We first came across Cotswolds Distillery‘s single malt whisky earlier this year and were immediately impressed: a fine, full flavoured spirit that tastes every bit as good as its Scottish counterparts. There aren’t many whisky distilleries within easy reach of us, so we arranged a trip to Oxfordshire, staying at the nearby Feldon Valley, and joined one of the distillery’s tours to find out more about this exciting enterprise.
The distillery was founded by whisky enthusiast Dan Szor, a New Yorker who fell in love with the Cotswolds and wanted to distill the essence of the location into a new spirit by working with local produce and suppliers. As is the case with most start up whisky distilleries, Dan and his team began making gin while waiting for the first whisky to mature.
Here’s our own distillation of the distillery tour in pictures…
The Cotswolds Distillery uses local barley to make its whisky, which is sent to Warminster to be malted before being mashed on site. The local cycle is complete with the spent grains being collected by neighbouring farmers to use as feed for their livestock. The wort is fermented for around four days – longer than is standard practice – before the resulting alcohol is ready to distill.
Two copper stills (named Mary and Jane) provide a double fermentation for the alcohol, with the good stuff (the ‘heart’) separated out from the first and last spirits to come off the still (the ‘foreshots’ and ‘feints’). This separation process ensures that only the alcohol with the best flavour gets transformed into whisky.
The whisky is aged on site and at a warehouse in Liverpool in a mix of bourbon, port and sherry casks. Tour visitors get to try the ‘new make spirit’ – the strong, colourless liquid that comes off the stills – while breathing in the sweet oaky aromas from the barrel store.
Cotswolds Distillery gin begins life as a neutral grain spirit which is diluted and has botanicals added – in the case of the distillery’s main Dry Gin this includes local lavender along with juniper berries and other botanicals. A German copper still provides the magic and, as with the whisky, the distilling team carefully selects the good stuff (the ‘hearts’) from the bad stuff (the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’) – the unwanted spirit heading to a local biofuel company while the hugely popular gin gets shipped all around the world.
The distillery tour finishes with a tasting of both the whisky and gin – and any of the other special spirits you care to try (we were mightily impressed with their Lavender Bitters and ‘Cotswold-vados’, a 46% cidery spirit aged in calvados barrels). Unlike most whisky and gin producers, Cotswolds Distillery doesn’t chill filter its spirits, which they believe gives their product maximum flavour, besides turning the drinks cloudy on the introduction of water.
The distillery also runs a series of Masterclasses, with customers able to choose between ‘gin blending’ and ‘whisky blending’ for a more in-depth understanding of the making, tasting and art of blending spirits.
Many of the Cotswolds Distillery’s more unique spirits are only available to buy on site, including an excellent cask strength whisky that is bottled for customers in the shop, straight from the PX Sherry casks it has been matured in.
To find our more about Cotswolds Distillery and book a place on their tour, visit their website at cotswoldsdistillery.com