Could Yorkshire one day rival Scotland when it comes to whisky? Julian Cole went to see one family in Ripon that is passionate about producing the amber nectar.
Adrian Hoose can still recall when the spirit first spoke to him. He was having a man-to-man chat with his father at the age of 18 or 19. Whisky was involved then as it often has been since.
They drank while they talked and the whisky made Adrian sit up and take notice. It was a Laphroaig. “A very peaty and smoky whisky,” says Adrian. “We had a couple of whiskies, a bit of a father and son talk and I thought, ‘Wow, this is what whisky can be.’”
As well as working as a primary school teacher for five years, Adrian, 33, had a spell in China teaching English. Now he is selling whisky for a living. And one day he hopes to distil a Yorkshire malt whisky.
Adrian is the commercial director of Claxton’s, a new company based in Ripon and York, which specialises in bottling malt whisky from individual selected casks. Claxton’s is a family affair, run by Adrian and his father, Jack Hoose, with backing from his father-in-law, Graeme Claxton.
This sniffing and sipping trio have turned a long-time love of whisky into a business. So today when Adrian and Jack sit down with a glass of whisky, they are working. Well, that’s what they call it: trying different samples and debating which they should sell next.
Along with Graeme, they had been buying bottles of malt for pleasure and began to wonder about acquiring casks for themselves. “Then we thought we need to do something with this rather than just spend our hard-earned money on it,” says Adrian.
Claxton’s started operating early this year, after much planning and preparation. When you are dealing in whisky casks and exporting, there is a minefield of licencing to step through, and the casks have to be held under bond to comply with duty regulations.
What and Adrian and Jack do is seek out different single malt cask whiskies from distilleries around Scotland. To comply with legislation, the whisky has to be bottled in Scotland and Claxton’s uses a plant near Bladnoch.
Once taken from the cask and decanted into their distinctive square bottles – which are made in France and look like large perfume bottles – the whisky is sold online, at outlets throughout the north, and exported to Europe, with further developments expected soon in China.
“We’ve just had an order come in today from Germany,” says Adrian, glancing at his laptop. We are in his father’s study in York, where whisky bottles line the bookshelves, along with a book or two. Jack is away on holiday.
What Claxton’s does might be difficult to grasp for non-whisky lovers. So here is a stab. While a number of casks of single malt will be used in the production of a branded single malt whisky, sometimes a distiller has a solitary cask to sell. Perhaps this cask doesn’t fit the flavour profile of the whisky.
So the distiller lets this one go out into the world on its own. And that is where Adrian steps in. For Claxton’s is an independent bottler with no ties to a particular distillery. “It’s quite a popular method of trading in whisky with the more experienced whisky drinkers,” he says. “We acquire individual casks of whisky from distilleries all across Scotland and we bottle those very much in their original form.”
And as special one-offs, once they’re gone, they’re gone. Each Claxton’s bottle carries the name of the distillery and an individual number. Depending on size, a cask could yield anything from 200 to 700 bottles.
“It’s small-scale, it’s more of a niche product,” Adrian says. “It’s not something that the larger distilleries are focused on. We only bottle the whiskies that we think are very good, so we are promoting that distillery, we’re doing that job for them.”
This is the artisan end of the whisky market, a place of one-offs and discoveries. For even if casks are filled with the same whisky distilled on the same day and laid down at the same time for the same length of time, each one can yield a different taste. And that’s where the fun lies.
“Five, ten, 15 or 20 years down the line, each one of those whiskies in each one of those casks can have its own characteristics and its own flavour profile,” Adrian says.
“They’re all very individual. Whenever you are buying a single cask whisky, what you are buying in the bottle is something which is indeed one of...” he pulls a bottle of Claxton’s Tomatin Highland whisky from the shelves “...in this case 217 bottles. You will never quite replicate that exact same characteristic.”
Adrian went to Fulford School in York, where he met his wife, Philippa, a teacher. The couple live in Ripon with their baby daughter. As a whisky-loving boy from Yorkshire, Adrian is perplexed by the lack of a Yorkshire whisky, especially as the county has what it takes.
“Malt whisky is produced from barley, water, spring water and yeast,” Adrian says. “Now I wouldn’t shout about this too much, as the whisky industry in Scotland might not want you too, but a large proportion of the barley used is grown and malted in Yorkshire. Another key ingredient, the distillers’ yeast, is often supplied by brewers in Yorkshire.”
The all-important spring water can be found in the county, too. “And we have several maltings already in Yorkshire to make malted barley.”
“We have all of the perfect ingredients in Yorkshire to make home-grown, fantastic Yorkshire whisky,” says Adrian. “We have the geography, and we’re certainly not short of a drop of water or two.”
So is it your ambition to fill that gap on the whisky shelf? “It’s more than an ambition, it’s a plan that’s under development at the moment.”
Adrian says investors are interested in the idea, but he knows other companies have similar projects, including the Dishforth company Bad Co, which is reported to be distilling a Yorkshire whisky.
The more the merrier, he says, if Yorkshire is to become a whisky region. So how does Adrian think his Yorkshire whisky would taste?
“I think it would be an unpeated whisky to begin with, an almost Speyside character, maybe a bit sweet. But whatever we produce, we would very much look at single malt Scotch whisky as a blueprint. And we’d definitely add a Yorkshire twist.”
You can’t write about whisky without trying a little. Adrian talks me through three of the single cask malts he bottles: an eight-year-old Ledaig from Tobermory, a 25-year-old malt from Auchroisk, and a red wine cask malt Bruichladdich, weighing in at a hefty 57 per cent. “It might be worth adding a drop or two of water to it,” says Adrian, wisely. “To open it up a bit.”
Incidentally, in the confusing way of these things, Ledaig is pronounced “Led-chig” and Auchroisk as “Othrusk”, while Bruichladdich comes out as “Brew-ich-laddie”.
All taste lovely to the whisky amateur writing this article, even if he did have to wobble off home on his bicycle afterwards.
For details of stockists visit claxtonsspirits.com