Distillery Focus

Idyllic Distilling

Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, we visit the Cotswolds Distillery
By Rob Allanson
Sitting pretty, the Cotswold Distillery Centre
Sitting pretty, the Cotswold Distillery Centre
Road trips are the best sometimes, and the drive from Cambridge to Oxfordshire, the Fens to the Wolds, is stunning once you get off the main carriageways. England by the back roads is a great way of seeing the countryside.
There are some interesting things to watch out for if you happen to head across country the same way; one of which is the massive hanger complex at Cardington.

I know this nothing to do with distilling, but the site is pretty impressive, and this patch of the country brings together two great loves of mine, aviation and literature.
The hangers were home to the massive R100 and R101 airships, a pair of leviathan dirigibles completed in 1929 as part of a British government funded programme.
The then parliament was looking to develop civil airships capable of servicing long-distance routes within the British Empire.
The R101 was designed and built by an Air Ministry appointed team and when built it was the world's largest flying craft at 731ft (223m) in length, and it was not surpassed by another hydrogen-filled rigid airship until the Hindenburg flew seven years later.
Unfortunately, like its German successor, the R101 ended in disaster. The airship crashed on 5 October 1930 in France during its maiden overseas voyage, killing 48 of the 54 people on board, effectively ended British airship development, and was one of the worst airship accidents of the 1930s.
However back to the connection between aviation and literature. At the same time as the R101 was being built another government funded team, Vickers Engineering, was working on the R100. The idea was to test out two different designs and builds.
Working out at Cardington on the R100 for Vickers was Barnes Wallis, who went on to be better known for geodetic framework of the Wellington bomber and the bouncing bomb.
His principal assistant (the "Chief Calculator"), Nevil Shute Norway, later well known as the novelist Nevil Shute, gives his account of the design and construction of the two airships in his autobiography, Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer, which was first published in 1954.

The newly released Cotswolds Whisky, a blend of first-fill Kentucky ex-Bourbon, and reconditioned American oak red wine casks is a beautiful first step in to the whisky world. The layers of aroma and flavour are truly impressive.

So, an interesting aside on a trip through England’s midlands, and the road continues on towards another kind of pioneering endeavour which is yielding spectacular results.
Eventually we end up on single track road through the rural countryside this part of England is well known for.
Finally you wind your way into the village that is home to the Cotswolds Distillery, picturesque and beautiful, the archetypal English village that would not be out of place in a period drama.
The day I arrive the distillery is in expansion mode, such has been the success of the company’s gin, and hopes for the whisky too, more space is needed.

The distillery is the creation of Daniel Szor, an American finance expert who made his money in London, before moving to the Cotswolds. When he acquired the site there was just the shells of two buildings and not much else. So Dan pulled together a team of experts, from distillery design, engineering and flavour creation. The help came in the forms of distilling legends Harry Cockburn (former distillery manager at Bowmore, with many decades’ experience in whisky making) and late, great Dr Jim Swan (with his formidable knowledge of the science of distillation and maturation). The team built something the region can be proud of,
and if the amount of visitors there on the day I visited is replicated during the year, the region and beyond has embraced these pioneers.
The team, in keeping with their location and the spirit of boundary pushing, decided to create, in their gin and whisky, something very much of the region playing directly to the terroir idea.

The distillery uses local, organic barley which is then send to relatively close by Warminster Maltings, Britain’s oldest working floor maltings, and then mashed in with village water that has been softened, filtered and demineralised.
Terroir is taken very seriously with records kept of fields, variety and the farmer who is growing for the distillery.
Dan explains that the original new make did not meet Dr Swan’s standards, “He said it was terrible. But then he came along to show us how to create a whisky that would reflect the area, a Cotswolds in a glass.” Boy did it work. Jim’s playing with the mash, fermentation and stills has created a new make that is wonderfully fruit laden, reminiscent of an English orchard, hessian sacks full of red apples.
This already aromatic new make is then filled into a variety of casks, but the predominant ones are the STR wine casks. For those who are aware of Dr Swan’s work, especially at Kavalan, these are red wine casks that have been shaved, toasted and then recharred. There is a lot of activity awaiting the spirit in the casks.

In true pioneering spirit, there are more cask types at the team’s disposal as the spirit matures that could yield some interesting results, especially when you consider the policy is to have full maturation in the casks, no cask finishing.
Dan explains they have sherry, both US and European oak, Olorosso and PX, Madeira, Muscat and Calvados. Oh and a few Laphroaig quarter casks too, which should give a little peat, similar to the peating at Welsh distillery Penderyn. He adds, “The challenge with this is to get to know your stock and how it’s maturing. There will be some interesting single casks in the future.”
The newly released Cotswolds Whisky, a blend of first-fill Kentucky ex-Bourbon, and reconditioned American oak red wine casks is a beautiful first step in to the whisky world. The layers of aroma and flavour are truly impressive.

Given that we are talking about English whisky here, not Scotch, the rule book goes somewhat out to the window. The team at the Cotswolds only have to adhere to EU regulations, which are less stringent than their Scottish counterparts. You don’t have to use barley, or even oak casks. So for these spirited pioneers the sky could be the limit as they say, and the limit is just their imagination; rye, corn and even more unusual heritage grains could lie in wait to inspire a new expression. There is something happening here worth keeping an eye on.
The visitor centre
The visitor centre
The stills
The stills
Casks maturing
Casks maturing