The Cotswolds isn’t just picturesque villages stuffed full of overpriced, golden-stoned cottages and pap-dodging A-listers, you know? Well, there is quite a lot of that, but what has brought me here is… Surprise! Surprise! A distillery.
Now I’m mainly here for the gin but, The Cotswold Distillery was set up by a whisky loving, American ex-pat hedge-funder, presumably seeking a way to cleanse the filthy lucre stains from his soul, by doing something he loves. The gin was, unapologetically, introduced to help pay the bills while waiting the three long years for the first drop of whisky to be ready to sell. Now, that may not be the most romantic, inspiring, or particularly promising backstory you’ll find in the gin world, but it’s honest. And one of the things I really liked about this place was that, despite its countryside location, there was a refreshing lack of bullshit in the air with no tales of hidden ingredients, secret techniques or a carefully crafted, fake heritage.
After an introductory film, we were taken on a brief and informative tour. The distillery was in a medium-sized barn containing Mary and Janis, the traditional whisky stills and Lorelei, a beautiful name for a rather beautiful 500lt Holstein still which makes, among other things, the gin.
We were given a good run down of the whisky process, from grain to barrel, and the rather speedier art of gin creation. If you want the details, you’ll have to go on the tour, but being able to see the equipment and having both processes described in such close proximity gives a new dimension to what may be a familiar story to some.
The tour then moves to the warehouse: A similarly sized barn, filled floor-to-ceiling with barrels containing malt spirit, slowly extracting flavour from the wood and, second-by-second, becoming whisky. It takes at least three years before you get to call it whisky, so you need patience, which may explain why I’m a gin man. The room holds a small sample of the main stash, stored elsewhere, to allow the distillers to have the occasional sample, for ‘research purposes’ and review how the ageing process is going. There was plenty of good information about how the barrel affects the final whisky and, if you’re interested in that… GO ON THE TOUR!
The whole site is in a lovely location and beautifully laid out; perfect to wander around on a sunny, July afternoon. It’s not a big place and this is a great tour for the hard-of-walking as we had barely covered 50 yards before finding ourselves back in the cosy comfort of the tasting room and eager for the main event.
Opening with a more than generous shot of their headline Cotswold London Dry Gin: The first thing I get is a waft of lavender riding in on a big grapefruit aroma, but this is far from a two trick pony as, even on the nose, there’s a good peppery spiciness.
Dean, our host, did a good tutored tasting: He gave guidance as we moved through neat… with ice… with tonic and finishing by adding a couple of drops of their own bitters, but was careful to allow us to find the changing taste at each stage ourselves.
The smooth, surprisingly so at 46%, spirit has a punchy juniper backbone and a lightly oily mouthfeel, working well with the grapefruit/lavender/spiciness which is all prominent when neat. I found cardamom really kicked in with the tonic, enriching the aroma and raising the spiciness. There’s bayleaf in there as well, which my notes show I picked up on strongly when tasting a month or so ago, but it escaped me this time. Different time, different place – maybe I’ll try bayleaf in the serve next time out? At the end I went for the lavender bitters as a wildcard, feeling the grapefruit would be a bit of overkill, and enjoyed the floral sweetness it added.
It’s a well balanced, versatile gin. Complex enough for a neat drink, but punchy enough to star in a gin & tonic, or martini. A highly recommended Strong Silver award from me.
Next came two small batch distillery gins which you’ll not find elsewhere. While both are undeniably good quality I really only enjoyed the Countess Grey which, unsurprisingly, contains tea. This added a touch of sweetness, making the 46% spirit even smoother, and holding the juniper down a little. There is less spice, but the tea gives an added earthiness and tanic dryness, which would really lengthen out a gin & tonic, surely the natural home for this gin. The other option was Baccarat, a spicier gin which really pumped up the cardamom. Too high for my tastebuds, but I’m sure plenty would disagree.
I finished off the juniper-related samples with their “1616 Barrel-Aged Gin” which, as it contains some malt spirit, is clearly an oude-style ‘genever’ in all but appelation d’origine controlee. As a committed whisky-dodger I wouldn’t expect to like this, but I absolutely loved it. I’ve tasted it on two separate occasions and rated it a Gold both times. It’s aged for 6 months in oak but, despite this and the malt spirit, still has a solid spine of juniper surrounded by a rounded, fruity, spicy depth you just couldn’t get in a dry gin. I’m still unsure of it being labelled as a gin, but it’s certainly impressive stuff whatever name it answers to.
The samples didn’t stop there with a Summer Cup, Espresso Martini, Cream Liqueur, Malt Spirit, Spirited Sherry (a rather special combination of malt spirit with Olorosso and PX sherries) and even Absinthe, all available to taste and all demonstrating that The Cotswold Distillery really knows what it’s doing. Dean wasn’t shy with the pouring, and if you want to know what these tasted like… GO ON THE TOUR!
Even if the gin is a bit of an afterthought, it’s an excellently executed one and I’m clearly not the only one impressed by their range of spirits, as a whole room festooned with awards, including a gold medal for the gin, from San Francisco last year, testifies.
Not bad for a whisky distillery, which hasn’t even made any whisky yet.
The Tour & Tasting costs £10* and runs twice a day. Beware: ours was completely sold out, so get booking. Considering what I learnt and what I tasted this has to go down as one of the most pleasurable ways to spend £10 yet devised so I’ll stick to my earlier advice… GO ON THE TOUR!
*You can just do the tour, without tasting, for £6 but if you go for the full thing then a driver can get a few tasters to take away to try out later.