Our Visit to the Cotswolds Distillery

Nickolls & PerksEnglish Whisky, Whisky, world whiskyLeave a Comment

For our Midlands-based team, a venture to a distillery to sample some fine whiskies usually entails a long trip to Scotland; to have a well-established distillery just an hour or so away on a direct train was most welcome! The Cotswolds whisky and gin have been a familiar sight on our shop shelves for some time, and this week we finally had the pleasure of visiting this juggernaut of the English whisky/spirits scene to meet with Global Brand Ambassador Rob Patchett learn more about their exciting plans.

Born From a Passion for Whisky

In the rolling green hills of Shipston-on-Stour stands a beautiful yellow Cotswolds stone structure, one that you’d be forgiven for thinking was a quaint old farmhouse. On closer inspection, you’ll find what is soon to become England’s largest-output whisky distillery.

The distillery was founded by born and raised New Yorker, Dan Szor. Whilst based in London and working in the world of Finance, Dan fell in love with the Cotswolds when he and his wife purchased an old farmhouse in the area. Inspired by the setting and already passionate about whisky, he set about creating a distillery focusing on whisky and gin but exploring all manners of craft spirits. The spirit first ran from the stills in 2014.

A Daring Expansion

For eight years the distillery operated their original pot stills, the aptly named Proud Mary and Janis: Proud Mary (the wash still) because she’s a spluttering workhorse reminiscent of an old riverboat; Janis (the spirit still) because the distillery takes a very small cut of only the lightest fruity compounds from the heart of the run for their spirit, so it’s only right that the still is named after Janis Joplin (“Take another little piece of my heart now, baby”). The stills continue to serve the distillery, but with output at maximum capacity, it was time for an expansion.

After a long wait, the new (and yet unnamed) stills have been installed in the Cotswolds’ brand-new distillery. The new stills were produced at the legendary Forsyths, experts in their craft that have produced stills for industry-leading distilleries around the world, including Japan’s Yamazaki distillery, USA’s Woodford Reserve, and Scotland’s Glenfiddich.

The stills are replicas of Mary and Janis in their shape but at a greater scale. We spoke to distiller Johnny, who explained the considerations of using the new equipment, the challenges of scaling, and the exciting future the new distillery will allow. Once the team have adapted, the new stills will allow Cotswolds to increase output from the distillery’s historic 125,000 litres of alcohol per annum to 500,000, becoming the highest-output whisky distillery in England.

Maturing in the Cotswolds

Age is a divisive topic when it comes to whisky: for generations, the rhetoric has been that older is better. Whilst age is an important factor, it is just one variable in a complicated and considered craft; make a poor spirit and put it in a poor cask, and even decades of maturation will struggle to produce a good whisky. A distillery like the Cotswolds doesn’t yet have time on its side to the same degree as most of its neighbours in the North, so the pressure was on to create an exceptional spirit to mature in excellent casks, enabling them to release great-tasting whiskies without years of maturation that reach double figures.

Sampling the new-make spirit fresh from the stills reveals that the tight cut points and hand-operated attentive care in production have conquered the first challenge, producing a delicious and fruity spirit that will have you eager for a second serving. After a sip of the spirit, our host Rob led us to the onsite warehouse where the familiar scent of slumbering single malt permeated.

Tucked behind a delivery of casks, we glimpsed cask no.1, where it has peacefully lay since 2014. As we strolled around the maturing Cotswolds stock, Rob explained how the late Dr. Jim Swan – a gentleman who redefined the industry and consulted many new-starts before sadly passing in 2017 – assisted with the wood policy in those early days, resulting in the Cotswolds utilising a high volume of Shaved Toasted and Re-Charred (STR) casks. This process was known to the industry previously and allows coopers to rejuvenate casks that have been used many times before, but Dr. Swan pioneered the use of this process for wine casks, allowing this abundant but particularly challenging style of cask to become a consistent and effective means of maturation.

Since the start, the distillery’s policy has been to use only first-fill casks, as these casks will quickly impart flavour to the spirit and help The Cotswolds tackle the second part of their challenge, releasing a great whisky after only 3+ years of maturation. Such casks lined the walls as we perused the warehouse, hosting an array of STR wine barriques, ex-bourbon barrels, Oloroso hogsheads, and some secret projects.

Sampling the Range

With the foundations of the distillery understood, we made our way through to the laboratory and sampling room, where we were met with a library of cask samples. Here we tasted a powerful fruit bomb of a spirit that was drawn from a single Oloroso hogshead after just two and a half years of maturation. The satisfied silence that descended on the room as we savoured our drams proved the lengths the distillery had gone to had paid off; we were sampling a delicious dram that wasn’t even old enough to be called whisky yet.

With our appetites sufficiently whetted, we were ready to explore the final product in earnest. Climbing the stairs to the mezzanine in the visitor centre revealed a tasting table bearing 11 expressions of Cotswolds whiskies, an impressive testament to the growth the distillery has enjoyed since those early days of one or two expressions.

The core range of single malts showcased the bread and butter of what Cotswolds offer, utilising STR, sherry, bourbon and even ex-islay casks to create a broad selection that will suit all palates. From here, we explored the more premium selections, including seasonal Spring and Autumn limited releases, single cask expressions, and distillery exclusives. Such a range is a rare sight at an English whisky distillery, cementing that Cotswolds have blossomed into an industry-leading brand with an exciting past, present and future, and as a longstanding family-run business, we’re excited to be part of that future.

Steven – Whisky Specialist

Cotswolds Distillery at Nickolls & Perks

We sell a variety of Cotswolds products at Nickolls & Perks. At the time of writing this article, we’re stocking the following…

Cotswolds Single Malt

 

 

 

The distillery’s flagship single malt. A vatting of 70% STR wine barriques and 30% ex-bourbon casks.

Price – £46.50

ABV – 46%

Link To Purchase – Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – Nickolls & Perks (nickollsandperks.co.uk)

 

Cotswolds Founders Choice Single Malt

 

 

 

Matured entirely in STR American oak wine casks and bottled at cask strength.

Price – £64.95

ABV – 60.9%

Link To Purchase – Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – Founders Choice – Nickolls & Perks (nickollsandperks.co.uk)

 

 

Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt

 

 

 

A vatting of a plethora of sherry casks, including Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez and Amontillado.

Price – £62.95

ABV – 57.4%

Link To Purchase – Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Nickolls & Perks (nickollsandperks.co.uk)

 

 

Cotswolds Peated Cask Single Malt

 

 

 

Matured in ex-Islay casks, imparting a smoky character to the whisky.

Price – £64.95

ABV – 59.3%

Link To Purchase – Cotswolds Peated Cask Single Malt Whisky – Nickolls & Perks (nickollsandperks.co.uk)

 

 

Cotswolds Dry Gin

 

 

 

A classic dry gin made with Cotswold lavender.

Price – £34.65

ABV – 46%

Link To Purchase – Cotswolds Dry Gin 46% – Nickolls & Perks (nickollsandperks.co.uk)

 

Nickolls & PerksOur Visit to the Cotswolds Distillery

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