Spirits high as distillery opens

England's “only” malt whisky distillery is set to become Norfolk's newest tourist attraction.

England's “only” malt whisky distillery is set to become Norfolk's newest tourist attraction tomorrow .

Officials at St George's Distillery at Roudham, near Thetford, spoke of their excitement yesterday as they prepared to open their doors to the paying public for the first time.

The English Whisky Company has been producing spirits since October, but will begin tours and tasting sessions from 10am tomorrow - despite its main tipple not being ready to drink for at least another two years.

Staff were yesterday making the finishing touches to the new £1m distillery building, which includes a café, conference room, tasting area, and shop featuring more than 150 different whiskies, bourbons, and liqueurs from around the world.

The new tourist destination, which employs about a dozen people, comes almost two years after father and son whisky enthusiasts James and Andrew Nelstrop came up with the concept of building a distillery on Breckland farmland.

Managing director Andrew said he hoped that more would spring up across the country as a result of the opening of England's first registered malt whisky distillery in more than 110 years.

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“It will be a relief when we open on Friday because it means that we won't have to be here seven days a week, but we will be more relieved in three weeks when we will know if people want to come here.

“50,000 visitors a year would be ideal and we have had a lot of phone calls and people coming in the gate before we have opened, but we have absolutely no idea how popular it will be at the moment. The August bank holiday will be the biggest test.”

“For the first three to five years, the tourism side of the business is very important and is the only thing that is paying the wages because we have no whisky to sell yet,” he said.

Visitors to St George's Distillery, which received a royal seal of approval from Prince Charles in March, will be able to learn how English whisky is made as well as tasting a range of spirits from Scotland and around the globe.

Its own produce will not be ready until November 2009 at the earliest, but the company has also made its own range of liqueurs, including Norfolk Nog, Norfolk Blueberry, and Norfolk Blackberry.

The site at Roudham was chosen because of its proximity to the clean, clear and hard water of the Breckland aquifer, supply of locally grown barley, and closeness to the A11. Workers are also set to spend more time landscaping the land at the rear of the distillery so that visitors can take walks along the river Thet.

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