English Single Malt from the Welsh Marches - Henstone Distillery

Published on 20 March 2024 at 08:50

Henstone is not the biggest name in English whiskey but I'm very glad I got to visit! In October last year, I was lucky enough to drive up there with my mother. We were met by Henry, son of the distillery's owner . Henstone was started in 2016 by a local family in Oswestry , and is named after the family home. 


Henstone Distillery is attached to the Stonehouse Brewery , which definitely helps if you're visiting - Henstone doesn't have a big distillery or many different things to see! That's not a criticism - it's just one of those small, artisanal distilleries. The Weston Wharf stop of the Cambrian Heritage Railway sits right next to the brewery/distillery, so even more to see on a day out. 

The business is pretty small - you're seeing whiskey produced by a father and son team alone. One thing to note - I visited this distillery with my mum, and Henry did a great job explaining things to her on a kind of lay level - thanks!

The Details

  • UK barley from Crisp Malting
  • 1000L Kothe still called Hilda ('we needed a German name') 
  • 11 day ferment, 2000L wash batches
  • Single hybrid distillation (4 flat column attached to pot)


One interesting step in production is that Stonehouse boils the wort used for Henstone whisky, as you would when making beer. You don't see other whiskey distilleries doing this! Henry explains that this is done to avoid any wild yeasts from the barley contaminating Stonehouse's other operations. What effect does this have on the resulting whisky's flavour, I wonder?

After all that, Henstone whiskey gets a beautifully long ferment . When it comes time to distil, Hilda starts running at 06:30. You can see a large bulb at the top of the pot, allowing for massive amounts of reflux . However, the small pipe on top doesn't even act as a lyne arm. Instead, all the vapors condense inside that blub and run into the base of a column via a separate pipe - that's where the plates come in.


Henstone's spirit is cut based on taste and smell - nothing here is automatic . About 2 liters of heads are drawn off first, before about 60 total liters of hearts are collected - a few tails are mixed in to add some depth. Two batches are distilled in one day, so only 120L total emerges at the end. However, that new make is as high as 85 or 90%, deriving from a process much more like Penderyn's than most Scotch whiskey distilleries. 


Henstone also ferments and distills their own rums . The gin seems to be very successfully supporting the whiskey operations here. Some Henstone whiskey new make actually goes into their vodka and gin for redistillation , to help get it more of a unique fingerprint than botanicals alone. 


Henstone gins are certainly worth your time. Their rosé gin, for example, is made using gin concentrate aged in oak : the 'rosé' name just describes the final color from mid char casks. Henstone's pink gin uses a concentrate of fresh strawberries and pink pepper


Of course, their whiskey still goes into the cask at a similar 64.5% ABV. Henstone keeps its casks in a shipping container - most are Buffalo Trace or Jack Daniels barrels. There's also a few ex-oloroso and PX casks, even 200L ex-peated casks and red wines. The climate in the shipping container helps to create strong temperature swings to accelerate aging. 



One really exciting thing here is Henstone's Old Dog Corn Liquor . 68% corn, 16% wheat, and 16% barley go into a spirit which ages in new American oak for up to 24 months. Once some of these ages for 3 years, you have a very bourbon-esque spirit… It's produced using a sweet mash process, not sour mash. It has a kind of herbal, malty aroma, with orange flavors and a silky body.


In future, this should develop into a proper bourbon equivalent in English whiskey form. Later, Henstone might even age some of their single malts in used Corn Dog barrels. The name ' Old Dog ' actually refers to a local disused mine shaft. I'd assumed it referred to bourbon makers calling their new make 'white dog', but apparently that's a coincidence!

The basic Henstone single malt is about 3 years and eight months old . Every release of theirs is single cask (at time of writing), and you can look up each bottle's batch number on their website to see more details. Always a nice feature!


Tasting the 3 year old, I find it has a distinctly unique grassy note - not vegetal . It has some of the silkiness of the corn liquor. Not very sweet, but there's a little raw note of tropical fruit. It's young, but it doesn't have the throat-stinging roughness of many young whiskies. Grassy is my main takeaway - you could maybe compare it to a lowland single malt in Scotland, for reference, but it still really stands out to me.


Henstone also has a 5 year old expression - their first age statement , bottled at 46%. This is a real step up. More tropical fruit, and actually more spice despite being only a little higher in ABV. The bite is more on the palate than the finish. The same grassy profile is there, but the added sweetness on top really adds a lot. 


There's a consistent distillery flavor profile . Honestly, I'm more surprised the aging / cask flavors in these drams aren't more pronounced. The five year old shows that more aging definitely benefits the Henstone style - so I'm very keen to see more from them in the future!


Henstone's peated cask whisk y is also a three year old, finished in peated casks. The peat aroma is much stronger than I expected - the same silky, grassy body is there but the finish is very peat-heavy ! Not necessarily a beginner's whisky, this is not very sweet.


Henstone and Stonehouse also have an orchard and bar attached. Distilling some cider made at Stonehouse, Henstone aged it in new American oak to make a distinctive apple brandy. They call this Nonpareil . The name comes from Sweeney Nonpareil , 'a native Shropshire apple that almost became extinct in the 1970s'. 



The distillery is crammed into a small space, but as of my visit, there was some new investment coming in to expand the space. This was officially announced about a month after my visit. The new round of investment should let them quadruple production


They are currently moving to the new site, a farm about 15 miles from the current site. Somewhere near Welshpool, but still *just* in England , and linked to the local football team: that's all the clues we have for now. The buildings will be in England, but a brook and spring forming part of the Welsh border run near the farm's edge, so they might be able to do some cross-border distilling! There's also an aim to grow some barley on the new site, so maybe some single estate whiskey is coming in future?


Henstone has great links to other companies in wine and spirits across England. They produce gin for Shrewsbury Gin on a contract distilling basis. It's actually their biggest contract! Kingdom Recommends , based in Chester, also gets their flavored gins produced here. Henstone also has links to Artelium , a vineyard in East Sussex. New red wine casks are coming in from a local distributor, so keep an eye out for those whiskies.

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