Scotland is practically synonymous with single malt, but this month, some of our lucky club members are finding out for themselves that great single malt can come from south of the border, too.
The Cotswolds Distillery takes its name from its location, The Cotswolds. It’s one of England’s most beautiful areas. This remarkable landscape in south central England is dotted with thatched roof farmhouses, historic cobblestone villages, softly rolling hills, quaint scenes of rural life, and, now, the gentle steam and copper curves of a single malt whisky distillery committed to local sourcing and traditional techniques.
While English whisky is a relative rarity today—there are only a handful of operational whisky distilleries in England, compared to around 120 in Scotland—it hasn’t always been that way. Generations ago, England had several whisky distilleries, but a combination of political, taxation, and cultural shifts led to the closure of every one of them.
For almost a century, whisky wasn’t distilled in England at all. But today, the tide appears to be turning. The same craft distilling fervor that swept the United States seems to be building in England, with dozens of new craft distilleries specializing in gin and other spirits, and a number of new whisky producers in the planning and startup stages. If the delicious whisky from the Cotswolds Distillery is any indication of the quality of this revival, well, the world is in for a treat. We caught up with the folks at Cotswolds to learn more about the origins of the distillery, why they’re committed to using local ingredients, and the very special casks they use to make their remarkable whisky.
Can you tell us a bit about why you selected the Cotswolds for the distillery?
The Cotswolds is a truly special part of the country, as it lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Our founder Dan Szor used to work in finance in London, before deciding to spend more time in the Cotswolds with his family. It eventually dawned on him that he could combine his love of whisky with his desire to start a new business. Having found a derelict site near his house, he set about building a distillery and a team to run it, and the doors of the Cotswolds Distillery opened in July 2014.
Cotswolds Distillery uses exclusively locally grown barley malted at a local, very traditional maltings. Why choose to go that route?
The desire to reflect the natural beauty of North Cotswolds and honor its heritage runs through everything we do here – we use local raw materials, traditional kit and techniques and partner up with other independent producers in the area as much as possible. We support the local community by committing to using locally grown barely for our single malt whisky and sourcing the lavender that is used in our gin production from Snowshill Lavender, Broadway.
What’s Cotswolds Single Malt like? How do you suggest people enjoy it?
Our flagship Single Malt is rich, fruity and sippable, with strong notes of tannin-rich malt, oils and dark sugar with lots of spice and caramelized Seville orange marmalade. Whilst our Single Malt is delicious enough enjoyed on its own, the whisky works perfectly in a whisky Highball cocktail or simply mixed with ginger ale for those who might be new to drinking whisky.
Can you tell me a little bit about the casks you use, your maturation process, and how you vat a bottling batch? Are there specific flavors or attributes you’re looking for in each of your vatting selections? And what did you learn from working with famous whisky consultant Dr. Jim Swan?
Our flagship Single Malt Whisky has been matured in a combination of premium first-fill Kentucky ex-Bourbon 200-litre barrels and reconditioned American Oak 225-litre red wine casks that have been shaved, toasted and re-charred (STR). The casks that we use to mature our cask strength Founder’s Choice Whisky are exclusively STR red wine casks.
These brilliant casks are designed to get the absolute best from the wood and provide the perfect conditions for maturing whisky. Dr. Swan’s process opens up the wood, allowing for plenty of flavor and color to be extracted. It also builds the perfect flavors in the oak – just enough influence from the original red wine, without overpowering the new make spirit, plenty of coconut and vanilla from the American oak, and deep toffee and caramel notes from the slow toasting and intense charring steps. It’s an extremely active maturation and gives a balance, depth of flavor and rich color normally associated with much older whiskies.
What’s consumer response been like – are people surprised to see an English single malt?
We’ve noticed that the attitude towards English whisky on the whole is a very positive one. We’ve received some excellent coverage recently from the likes of James Martin, Oz Clarke, Philip Schofield and even coverage from the Scottish Sun highlighting the quality of the whiskies emerging from south of the border, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be at the forefront of this movement. It’s certainly an exciting time to be producing whisky in England.
It’s been a few years since you opened. How’s it going? Any discoveries you’ve made along the way that have surprised you?
In the four and a half years that we’ve been open, our company has grown increasingly in size and presence. We now have around 30,000 visitors who come to visit our distillery annually and have just opened our brand new visitor centre, which includes a bigger shop, spacious tasting room, an upstairs space for our new gin blending and whisky blending masterclasses, and an all-important café. Our core products are widely available both nationally and internationally, with our Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky available in 31 countries and our Dry Gin available in 30 countries. It’s been a positive four years and we’re very much excited for what the future may bring!