They say you make your own luck, and Dan Szor has made an incredible amount of luck incredibly quickly.
For a mere 14 months after deciding to found his own distillery near his country home in the North Cotswolds, he's all set to fire up his 500L Holstein gin rectifying still; and his two Forsyth copper pot stills - a 2,400L wash still and a 1,600L spirit still - are only waiting to be connected to the gas before his first batch of new-make whisky drips out of the condenser.
New Yorker Dan spent 26 years as a currency trader, mostly in Paris and London, before his eureka moment hit him on a trip to Bruichladdich in May last year. A long-time whisky lover, he'd bought a cask ten years before and was on his annual pilgrimage to pat it and stroke it when he mentioned to manager Jim McEwan that he'd love to have a distillery of his own. Jim recommended him to Master Distiller Harry Cockburn, veteran of 15 start-ups across the globe; and suddenly the project was flying.
"I spoke to Jim on the Friday, rang Harry on the Sunday, and on the Monday we were in Sweden looking at second-hand equipment," says Dan.
Things have moved at terrifying speed since then - and with speed has come luck. In 2011 Dan and his wife Katia had bought a country home near Shipston-on-Stour. When they were looking for a home for the Cotswold Distillery the ideal site came up only five miles away - a house and barn that had been empty ever since they were built only a few years before as a result of a planning wrangle. The house (built on a grant of B1-B2 use, hence the wrangle) is now the laboratory, offices, and (coming soon) shop; while the barn is possibly the most spacious new-wave stillhouse in the land.
The two Forsyth stills also materialised by a stroke of luck - having given up on second-hand equipment Dan and Harry resigned themselves to an indeterminate spell on Forsyth's waiting list when suddenly the phone rang - a cancellation; would they like to...? Yes they would!
Almost the last piece of the puzzle fell into place when Dan and Harry decided to source their malt from Warminster, whose boss Chris Garrett introduced them to Reggie Hayworth, a farmer near the distillery with 2,000 acres of Organic Odyssey which Warminster is batch-malting especially for Cotswold. Then Dan heard about the closure of the Malvern Mineral Water spring three years earlier, so he's having it reopened. So the barley and the water will be truly local, and only the casks are foreigners - bourbon barrels from Speyside Cooperage for the first fill, then sherry barrels, then US oak charred in Portugal and found by Jim Swan (formerly of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute) to finish.
Dan had hoped to mature his stocks in the Cotswolds, too, but couldn't find a suitable bond. He approached the Bristol Spirit Company which couldn't oblige but directed him to Liverpool, where Plutus - a Victorian bonded warehouse on the city's docks which has served as a film location more than once - will let him a corner of its brick-vaulted cellars where his casks can snuggle up against 10,000 barrels of rum until 2017.
What will this 'grass to glass' combination of Cotswold malt, Malvern water, and Liverpool sea air create? "I love maritime peaty malts, but here we have got a definite terroir," says Dan. "This is a beautiful, rolling, fertile area so the notes ought to be grain and fruit with vanilla, honey, raisins, Christmas cake - a lighter whisky, blonde rather than brunette, but with plenty of depth." Will his wide-necked stills with their steeply-angled lyne arms give him that? Well, Cotswold Distillery might have come together with breathtaking speed, but its whisky won't!
In the meantime the Holstein still is earning the venture's living, with Cotswold Dry Gin due out before Christmas. The young distilling team of Alex Davies, Shaun Smith and Nick Franchino are having wonderful fun with the 1L and 5L test stills assembling a library of 100 botanicals, some of them, such as the red hemp nettle (actually a mint) indigenous to the area. The Cotswold dry will, says Dan, be "fairly mainstream", but look out for a series of seasonal and limited-edition specials that aren't!
Nomad Outland Whisky Arrives
This month sees the release of Nomad, the first major whisky project conceived by sherry giants González Byass. Arguably one of the most highly regarded pioneers in the world of fortified wines, González Byass are now turning their attention and expertise in maturation to the concept described by the company as 'Outland Whisky'.
The inaugural release is Nomad, a whisky aged and blended in Scotland by Whyte and Mackay's Richard Paterson, then transported to the González Byass cellars in Jerez, where it is additionally aged in Pedro Ximenez casks especially selected by master blender Antonio Flores for around a year.
Speaking at the whisky's official launch in Taipei last month, Peter Allison, International Spirits Manager for González Byass feels that the time is right to explore a new category within whisky. "The project has taken about five years to develop," he explains. "We can trace records back to about 1915, where we were supplying sherry butts to Whyte & Mackay and about four years ago we began to think about turning the relationship on its head, wondering what would happen if we matured a whisky in Jerez. Although we can't call the whisky 'Scotch', it was essentially born in Scotland and raised in Jerez. The concept of Outland whisky is a spirit that has travelled from one place to another."
According to Paterson, Nomad is comprised of around 25 different malt whiskies and six different grains, which have been married for 18 months, before being sent to Jerez for their final, additional ageing process. Antonio Flores then began experimenting with a number of different sherry types (including Oloroso and Fino) before deciding on PX casks. "Scotland gives it the character and the origins, whereas Jerez will give the whisky its soul," he points out. "Because of the hot Andalusian sun, we experience a greater acceleration in maturation but also draw a softer note from the PX casks."
Bottled at 41.3% Nomad has initial rich notes of dried fruit, backed by a very well balanced spiciness, with a sweeter, marzipan coated palate and surprising zestiness. It is hoped that other world whiskies will join the Outland whisky stable in the future.
Nomad is priced at around £30.
William Grant & Sons report 2014
On 10 July William Grant & Sons published their 2014 report and revealed current consumer trends and how shopper habits are changing as the country emerges from recession. The report investigates the impact this is having on the way the industry engages with customers to ensure a strong connection with brands and their stories.
New evidence in this year's report suggests the perception of value is evolving, now relating to brands that offer added value. In addition, the growth of scarce and desirable products is growing in popularity as consumers are being exposed to more and more choice. Other forms of scarcity are emerging in importance such as access to unusual experiences and knowledge. Seeking out something that is limited or unique in the way it is crafted, is increasingly common. This remains especially relevant for premium brands in the drinks sector, such as limited edition whiskies.
Immersive experiences remain a key brand engagement tool. With many higher-end brands excelling at offering drinkers interesting serves, personal touches and quality experiences, it's no coincidence that premium spirits continue to drive market growth, particularly in the on-trade where value is up 13.7 per cent. In the off-trade, value has increased by 6.4 per cent, outperforming the growth of non-premium spirits which are up 4.5 per cent.
The report also reveals strong value growth in the malt whisky and spiced/flavoured rum categories. With companies like William Grant & Sons UK investing in educating the consumer at the point of purchase on whisky flavour spectrums, more shoppers are being encouraged to explore the category, further boosting sales. Rum's versatility and use in cocktails has contributed to its growth, particularly in the on-trade. Gin is also performing well; an explosion of new brands has helped fuel general consumer interest in the category. With premium gin growing at six and a half times the rate of mainstream gin, the opportunity remains for further growth.
"We are in a good position to drive long-term value for our outstanding portfolio of premium spirits by continued investment and strong working relationships with customers and our partners. This approach will enable us to deliver successful business solutions to our customers, to the benefit of their consumers."
Chris Mason, MD of William Grant & Sons UK