Cotswolds Distillery, est 2014
HOW YOU STARTED OUT
It’s all down to an SMWS tasting I went to when I was working in Paris around 2000 or 2001. It completely blew my mind, trying whisky right out of the cask and saying: ‘This stuff is so much better than anything you ever see in trade. Why is that?’ That set me off on this adventure, making trips with friends to Speyside, and then to Islay. That’s where I got talked into buying a cask of Bruichladdich by Jim McEwan, who could talk anyone into anything in a matter of minutes!
Fast forward 10 years and I was living and working in London, and fell in love with the Cotswolds, where I bought a farmhouse. Then it all basically came down to this one epiphany that I had in the summer of 2012. The place I’d bought was surrounded by a 600-acre farm and that year they were growing spring barley. I had this mesmerising moment one Sunday afternoon looking at it. And I suddenly thought, well they grow a lot of barley here and they get 30 million visitors a year in the Cotswolds.
But if no one’s ever made any whisky here maybe we could do it, and that would be more fun than selling derivatives.
The only person who could tell me whether I was nuts or not was the guy who sold me that cask in Islay.
Off I went to see Jim, who was very much a believer in ‘follow your dream’ and he introduced me to his old boss who used to run Bowmore, Harry Cockburn. Harry became my mentor and helped me take this idea to the next step. He also introduced me to Forsyths in Rothes.
So that was how we ended up getting not only our stills but our whole distillery, because they ended up doing everything for us. And then the final piece of the puzzle was another Scot, Dr Jim Swan. Harry was more of an engineer by background, whereas Jim was all about flavour profile and wood specifically. Between those two gentlemen I was able to learn enough and we went into production in the fall of 2014.
WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT
It’s completely manual – it’s done with guts, with passion. Terroir is also really important to us and what more could you ask for than to be the first-ever to make whisky in this part of the world? We don’t have the high peaks, we don’t have the crags, the glens. We don’t have the crashing surf. There’s less drama in the landscape here, but it’s the kind of landscape you’d see in a Turner or Monet painting.
It’s an incredibly soft, lush and gentle landscape and so, so beautiful. It seemed as though the whisky should be of a gentleness that is commensurate with the Cotswolds but it should be full of flavour. It’s a very agricultural area, mainly fruits and cereals. So to me, fruit and grain are really what you’re trying to express in the whisky
Also, Dr Jim Swan’s STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) cask that he developed for Kavalan has become a staple of our wood programme.
We use American oak ex-red wine casks that had been shaved on the inside, toasted and then recharred, set on fire and allowed to burn. That was a brilliant conception and it ended up being kind of the house taste.
It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that a whisky this young tastes the way it does, but the two reasons that the three-year-old tastes the way it does is because you’re starting with an extremely clean new-make spirit.
Then you’re putting that in really good quality wood. If you put good new-make into good wood, you don’t need 12 years. Three years, sometimes, can be enough.