Tuesday’s article posed the question: “What is the result of using proper Yorkshire barley, proper Yorkshire water, and the proper Yorkshire Single Malt Process?” We are fortunate to be able to answer that question. The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery has been releasing bottles of its whisky under the Filey Bay brand since 2019. Admittedly, these are still young releases: although they are released without age statements, we know that spirit was first laid down in 2016, which has not given it much time in wood.
Although young, these bottlings have already attracted both significant attention and an array of awards. They have had success at the 2020 International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) (Silver for their Moscatel Finish, and bronze for the Flagship), the 2021 World Whisky Masters (Masters award for their Single Sherry Cask, Gold for their STR finish, and Silver for their Flagship) and seemingly countless local tourist industry awards. This has been followed by further success at the 2021 IWSC awards: four more bronzes and a 90 Points award.
I’m going to look at three of these whiskies in detail, chosen for two good reasons. Firstly, they represent each part of the Filey Bay range: the core distillery character, the whiskies with different finishes, and the special releases. Secondly, they happened to make up the tasting set that I picked up at the distillery gift shop (integrity and openness are, after all, core values of The Water of Life). I will admit that I also picked up a full bottle of the Yorkshire Day 2021; more on that shortly. I also sampled a far broader range of whiskies while at the gift shop, including the rather excellent STR finish – even without the distillery tour, this made the trip to Humanby worthwhile.
The whole Filey Bay range of whiskies is non-chill filtered and are labelled as “natural colour”. This isn’t unexpected, fitting in well with its single farm, artisan credentials. The range is bottled either at 46% or a cask strength of 55%. Packaging is elegant and modern, with nods to the Yorkshire colours; overall very attractive.
Filey Bay Flagship
46%, first fill ex-bourbon casks.
£55 (Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery online shop – available slightly cheaper elsewhere if you shop around)
Nose: Light, sweet, and fruity: caramel, apricots, apple, hints of vanilla and blossom.
Palate: Honey, chopped walnut and pecan with some citrus – possibly orange zest – and a cinnamon hint.
Finish: Citrus and barley linger. if I was being critical, I’d say there’s a slight harshness from its youth, although it could come across as spice or pepper on a good day.
The Flagship is designed to show off the distillery’s character. It does a great job of this – it’s light, creamy, and flavoursome. It is unmistakably a young spirit, although this doesn’t unbalance it. I do hope that the Flagship is adapted as the distillery builds its stock of older spirit: a slightly smoother character would make this a truly exceptional entry-level release. That said, it is on the expensive end of entry-level whiskies, which will be viewed negatively by some consumers.
Filey Bay Peated Finish
46%, first fill ex-bourbon casks, finished in Islay Whisky refill casks.
£60 (Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery online shop – available slightly cheaper elsewhere if you shop around)
Nose: Sweet and floral, with caramel, pear and sugared cashews. There is just a hint of smoke and even less of iodine.
Palate: Blossom, pear, and citrus fruit, balanced with a light smokiness.
Finish: Smoke and toasted nuts linger pleasantly.
The Filey Bay Peated Finish is interesting in that it gets its peaty character solely from its finish: there is no peat used in malting the barley. This makes it more manageable than anything from Islay. This could potentially be a gateway peated whisky for those who are turned off by the tyre fire that is Lagavulin or the nautical medicine of Laphroaig. The peated finish also seems to work better with the young spirit: it masks the harshness of youth, making for an overall smoother experience. I would go out of my way to find this whisky.
Filey Bay Yorkshire Day 2021
55%, Oloroso Sherry butts and first-fill ex-bourbon casks.
£85 (Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery online shop. Little availability elsewhere)
Limited release of 1500 bottles.
Nose: Blackberry and fruitcake. The sherry from the Oloroso butts is immediately apparent. Notes of vanilla, apple juice, toasted marshmallow, oak, and pepper.
Palate: Raisins, plums, and Christmas pudding, underlined by a touch of vanilla and citrus. Some pepper and chilli come through, testament to the 55% ABV at which the whisky is bottled.
Finish: black pepper, oak, and stewed plum. Long and lingering, and building with every additional sip.
Those who do not enjoy sherried whiskies ought to steer clear. This is a departure from the light and floral whiskies that make up much of the Filey Bay range. Instead, we have a more robust and richer spirit, packed full of sherry character. There is still a lot of lighter fruit though, making for a wonderful and complex palate, full of interesting flavours. This works well as a cask strength whisky, which is encouraging for future Filey Bay releases. It’s also currently their oldest release: I was told it’s a 5-year-old, although I haven’t tracked down corroboration for this online. However, if this is true, then it is good news for future, older Filey Bay whiskies, as the extra time in wood does improve the Yorkshire Day 2021 compared to its younger siblings.
When I tasted this at the distillery, I couldn’t stop myself from leaving with a bottle. Unfortunately, this is quite a small batch and will be increasingly difficult to track down.
The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery makes much of its Single Farm, field to bottle credentials. While this is commendable from an ecological perspective, it is not quite so revolutionary anymore: Waterford has made a lot of noise about Single Farm sourcing, albeit while waxing lyrical about terroir rather than attempting to be kinder to the planet. This ought to prevent anyone from claiming that Waterford is producing an environmentally friendly product. In Scotland, however, Daftmill’s owners have been using their own farm’s barley to feed their distillery’s mash tuns for much longer than either Waterford or the Spirit of Yorkshire, albeit on a smaller scale while distilling seasonally. The Filey Bay range hasn’t missed the boat on this: they are definitely among the vanguard of what is hopefully an increasing number of these locally sourced and environmentally conscious spirits.
While producing a whisky from field to bottle is impressive, it shouldn’t become the Spirit of Yorkshire’s whole identity, particularly when so much else of what they do at the distillery is exciting and innovative. Yes, they use some excellent ingredients that make their whisky truly local, but their products are much more than that. Their cask finish whiskies are quite rightly award winning; while not a new concept, the execution has been first-rate so far. The ability to use one set of apparatus to distil in two different ways is remarkable. I hope the Spirit of Yorkshire release whiskies produced by each of these methods separately to allow proper investigation of the different characters imparted.
I am genuinely impressed that the Spirit of Yorkshire seeks to establish its own whisky identity rather than just making Single Malt Scotch Whisky in Yorkshire. Its current range, while young, is excellent, and the awards that it has earned are well-deserved. The team is extremely passionate, so we can expect them to continue to innovate while they build the Yorkshire Single Malt identity. I cannot wait to try their future releases once their spirit has had more time to mature. I know the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery, and its Filey Bay Whiskies, will be worth keeping a close eye on in the future.
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