See inside Blackpool's new bourbon-style whiskey distillery

Blackpool’s bright and breezy sense of youthful fun and its bright future following millions of pounds worth of investment has proved the perfect blend for England’s newest distillery.

By Tim Gavell
Monday, 25th October 2021, 12:30 pm

The Bankhall Distillery has officially opened at Burton Road bringing a taste of Kentucky to the sea side.

The company behind it says it is the first bourbon-style whiskey producer in England and with the drink’s profile appealing to a younger and fun loving customer base, rather than the mature connoisseurs of the single malt whisky drinking fraternity, Blackpool was the perfect place to build its stills.

The building has three stills which have already produces two distinct liquors - Rebellion, launched this summer and Sweet Mash, which has come out now for the official opening.

Distillery manager Vince Oleson with one of the US-made barrels which give the Bankhall spirits a distinct flavour

Strict rules don’t allow it to be called whiskey until it is three years and a day old, or bourbon unless it is made in the US itself, but the spirits are made by a noted US expert, Vince Oleson who hails from Arizona.

Vince worked at a top New York boutique distillery before crossing the Atlantic to set up the distilling operation in Blackpool.

The sweet mash style spirit is being aged exclusively in charred American oak casks that have been seasoned in Blackpool since being were made by US coopers in autumn 2020.

Halewood Artisanal Spirits, the company behind the distillery and which also has Crabbie’s Whisky, Dead Man’s Fingers rum and also Whitley Neill gin, said the sweet mash process allows the true flavour to come out as the spirit is aged in the oak barrels for eight months.

Inside the Bankhall Distillery

Andy Wallace, international marketing manager for whiskey at Halewood said it was a case of American spirit meeting Northern soul.

He said: “We are very excited indeed to be doing this in Blackpool.

“The original Bankhall distillery which closed down many years ago (between the wars) was in Liverpool, near the docks. It was huge. There were originally five English Whisky distilleries but for a lot of reasons they closed. We wanted to have our distillery in the North West for historical reasons and the perfect space became available in Blackpool.

“I think it is a great fit. Blackpool has a great sense of fun and is seeing a lot of impressive investment at the moment so it has a big future and here is a real feeling of positivity among many of the people we have met there and if we can contribute to that in some small way then that would be marvellous.

Vince rides to work on his motorbike

“We think that sense of fun is perfect for our spirits. When we were putting together the promotion packs for Bankhall we included a little stick of Blackpool rock with a dash of our 71 per cent new mix spirit in.

“Vince has had photographs done on his motorbike on the Prom and near the Tower and having fish and chips on a tram. He loves it.

"It has a youthful atmosphere and bourbon-style whiskey has a younger profile than Scotch.

“Younger people are more likely to drink bourbon and to mix it, whereas there is a reluctance to use single malts for mixing. So it is a fun drink.

Bankhall is a spirit which works well with mixers

“Blackpool is well positioned to benefit from the staycation boom. The lockdown have made us all reappraise and look closer at what there is on offer close to home.”

He said the distillery’s latest brew, called Sweet Mash, after the particular process of distillation, gave a spirit that had a “creamy custard, toasted coconut, baked apples and brown sugar on the palate, and is perfect sipped neat, over ice, or with a mixer”.

The distillery was founded in 2019 and the first production began in March 2020.

He said: “The sweet mash process means you have to clean out all the equipment thoroughly each time, unlike the sour mash process used by some US bourbons, It is time consuming but it lets the flavour of the oak casks come through giving it a distinct character.

“The recipe is a “high rye” recipe with more than 20 per cent rye grain. It has corn in it, over 51 per cent. We are following all the rules, even the tiny ones for producing it, Its a great juxtaposition of the English and the American, so it is quite ironic that our first spirit was called Rebellion! We launched on the fourth of July (American Independence day) here in the motherland. We all had a good giggle at that.

“We have a sense of humour about the place, in our marketing pack we called it Kentucky by the sea, but we are serious about the product.

Vince is from Arizona but worked in New York before coming to Blackpool

“Vince is a brilliant distiller in terms of vision of what he wants to do with a serious passion for his work.

“It’s very important to us to work with the local community, and with local businesses. We have met some fantastic people, such as Dirty Blondes who have great food and are into cocktails and whisky and they are excited that there is a new spirit made just around the corner.”

Distillery manager Vince Oleson said: “Blackpool is a perfect place to craft our Whiskey. Sea air, irreverent energy and raw spirit. The Northwest is a special part of England and I’ve found a warm welcome here.”

The distillery team celebrated the launch with a meal in town and a trip to Coral Island.

Andy added: “We had a great time. Blackpool is a fantastic place to have our distillery, It is very accessible and loads of fun.”

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