Though made initially to resolve the cash flow issues of a whiskey producer, Cotswolds Dry Gin is far from a backbench project, fusing botanicals grown from within its home region’s stunning stretch of rolling hills with traditional gin flavourings. The result – a spirit that is both evocative and delicious.
Cotswolds Distillery is the brainchild of former hedge fund investor Daniel Szor. Szor, who moved to London with his British wife in 2006, bought a weekend home in Shipston-on-Stour and fell hard in love with the Cotswolds. It wasn’t until 2012, though, that he decided to open up a distillery in the area.
Szor has been following the growth of the whisky industry up in Scotland since 2000, when he became obsessed with the spirit after attending a presentation by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Paris. “I then started visiting distilleries in the Highlands and Islands once a year on an annual “guys trip” with my best friend and found myself completely taken by the charm of the surroundings as well as the tradition and passion for the product.”
This passion, along with a desire to leave his desk job came to a head one fateful day, when he looked out of the window of his Cotswolds home during one of those golden hours and was captivated by a field of barley lilting in the breeze. His thoughts turned straight to distilling. Having spent his life trading money, he wanted to create something tangible.
The Scottish makers creating fantastic drinks in glorious locations served as inspiration for Dan. They were what he modelled the distillery on, creating “a true visitor destination which would imbue our guests with a sense of our craftsmanship, passion and attention to detail.”
The Cotswolds – despite its bountiful land and booming tourist industry – had no distilleries in its 787 square miles. Spying an opportunity, Szor set to work. He headed up to the Bruichladdich distillery in Scotland and spoke to Master Distiller Jim McEwan, who put him in touch with veteran distiller Harry Cockburn.
Cockburn gave Szor the confidence to distil, teaching him that good engineering, attention to detail and a disciplined approach to production lay at its core. With over 50 years in the industry, he also had the contacts to get the distillery in ship shape quickly, calling in still makers Forsyths to build and install the whisky stills (and also to plumb in the Holstein gin still).
While Szor received guidance with the whisky, Cotswolds Dry Gin was all the distillery’s doing. He and his wife undertook a lot of blind tastings, working out what they did and didn’t like. They learnt that they were aiming for a traditional gin, with big citrus and juniper notes that would stand up well to tonic.
Szor had three distillers on the payroll two months prior to the distillery being commissioned, so they were set up in a small lab above the shop and given a 1-litre still each, along with a library of 150 botanicals to work through. Each was distilled individually over the course of a month so that they could get a better feel of how they could be used in the final recipe. The second month was dedicated to playing around with London Dry Gin recipes, each containing 5 – 15 botanicals. These recipes were narrowed down to 12 finalists, then three.
Geoff Taylor of the spirits lab at Campden BRI brought a team of spirits experts down to the distillery, and they collectively selected the flagship gin recipe.
The botanicals that comprise the final line up are juniper, lavender, bay leaf, grapefruit, lime, black pepper, cardamom, angelica and coriander seed. Unusually, they’re used in great quantity – with as much as 4kg used per 400-bottle batch. This leads to a high oil content and a spirit that louches when mixed with tonic, ice or water, so don’t be (too) concerned when the drink clouds in your glass.
The botanicals are macerated ahead of distillation in a neutral spirit, before being put through the run, which takes six to seven hours. The still has a 500 litre capacity, but currently it is only filled 2/3rds of the way to ensure maximum reflux.
Cotswolds Dry Gin is a one shot spirit, so once the hearts cut is taken from the still (at around 80% ABV) the only other treatment is to blend it to bottling strength (46% ABV with water).
Cotswold’s Dry Gin has a genuinely tasty and intriguing flavour journey. The black pepper and lavender bring a really unique element but it never strays away from being a classic, juniper-heavy gin with a refreshing kick and a characterful and endlessly oscillating sweet-spice duality. That high oil content comes into play on the mouthfeel too and at 46%, it’s smooth enough to sip neat.