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Grains, most traditionally barley, converted to a fermentable form ('malted') by an enzyme, fermented with yeast to make an ale and then distilled and matured in wooden casks without the addition of any further flavouring.
The distilling of grain spirits is very ancient, and, though most tradition traces Whisky (or Whiskey, there is no legal distinction) to Ireland, England has been central to the development of the drink.
The English whisky industry was formerly very large. In 1828 Webster's dictionary defined 'Whisky' as being, "A spirit distilled from grain. In the north of England, the name is given to the spirit drawn from barley." By 1887, in Alfred Barnard's definitive 'Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom', Preston's distillery in Liverpool was described as "the largest whisky distiller and maker in the world". Nearby Vauxhall Distillery was almost as big, and there were also whisky distilleries in Bolton, Bristol and London.
...well, it would be a novelty in Scotland
Fife Herald - Thursday 07 April 1853
Dundee Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 15 November 1905
The English Whisky makers had grown vast by their adoption of the continuous distillation process invented by the French-Irish exciseman Aeneas Coffey in the 1820's. This produced a very smooth and consistent, delicately flavoured, spirit which could then be enhanced by blending it with the more strongly-flavoured product of the traditional batch-fed pot still.
The very efficiency and huge scale of the English whisky industry was its undoing, as all the major producers were requisitioned in WWI to manufacture acetone for explosives. After the war, Scottish and Irish producers followed the English practice of offering a whisky blended from Coffey process 'grain' spirit with pot-still 'malt', so that almost all whisky is now produced by the process pioneered in England.
Rumour has it, there continues to be a not insignificant trade in home-made product in the North Pennines. This may possibly be illegal. See: Lancashire Whisky
As of 2012, there appear to be four (legal) whisky distillers in England: Adnams at Southwold, Hicks and Healey in Cornwall, The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria, and St.George's Distillery at Roudham in Norfolk.
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