You may recall we interviewed the people behind the Cotswolds Distillery during the height of lockdown. We were so intrigued by the story of this place that now lockdown restrictions have been lifted, Sabi Phagura decided to give owner Dan Szor a visit and have a sneaky look around the distillery whilst there.
While it’s great to view pictures and learn things online, there’s no substitute for visiting a place and seeing it for yourself. Granted, I gained a lot of knowledge about the Cotswolds Distillery through my interview, but meeting Dan in person was no doubt a great experience where his passion for all things spirits shone through.
The distillery first opened in 2014, not long after it had begun production. Then, Dan recalled it was a much quieter remote place. But when my guest Debbie and I went for a tour, the place was bustling with people either on tours, enjoying a lunch at the café or busy purchasing gin and whisky from the onsite shop. The demand for gin has grown so much here, Dan has plans to extend the distillery come next year.
Dan is a busy man but not too busy to take time out while we lunched to explain his journey and how he got here. The distiller was a numbers man in his former life, selling financial derivatives in the city, but he felt this wasn’t his true calling in life.
Inspired by the barley fields visible from his window at his home in the Cotswold’s, Dan thought to himself, ‘why is no-one making whisky in the Cotswolds’ and so the story began. And why not? The setting here is picture-perfect, almost unreal.
Whilst waiting for the whisky to mature, Dan being a real spirits connoisseur, was busy following the vibrant growth of the gin industry at the same time. With a passion for creating spirits, he saw an opportunity and decided to start producing gin. Cotswolds Dry Gin was created after Dan tried and tested a variety of recipes and flavours.
All of the barley used in the Cotswolds Distillery’s spirit is grown locally some ten miles away and malted at Warminster Maltings. This gin uses nine botanicals, including lavender, which is grown locally to the distillery. They also produce a variety of small-batch spirits that are only available from the distillery, particularly around seasonal calendar dates like Christmas.
While most distillers would want to get more yield in less time, things are not done in this fashion here. The team here are content with the amount they produce annually. That’s because, in Dan’s words, ‘We could do things differently to get more yield, but it wouldn’t be right.’ And it’s this notion that makes them stand out from the rest.
Now, I’m not going to proclaim I’m an expert on whisky, but I have been to enough distilleries to know a bit about casks.
The Cotswolds Distillery use a lot of STR casks – Shaved Toasted Re-charred barrels – as advised by the late Dr Jim Swan, who helped Dan with all he needed to know about making the spirit. Indeed, it was he who pioneered the technique. The casks come from Portugal, which was used for red wine. I’m informed they are used by new distilleries to give the whisky a lot of flavour in a short space of time.
Not all staff here have had previous distilling experience, but those who come on board are given a very hands-on practical introduction to this world. It’s not about efficiency or getting the moist yield; it’s about passion and creating something different, especially when it comes to flavour. And it’s clear that everyone who works at the distillery is passionate about all things gin and whisky.
While it was great to have a tour around the distillery, I felt this place has much more to offer by way of relaxing and chilling at the restaurant and shop and absorbing the country life, starting with the fields across the distillery. In fact, I would suggest turning a visit here into a weekend break. There are plenty of walks to be had here, and you can drop by and enjoy the food and drink offerings at the café whenever the urge arises.
Choose from Barra Gallegga (a Galician rustic filled baguette), salads, soups, sharing platters, as well as a selection of fresh cakes. Prefer an afternoon cream tea? Here you have the obvious option to swap your tea for a G&T. A lot of the produce used in the café is locally sourced, including meat supplier Paddock Farm – who can count more than 40 Michelin stars among its customers and restaurants.
If you’re looking to extend your stay in this part of the world, Feldon Valley is a mere few minutes drive away from the distillery. Here you will find contemporary design lodges in the wonderfully rural Cotswold landscape. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the countryside of the lodges means you never feel like you’re stuck indoors but instead are able to embrace outdoor living with the creature comforts of a luxury hotel room.
The accommodation consists of 25 en-suite bedrooms set across four lodges and one main building, nestled in woodlands running parallel to the golf course. The lodges provide a wonderfully tranquil setting for individuals or couples and can also be booked as whole units for larger groups, sleeping a maximum of seven people over three bedrooms and a sofa bed.
To soak up the gin, The Kitchen is where you’ll find modern British food rustled up from local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is also open for breakfast and lunch. You will find the reception and a large lounge area with an open fire in the main building. The lounge reaches out onto a large terrace with great views of the scenery and two beautiful firepits. Perfect for a cosy nightcap.
Cotswolds Distillery – Where and How?
The Cotswolds Distillery is at Phillip’s Field, Whichford Road, Stourton, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 5EX. To learn more about its history or book a tour, visit www.cotswoldsdistillery.com.
Feldon Valley can be found in Sutton Ln, Lower Brailes, Banbury OX15 5BB. For more information, visit https://feldonvalley.co.uk/.
Photograph of Daniel Szor by Lorentz Gullachsen.