Norfolk distillery brings tourist cheer

East Anglia's first whisky distillery is set to start pulling in the tourists next year, more than three years before its produce is ready to drink.

East Anglia's first whisky distillery is set to start pulling in the tourists next year, more than two years before its produce is ready to drink.

Officials at Norfolk Whisky Co are hoping to open to the public in the summer after revealing that a £1m construction project was on schedule.

Work on St George's Distillery at Roudham, near Thetford, only started in April, but the building is already producing three barrels of spirits a day, which will be ready for tasting in 2009.

Andrew Nelstrop, the managing director, said he was confident that the facility's shop, café, tasting area and conference room will be ready for its first visitors by the end of June.

He added that there had been "huge" interest from whisky enthusiasts and buyers in the family-run business, which is said to be England's first registered whisky distillery.

The company, which is owned by Mr Nelstrop and his father James, and managed by master distiller Iain Henderson, from Scotland, barrelled its first spirit last month, which will mature and officially become whisky on November 27, 2009.

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Mr Nelstrop added that early reviews of Norfolk Whisky Co's raw product, which uses locally grown barley and water from the Breckland aquifer was "beyond all expectations".

"We have had a lot of interest from people wanting to buy our whisky and we could have sold our first year's produce already," he said.

"We can test the spirit at the moment it is made and there is a general consensus that it will be very good whisky, but to sell it three years before it is ready I think would be a mistake."

Roudham, off the A11 near Thetford, was chosen as an ideal location for whisky production because of the availability of "clear, clean and hard water" and easy access for tourists.

Mr Nelstrop said he hoped that the distillery would attract around 50,000 visitors a year to sample the history, production process and flavours of different whiskies.

"It may not be completely ready, but we will open to the tourists at the end of June, which is certainly going to help financially.

"There has been a lot of interest and hopefully a lot of people will turn up. We have landscaped the area around the river Thet and it will be a nice place to come to in the summer," he said.

The project is a "labour of love" and a long-running ambition for the family.