English whisky is creating a new era. The English Whisky Company is the most well-known at the moment, but there are a couple of producers ageing their stock to satisfy a growing interest in, well, whisky that’s not from Scotland, Ireland or America. People’s palates are changing, and the likes of Cotswolds are there to entice.
The owner of Cotswolds Distillery is Dan Szor, and he will soon be the first to distil whisky in the beautiful Cotswolds area ever. His reasoning? Like many distillers, he caught the bug of craftsmanship when he escaped his London life over many a weekend and travelled to Islay. For those in the whisky know, Islay is one of the many regions that produce some fantastic brands, and Dan himself bought his first cask of whisky from the Bruichladdich Distillery. With regular visits to the Cotswolds over weekends too, he realised that the fields were full of barley, planting the seed to distil and create a unique liquid.
Dan purchased an old barn conversion in the village of Stourton, near Shipston-on-Stour and set out to create an eco-friendly production line. As mentioned, he sources his barley from the nearby farmers, the malt is hand-made less than 50 miles from the distillery and ensures that the malting, mashing and distilling take place in the Cotswolds. A true local affair. After learning the craft, he appointed a team that included Alex Davies as Head Distiller, he of Chase Distillery fame. Dan also consulted with Richard Forsyth of the Forsythes plant in Rothes, Scotland to commission two copper pot stills to use for his whisky production. Not content with just whisky though, Dan also sought out the help from Arnold Holstein in Germany to create him a tailor-made 500 litre hybrid still, consisting of an onion head, botanical chamber and column for the production of the first Cotswolds Distillery spirit, Cotswolds Dry Gin.
Now, with the origin of the Cotswolds Distillery being 2014, and by law whisky needs to be aged for at least three years, I have not had the opportunity to of course sample and experience, that’s a 2017 bottle to look forward to! To get a little geeky though, the distillery houses a 500 kg mash tun, 2,500 litre wash still, 1,600 litre spirit still and four 2,500 litre fermenters being able to produce over 150,000 bottles of what will be a Single Malt Whisky annually, so there not going to be short of bottles when it does finally hit the shelves. They will be releasing an age statement each year too, so expect a 4-year-old in 2018, 5-year-old in 2019 etc.
To wet your appetite though, lets take a look at what Alex and his team are doing for the Cotswolds first whisky.
Using organic barley which is grown on a farm less than 20 miles away from the distillery, it is harvested and malted by the oldest working floor maltings in Great Britain, the ‘Malt Stars’ of Warminster. Once delivered to the distillery, a batch of 500 kg of malted barley is combined with more than 2,500 litres of hot Cotswolds pure water to create a mash within the mash tun. Once the water is drained, it enters one of the four fermenters, where yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. Four days later and you are left with what is called a ‘wash’, essentially a strong ale at around 8% ABV.
The ‘wash’ is transferred to the wash still, where it is turned into ‘Low Wines’ at a strength of the low twenties. These ‘Low Wines’ are then distilled in the spirit still where the strength rockets to above 70% ABV. During this process, Alex will take what is called ‘the spirit’, or essentially the desirable flavours. The beginning (foreshots) and end (feints) are ‘cut’, which are the less desirable flavours not needed in the final product. ‘The spirit’ is now what is termed ‘new-make spirit’ and is reduced to 63.5% ABV and transferred to either a bourbon barrel, red wine cask or sherry cask for maturation.
The production of gin though has been going since the beginning, and gives an indication of the quality that the Cotswolds Distillery is producing. Using either the maceration or vapour infusion method within the copper Holstein still, depending on the botanical, the 9 locally sourced ingredients (juniper, coriander, angelica root, Cotswolds lavender and bay leaf, grapefruit, lime, black pepper and cardamom seed) are combined with wheat spirit.
So as this is one spirit I have been able to try, below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Fragrant, natural and fresh on the nose, with a good combination of grapefruit and lavender. Herbal spice notes on the palate, with a developing citrus and cracked black pepper as it heads towards a long, clean and fresh finish with the bay leaf.
A great gin, with plenty of ‘countryside’ flavours backing up the local theme that Dan has gone for. You wouldn’t feel out-of-place if you were sipping this on a wooden fence overlooking the fields of the Cotswolds that’s for sure. They recommend the two gin recipe staples as standard serves – gin and tonic as well the Martini, so definitely one to purchase and play around with.
Something else to look into if you are ever in the area is the distillery tour. One that I’ve been on recently,it gives a great insight into the future of English whisky, as well as the gin process and production. If you can’t make it, grab a glass, pour yourself a Cotswolds gin and wait with ease for the whisky to arrive. I’ve just ordered mine . . . . . .
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