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The Cotswolds Distillery was founded by Dan Szor, a native New Yorker who spent 25 years in Europe, eight in London as an investment banker, before moving to the Cotswolds in 2011. A single malt lover, he was inspired to leave it all behind and make whisky, thinking his new idyllic English countryside home was the perfect place for it. While the whisky matured, he created a range of gin, as well as numerous other spirits that don’t have such commercially prohibitive ageing laws.

The whisky made here begins life as local barley, farmed just a few miles from the distillery. Right now they grow the Odyssey strain, but a switch to Concerto is on the way as it’s an advised grain for rotation. The only part of the process that doesn’t happen in the Cotswolds is that Warminster Maltings do the malting, but even then they’re only a short distance away in Wiltshire.

The Cotswolds creates a clear wort when mashing to accentuate the fruity elements in the mash. By letting it rest for half an hour at the end of the cycle and the grain sifts to the bottom, this reduces the grainy element and lets the fruit shine. A clear perspex element in the pipe allows the whisky makers monitor it. The floor-malted barley which is fed with hot water recycled from the last run into a 0.5-tonne mash tun.

Fermentation runs for 90 hours with two yeast strains: Anchor for efficiency and Fermentis to build esters. The first two days of fermentation are about yield, while the next two days are about letting those fatty acids and fruit compounds (where flavour lives), develop. The cut points are very narrow here and the distillers will switch from foreshots to hearts (cut at a high 69%-76% ABV) after only a few minutes and similarly cut to feints quickly to preserve those fruity esters from fermentation and reduce the interaction of any heavier, rougher compounds.

In February 2022 the distillery announced a significant expansion in the production of its single malt whisky, including a second dedicated whisky distillery at its 14-acre Shipston on Stour site in the North Cotswolds. The now operational site from Forsyths cost a cool £2.7m and boosts production to around 500,000 litres of pure alcohol each year, making Cotswold Distillery the largest producer of English Whisky.

Everything from the mill to the spirit safe is modular, like whisky Lego. It was built up in Rothes and then disassembled, brought down south and put together in a new building next to the old distillery. All the equipment is on metal frames and could be taken to pieces and packed off somewhere else. There were only three such distilleries in the world when it was installed.

There’s a two tonne mashtub – four times bigger than the old one – and nine washbacks with foam breakers. In the old distillery they just added butter to keep the foam from fermentation down. A trick from marmalade making suggested by Jim Swan. The stills are the same shape as the old ones but bigger. The wash still, ‘Rosie’, has a 10,000 litre capacity while the spirit still, ‘Fanny’, is 5500 litres. Because of the limited space, the shell and tube condensers aren’t quite as big as necessary so there are sub-coolers afterwards to further cool the spirit. These are like miniature worm tubs built into the pipework. Very clever.

There are still teething problems with the new equipment. The main issue is that the new mash tun is too efficient so it extracts more sugar and flavour from the malt so the resulting wash is stronger and richer than the one from the old distillery. Apparently it makes great new make but it is noticeably different from the light fruity Cotswolds profile. Szor described it as “Cotswold 2.0 – only in the last few weeks are we embracing the character.”

The old distillery is very very exciting. There’s a small column still which will carry on making the award-winning Cotswolds gin but the main stills are being given over to rum! And not just any rum but a high ester Jamaican-style rum made from treacle. There’s even a muck pit where all the dunder – leftovers from distillation – goes and then a small amount is added to the next fermentation. There was a flor-like layer of yeast on top of the muck and the smell was heady and wild. The distillery has released a few trial amounts of rum which sold out quickly but they are now making and ageing rum on a whole different scale.

They now have 4,000 casks ageing in their on-site warehouses. Ageing due to the warm Cotswolds summers is much quicker than up in Scotland. The three primary casks here, however, are bourbon, sherry, and STR (shaved, toasted, re-charred) casks. The sherry comes from Miguel Martin, while the STRs are sourced from J Dias in Portugal. There’s plenty of variety here too, which casks like Sauternes, rum, Tequila, vermouth, sake, and Islay quarter casks maturing in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds Distillery, is without doubt one of the leading lights of the English whisky boom. Its beautiful site receives nearly 100,000 visitors a year, who are treated to a host of excellent spirits, including a clearly lovingly-made selection of gin, and a superb early core range of whisky. Wine and spirit merchant Berry Bros & Rudd bought a 10% stake in the business in 2023.

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