then distilled a second time in the spirit still on the left, which produces a spirit that is usually around 70% abv. Jason strips heads and tails, and passes the hearts through a charcoal filter before watering the spirit down to what will in this case be vodka. The mash bill for his white lightning is slightly different, incorporating Red Fife wheat, a Canadian heritage grain. He also mentioned he has started adding a small amount of rye grain to add some spiciness and complexity.
For the gin and akvavit, the process is not yet completed; the spirit now undergoes a third distillation in the still on the right, with the required botanicals included in the process. Jason is the only distiller I’ve come across who uses hand-foraged kelp as one of his botanicals; it really serves to convey a sense of terroir to his gin, which has a nose reminiscent of the sea air you can smell outside of the distillery. The finished product is now bottled and hand-labeled by his lovely wife Alayne, and sent out to retailers like The Strath for you and I to enjoy!
But let’s all be honest here, what we’re really interested in is the whisky. Jason lead us up to the second floor of the distillery, where the barrels live. In Canada, for a spirit to be legally called whisky, it has to be aged for at least three years, which is one of the few restrictions placed on the spirit. Distillers have a lot of agency on what they choose to use as their mash bill; rye, wheat, malted barley, even corn. Jason has about 30 small barrels aging up here, dating back to 2015. He generously allowed me to sample from a few of them; the first was a grain/barley bill from a refill bourbon barrel. The second had a relatively high corn content in a new oak barrel, stylistically reminiscent of a bourbon. Both were showing exceptionally well considering they were barely old enough to walk!
Sheringham distillery and their warehouse are relatively close to the water. This means the sea air will likely impart some character as the angel’s share evaporates. We’re about 7 degrees south of Scotland here in BC. Because of this, our rate of evaporation and, by extension, the rate at which the whisky ages, will be faster than your average Scotch. Speaking of Scotch, the question I’d been dying to ask Jason was when we were going to see a single malt from him. He doesn’t have one aging yet. He does however have an empty 200L barrel that he’s been considering using for that very purpose. Here’s hoping we get to see one in the next few years!
As we finished our tour, Jason and Alayne handed us a parting gift: a bottle of ‘Castaway Gin’. It is a blend of all of Jason’s experimental gin recipies before he settled on what is now the Sheringham Seaside Gin. They then matured the spirit for six months in oak. You can only find Castaway at their distillery, and there is not much left. What a perfect showcase of Sheringham’s heritage! And for those of you waiting for the whisky, you shouldn’t have too much longer to wait; we should start seeing it on the market by the end of next year.