It is now 2 weeks since my mini-tour of English and Welsh Distilleries but it still seems like yesterday.
After fantastical drives to The Lakes Distillery on the Monday and then Penderyn on the Tuesday, I was almost ready to head home. However, I had been excited by what I had seen and heard at each and it seemed to me that distilling was in rude health.
Like my visit to the Lakes Distillery, my visit to The Cotswolds was a case of ‘right place, right time’. I had actually decided not to drive home from South Wales on the same day as it was such a long drive and I had already done it once that day! So I looked at the map of the UK and worked out I had a friend on the other side of Cheltenham I could stay with to break my journey up. Then it registered that the Cotswolds Distillery was only 30 or so miles from where I was staying. And in the right direction for a drive home afterwards. Genius!
So I quickly rang Rachel at the distillery and made an appointment to pop in the next morning.
As you can probably tell from theses posts, I like driving and I particularly like driving through beautiful countryside. I had been spoilt already in the preceding days as far as this was concerned, but I have to say that the scenery in and around the Cotswolds is special too. Added to that you come across little villages like this one with sites you thought had all but disappeared…
It was not a nice morning by any stretch of the imagination, but this almost served to make the journey all the more dramatic and I stopped short of a spot of Vaughan Williams to really get the blood flowing!
When I arrived at the distillery the weather was particularly foul, with a strong wind and driving rain, but I did manage to quickly photograph the outside of the buildings…
You may notice that the buildings don’t look particularly ‘lived in’. That’s because, unlike The Lakes, in particular, they are not. They were originally part of an (upmarket) housing development that ended up being scrapped in favour of a distillery – if only other areas of the country saw sense and applied similar logic.
The visitor centre is among the cosiest and most snug I have witnessed and also has a bar full of interesting whiskies (and other spirits) from all over the world. It is good to see a company not afraid of showing off other companies products in order to enhance their own offering.
However, it is only when you enter the distillery building itself that you realise that these buildings are far better off as such. The size and shape suits it perfectly.
I was shown around by the aforementioned Rachel (Head of PR & Marketing) and Alex Davies, the Head Distiller (and Brand Manager). Alex turned out to be an absolute font of knowledge, filling me in on all the techie ins and outs I could possibly wish for. These have been written about in depth elsewhere – try Dave Marsland’s excellent post here on the Drinks Enthusiast blog.
The distillery has been up and running since last summer and is still gleaming and shiny with hope and ambition.
What was of particular interest was that due to the distillery being in ‘cleaning mode’, neither of the Forsyth stills was in operation. This meant we could take a good look at the interior and see the steam coils in all their glory! Train spotting here I come!
I know this was my third pair of copper pot stills in as many days, but I never seem to tire of these gleaming, beautiful and sculpted monuments of whisky-making. I particularly enjoy the smaller versions deployed here and at other ‘small’ distilleries.
Of almost equal interest was the slightly less traditional looking gin still that is becoming a more common site in new distilleries particularly.
Essentially a copper pot still married to an adjustable column still, it is both clever and convenient in comparison to just using copper pot stills – it is also a must in order to create enough alcohol to qualify as gin. The coupling of the two still types allows for the rectification of the spirit up to the requisite % ABV for gin, with adjustable plates within the column to adjust the levels of purification required.
The other interesting thing going on here is in the warehouse. Or it will be. They are currently building a large warehouse in the adjacent field so are making do with the filling store next to the ‘still room’. However, whilst a new warehouse is essential, it is the casks they are filling into where the real interest lies. Of course they are filling into quality ex-Bourbon barrels and hogsheads but they are also filling into ex-red wine casks. However the casks story does not end there. Once finished with in the USA, they are sent to Portugal to be re-coopered before being sent on to the distillery. Phew! Makes my journey look like a gentle stroll.
Along with long fermentation times (I was quoted 4 days) and a really discerning spirit cut, this should all make for a very exciting and characterful whisky. The aim is to bottle every year from when the whisky is ready in 3 years time and in the meantime you can try their excellent gin.
A visit is definitely recommended and if you want to find out more, check out the distillery website… www.cotswoldsdistillery.com
So that was the end of my impromptu mini-tour. I started the journey a sceptic but ended it feeling elated and enthused by the level of thought and passion (as well as money!) that has clearly been invested in each of the distilleries I saw. If you wanted evidence that whisky is on the up, all of these distilleries serve it up in doubles!