Is this a Fun Distillery I see before me?

Tucked away in the northern side one of the most picturesque areas of England is the Cotswolds Distillery. The vision of Daniel Szor, a New Yorker who grew tired of a finance career in the City of London, he has created in a few years a busy, bustling production site beautifully integrated  into the outskirts of Shipston-on-Stour.

Right from the off the enthusiasm of the people here is infectious. It’s a bright and really upbeat atmosphere and the music being played beside the stills reflects this cool and relaxed environment. This vibe carries right the way through to the experimentation in the product range. The very dinky R and D area is full of bottles and infusions for various new concoctions. Not only is the place bursting with ideas but it’s also bursting with people with new extensions planned in the short term. Nick Franchino, distillery manager, has been with the business since the start. He has great energy about him and it is with a big smile on his face he talks about how they can drive the business forward.

“Our current kit is great and we can certainly still get a some more production out of our set up here. But there’s always new things to look at and there’s certainly a number of new products that are in the pipeline which will mean new kit and add even more to what we can do here.”

The production area itself is worked hard with two mashes a day the norm and some production work happening 7 days a week. There was even some activity- albeit very low key-on Christmas Day. Kit wise there is a lovely wooden sided 1/2 ton mash tune feeding eight 2500ltr fermenters. Wash is temperature controlled to aid the pitching of 2 yeast strains and development occurs over 4 days to encourage higher ester production. There is then a 2500ltr wash still and a 1250ltr spirit still before barrel aging in a mixture of ex bourbon and wine casks.

Gin distillation happens via a Holstein still with maceration of some ingredients the night before before some of the more aromatic elements- bay leaf and grape fruit amongst them-being added on the day. The need for peeling 400 fruits for peel a week sounded pretty arduous in it’s own right. There is also a small hand bottling area tucked away behind the stills.

Wash and Spirits stills

 

Mash Tun and FVs

 

Exploring the on site bond, which by no means holds all stock, there is a lovely gentle aroma of vanilla. Due to the experimental nature that runs through the company  it came as no surprise to see some port, Muscat and even some ex peated whisky casks in there. I’m sure the special releases from these will be something to savour.

The experimental theme is kept going in the small laboratory. There is a wonderful library of flavours and distillates on hand to draw on and it absolutely feeds in to the nature of the company where fun and innovation is prized. You can see the Cotswolds Distillery is keen to reflect it’s surroundings in terms of the flavours it’s looking for. Zoe Rutherford of the Distillery explains:

“We do want to create a product that reflects where we are- we want to produce a product that is packed with flavour but is fruit driven and approachable”

The small scale experiments in the lab

While I was there I caught up briefly with Daniel Szor, the CEO and founder of the distillery. He couldn’t be further away from the stereotype of a New York Stock market guy. He is quietly spoken but you can sense the pride in what they have set up in such a short space of time. But for a cancellation at the still makers the distillery may not have been quite as far forward as it is but with construction started in 2013 to sales in the shop happening in October 2014 it has been a heck of a ride. He was quick to mention that they are only a few months away from the 3 year mark for their first whisky and there is undoubted pride and anticipation around this. Daniel is also quick to acknowledge the help he had from some great people at the start up phase which has really set them up on a good course.

It has been a quick few years for the Cotswolds Distillery and I look forward to enjoying the progress they are sure to enjoy in the future.

 

 

 

 

New Tasting- English Whisky Company- The Norfolk- Farmers Single Grain

What I’ll be enjoying on World Whisky Day and also appropriate for my daughters birthday party- you can’t have a party without chocolate!

The Norfolk- Farmers Single Grain

This is one of the newer releases from the English Whisky Company and what a great twist on things. Single grains can always throw up a few surprises and the blend of 8 cereals in this works really well.

David Fitt has done a great job to create a complex rich grain whisky whose flavour hits you in sumptuous waves. The product is available in 500ml bottles and comes in at 45% abv.

 

Appearance and Nose:

A lovely golden amber hue. On the nose there is an unmistakable waft of dusted chocolate. It is joined by pears and there is even a small note of both vanilla and butter slightly in the background.

Palate:

The dusted cocoa is now there in full chocolate bar form and the butter note now more pronounced. Pepper is most definitely leading the charge of spices and there is dark red fruit in the background held alongside a slight tannin note.

Finish:

The dark red fruit is now out with cherries to the fore mixed well with a buttery, peppery flavour and even a wee cereal hint in there as well. Provides a nice long finish.

Good with:

Strawberries being dipped in dark chocolate

A sweet fruit slice

Overall:

Making your cocoa while Christmas cakes bake.

 

Many thanks to the English Whisky Company for the sample.

Available from www.englishwhisky.co.uk and www.masterofmalt.com.

 

 

Stephen Fry, Delia, Colmans Mustard, Whisky?

The above could be a question on Only Connect but it does refer to some of the really goods things to come out of the East Anglia area.

 

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The site of the St Georges Distillery near Norwich

 

Just a short hop west of Norwich en route to Cambridge, lies the St Georges Distillery, home of the English Whisky Company.

It’s one of the joys of the craft spirits sector that business models and development are almost as diverse as the range of products. The English Whisky Company is certainly quite a bit further down the road than most. The first spirit here was produced ten years ago and the stunning aroma as you enter the whisky bond is testament to the years of production that are held here.

Andrew Nelstrop and his late father set up the first English whisky distillery in 2006. Andrew today carries his fathers initial vision, and love, forward. His down to earth attitude is obvious on meeting him and the way the distillery was constructed emphasises this approach.

Andrew explains-

“It took just over a year from the decision to do this to get the first spirit running. We wanted to do this ourselves- we were in the lucky position of not having to rely on outside investors so we could take our time with the product and do things as we wanted to. We have a building company of our own so again having guys here we knew who were going to be doing the work. There was a bit of a race to be the first English Distillery but when our competitors project got delayed we didn’t even really have that as a concern.”

 

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The Copper Topped Mash Tun at St Georges with wash and spirit stills in the background

The initial vision for a product range here was to have both peated and non peated versions of whisky and different expressions of each. This was helped by having Iain Henderson on board as a distiller, ex of Laphroaig, to help in the initial start up. The distilling traditions have been carried on by Dave Fitt who has recently been named Distillery Manager of the Year- rest of the world- by Whisky Magazine.

On a process level milling is carried out on site and the mash tun can carry one tonne of grist. The mashing process takes around 6 to 7 hours and there are three 7500 litre wash backs to take the wash. One nice touch is the copper top on the mash tun, which while making little difference to production, does add to the appearance of the brewing area. After pitching yeast, fermentation is carried out to around 7-8% abv, around three to four days before the wash still of 2750 litres performs the first distillation. The spirit still of 1800 litres performs next and final spirit here is coming in at around 73% abv.

In the main spirit is placed in ex bourbon casks although there are some Pedro Ximenez casks and a few others for experimenting with. The spirit is cut a little prior to being laid down. The average temperature in and around Norfolk is higher than it would be in Scotland and correspondingly the Angels share loss is that bit greater. This is really noticeable in the bond where there is a gorgeous warming aroma of vanilla and toast that wraps around you when you enter.

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Images from the highly aromatic bonded warehouse.

The product range is diverse with each expression known as a Chapter. To date there are 17 chapters available- containing both peated and non peated varieties. These come in a variety of ages and finishes. The range also contains quite a few special releases such as bottling to commemorate Princess Charlottes birth or the Queens 90th birthday. Certainly the distillery is happy to push its distinct English style- a bowler hat featuring on some of the new labels and images of St George featuring on other products. Newer products that have come on stream include The Norfolk Malt’n’Rye and Farmers.

Talking about the future Andrew is optimistic at the same time acknowledging there is some work to do- with sales outside of the UK a bit of a focus.

“Exporting is hard work and takes time.” Andrew explains.  “It’s about finding good relationship’s with your partners. We will be in a position to have a 10 yr old age statement in the next couple of years and this gives us a good proposition to further our exports.”

With some excellent products already out there it will be really exciting to follow their progress.

 

Tastings from Kingsbarns

Well sort of, kind of.

We have picked off the new make Spirit from Kingsbarns and given the close ties between to the Wemyss family we have gone with three from their blended malt range – the Hive, Spice King and Peat Chimney.

Kingsbarns New Make Spririt has been a good success for the distillery. New bottlings were needed from the initial production run and on tasting the spirit it is clear why. The spirit has a great fruit nose to it. There is green apple notes to begin with but orange peel and lemon on there as well and I found those predominated in the end. On the palate the fruit character is very well maintained and there is a lovely malt, bready note on the finish. The drink would work really well as a digistif or possibly even alongside cheese. A really excellent alternative.

The Wemyss Malt range are a real attempt to do what it says on the tin and I think they absolutely hit this mark with this.

The Hive on appearance has a lovely light golden colour. When diluted with water you get a lovely sweet honey, slight orange and vanilla notes on the nose.  There is a slightly viscous mouthfeel to it and waxy honey is very present on the palate. I found some fruit, albeit a little subdued due to the sweet honey note and the fruit I had was more dried. On the finish there was a slight caramel cereal note with the alcohol being really well integrated which made it very easy drinking.

Next up was the Spice King again diluted down with water. On appearance again there is a lovely gold hue to the spirit. And again this delivered to the name with butter, white pepper and cinnamon  on the nose. There is a slightly unexpected sweetness on the palate before we get a real infusion of white pepper and the cinnamon. The alcohol gives a warming note and provides for a slightly longer finish. A great one to have after a bracing walk on the beach perhaps?

Lastly there is Peat Chimney and this comes in  slightly more golden colour. On the nose there is a gorgeous smokey character as well as a slight iodine note. On the palate we have a soft salt but the smokey character persists. This is combined with a few spice notes- chilli notably- as well as more a roasted nut element and the peat smoke persist right through to the finish.

 

All in all a good start for Kingsbarns and with the guiding had of the Wemyss family a lot to look forward to.