Spring barley blowing in the breeze – Cotswolds Founders Choice

World Whisky Wednesday returns again with a whisky that I quite enjoy although have somehow failed to review in a larger format. While often I focus on more unknown whiskies and distilleries, despite its origin todays dram has caused some heads to turn in the whisky world. Today I’ve headed to the greener side of England and am looking at The Cotwolds Founders Choice.

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The Cotswolds Distillery was started by Daniel Szor, fed up with 30 years in the financial sector he looked and thought he needed a change. With his at the time firm recently going under, the idea of heading back into the city and rat race looked like a dreary prospect. Daniel did have something to fall back on however, a love of whisky. Years of travelling through Scotland, loving whisky, looking through distilleries and barrels had given him a passion for the subject and a love of the Cotswolds grew from a farmhouse retreat that Daniels wife gifted him. In his own words

‘the idea came to me staring out my bedroom window at a neighbouring field of spring barley blowing in the breeze, that the Cotswolds had lots of great barley (and 30 million visitors every year) but no one was making any whisky. So it seemed like an idea that might work…’

In that moment the idea for The Cotswolds Distillery was born. That idea was not to be making English whisky however, but rather to be making Cotswolds Whisky.

(A side note, English whisky is not so much a taste but a location. England holds a few dozen distilleries, more every year, and the largest thing those distilleries hold in common are that they are all English. Grain, distillation, stills, maturation, style differ greatly from distillery to distillery. As Daniel puts it, ‘…these new English whiskies will be good whiskies… that will be the hallmark of our category.)

So as the idea for the distillery was born, making it a reality was something else. After the acquisition of an estate in the Cotswolds, Daniel and company began using the existing buildings to build a distillery and visitors centre. They started with three stills; a wash still of 2400 litres, a spirit still of 1600 litres and a Holstein still of 500 litres, alongside a mash ton and washbacks that could produce a few hundred thousands bottles a year. Distilling started in September of 2014 (the first whisky mash was on the 5th of September 2014, and the first cask was filled on the 22nd of September 2014, coming of age on the 23rd September of 2017 with The Cotswolds Whisky making its first appearance at Paris Whisky Live of 2017), though it was something that came later down the line that helped Cotswolds be known before they had bottled their first whisky.

Kavalan, De Molenberg, The Cotswolds, Milk and Honey, all these distilleries have something in common. Well, a few things in common, a fantastic taste, award winning whisky, and the late Dr Jim Swan. Coming in to help Daniel and the Cotswolds develop their flavour profile, he helped to guide them through the difficulties in a new distillery creating their first whisky. Not to say that he wasn’t alone, as Harry Cockburn helped in no small part as their first distilling consultant and both senior and junior Richard Forsyth (builders of their stills and co-creators of the distillery) joined in. While The Cotswolds Distillery wasn’t lacking in talent from the start, it helps to have the help of people such as this with you.

While on the crafting side the aforementioned characters had influence in the fermentation, distillation and maturation, there is someone else that needs mentioning, Mark Reynier. While the whisky of The Cotswolds was helped shaped by some, the ‘spirit’ was an inspiritation from Mark. The focus on terrior that Bruichladdich (helmed formerly by Mark Reynier) spoke of influenced Daniel to create a spirit evocative of what he saw on that night from his bedroom window, the spirit of the Cotswolds. Using Cotswolds grown barley Daniel and his team at The Cotswolds Distillery use Cotswolds grown barley well in their spirit to create a house character that shines, reflecting the wind blowing through the barley fields that show the landscape surrounding their distillery (fun fact, the strapline for Cotswolds is ‘Outstanding Natural Spirit’, a line paraphrased somewhat in cheek from the strapline of the Cotwolds themselves, ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’). Its by using that local barley (at time of writing ‘Laureat barley’ grown in the local farms) that they help realise this spirit of the Cotswolds.

When all is said and done for a distillery, they cannot remain idle, while the whisky sleeps in the cask the distillery needs constant work. A seemingly singular regret of Daniel is not buying a bigger kit, and now The Cotwolds are doing just that, expanding in 2016 with the installation of extra washbacks and to help there gin production a larger gin still. New bottling center, visitors center, and even the idea of a large expansion, whether within the current site or a new site in the works at the time of writing, The Cotswolds Distillery is always looking for something new for their whisky to wake up to.

So what goes into their whisky? A long 90 hour fermentation with 2 different yeasts, for another touch of being different a pat of butter is added to every washback during fermentation, not to flavour anything but rather as an anti-foam to keep the fermentations from running over. The Cotswolds then uses a double-pot distillation (with a short heads run and a high cut to tails), before maturation within bourbon barrels and red wine shaved, toasted and recharred (STR) casks, before non-chill filtration and a general bottling at 46%. This particular wee whisky, the Founders Choice, is a Single Malt matured in STR American Oak red wine casks and bottled at a lip smacking 60.4%. Quoting the bottle, we have this,

This cask strength release from the Cotswolds Distillery comes from the favourite casks of founder, Daniel Szor. Thee uniquely active casks give a rich and intense maturation to the distilleries fruit spirit, offering toffee, oak and red fruits, and a beautiful deep colour. The barrels were designed by our god friend, Dr Jim Swan, to whose memory we dedicate this special bottling.

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What I’m drinking today is Batch 02/2019, with apparently only 2500 bottles bottled. I don’t really collect, and was happy to rip the top off this bottle and dive straight in.

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It’s a big, beasty bastard of a whisky, heavy raspberry and strawberry licorice that has been stewing on the stove for hours. After that it turns to red apples, then dipped into melted sugar and left to turn to toffee, hints of ripe peach juice squeezed into the mixture and then joined with roasted banana. After that we get a touch of honey and marmalade, and a heavy hit of jam coming through before some grapefruit juice joins the party and ends with a slice of rhubarb meringue pie and boiled sweets.

After a sip the beast gets up and shakes; a big hit on the start of the palate before it turns again to melted strawberry licorice, raspberry ripple ice cream, peaches, nectarines and gingernut biscuits soaked in orange and lime juice before being topped with melted dark chocolate. The mouthfeel is amazing, creamy and thick, robust and viscous. The jam comes through more than anything else and is delightfully sluggish, a giant of flavor that swings continuous, falling away each time but standing strong after every hit. The finish is long, heavy and thick, with red fruits and a strong hint of earthy soil before ending on a touch of peppermint that refreshes the palate as a delightful end to the whisky.

mentioned at the start of this review that I’ve failed to look at The Cotswolds in a larger format. Funnily enough it was one of my very first whiskies I took a look at when I start my twitter, though it was the standard bottling

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And I think now as I did then. The Cotswolds is damn fine distillery, making damn fine whiskies. While their standard bottling is fine, sweet and floral, this bottling is rich and rambunctious. Much as what has been said is true, its an English whisky but a Cotswolds Whisky, and a whisky from The Cotswolds Distillery first and foremost. It stands apart from the somewhat crowded whisky marketplace we have at the moment, and considering they started distilling six years ago I cant wait to follow The Cotswolds Distillery along the way.

This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any whisky or distillery, The Cotswolds Distillery or otherwise, and is entirely the thoughts and opinions of the author Somewhiskybloke.

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