They’re no longer a newbie. We’ve covered them enough on Malt now so that we can no longer treat them with kid gloves, a distillery in development. The Cotswolds Distillery is here for good, and this is a new addition to their range.
What’s particularly interesting about this whisky is, indeed, they’re now stepping up to the malt plate as what is becoming a bit of a favourite of ours (well, at the very least mine and Adam, who has spent a bit of time over at their gaff). And what happens when you become a favourite of ours? You get scrutinized that little bit more…
But they don’t need to worry, because if you’re too lazy to read much more, this is an excellent whisky, buy it. The Malt spyglass instead casts its fat-eyed gaze upon the details.
Starting with STR casks, which is to say Shaved, Toasted and Re-charred American Oak red wine barriques. They were developed by the late Dr Jim Swan, a fellow who shaped a heck of a lot of new distilleries as a consultant. His STR casks have been used by the likes of Kavalan, through to… well, just about any new distillery. In fact, you might say that STR casks are really rather the trademark of most new distilleries, which to my mind is a bit of a shame. Just a bit, mind you. Are STRs quick hacks, bringing too many similarities to the new wave? Possibly. Possibly not. For as you know, as handsome and wise Malt readers, the spirit is equally as important as the wood is with respect to flavour. The beauty lies in the connection, the augmentation of what’s already existing within the spirit. A wonderful cask does not rectify a shit spirit, as any Jura fan will tell you.
STR casks are not accelerators of maturation, because of course maturation is more complicated than that. But they are known for giving a dose of flavour, which is perhaps my real beef (and it’s only minor beef, just a small filet mignon) with the STR cask – it contributes to the collective fetishisation of wood being treated like fruit juice concentrate. Yes, there is an obsession these days over the flavours that a cask produces, which borders in my mind on treating the whole process like whisky flavouring. A liqueur. Ribena. And that leaves the spirit as valuable as tap water. Or worse, gin. “We use a sherry cask – expect dried fruits!” Or “Hey, American Oak – that means vanilla!” It’s lazy marketing shorthand and has created a culture of lazy understanding about maturation, building on the “80% of whisky’s flavour comes from wood” myth.
I know why this is, of course. It’s because most distilleries say bugger all about anything else; much of actual production and what contributes to good spirit is shrouded in mystery. All we poor suckers have to go on is that it’s matured in an ex-bourbon cask. Or a sherry cask. Or an ex-wine cask. So what do we do? Fetishize things. The marketing agencies who work on behalf of distilleries, entirely disconnected to how it’s made, are spoon-fed a few half-hearted facts, and run with it to create stories about vanilla. It’s reductionist.
Anyway, STR casks give a thoroughly active maturation, with the multiple influences of the previous contents, the American Oak, and the charring, are they perhaps as active as virgin oak? It’d be an interesting side-by-side. The distillery has used STR casks within their other, earlier vattings, but the Founder’s Choice is all about celebrating the STR in its entirety, and a nod to Jim Swan.
A lack of information isn’t the case with the Cotswolds Distillery of course. They source local barley, though in this case, it is from multiple farms. (Some of the earlier bottles came from an individual farm.) A couple of yeast varieties are in use – and indeed, given yeast was a point of interest at White Peak Distillery, I wonder if this is an avenue more English operations could go down, given the country’s brewing heritage and yeast being more of a thing in the beer world?
Anyway, behold the product page, which has a ton of information to please us geeks – yeast varieties, fermentation times (an excellent 90 hours). And barley variety? Why yes, it’s Odyssey, which is a consistent high-yielder, with supposedly similar attributes to the old industry-favourite Concerto.
And this whisky is three years old. Three!
Anyway, no wanky story, just some good, honest information and transparency. So indeed, today is a rather simple if waffly article, with no real agenda, no tub-thumpery, just simply some points of interest and a nice whisky.
Cotswolds Distillery Founder’s Choice – Review
On the nose: cranberry sauce, jam on wholemeal toast. Figs, raisins. Once that initial dried fruit burst fades – which takes a while – it recedes to some huge cereal notes. Weetabix, even slightly jammy porridge. Two waves of boldness there, but beyond that follows the lighter fruits. Dried oranges. Ginger. Yet it always comes back to that lovely jam on toast note, even at the end.
In the mouth: extremely approachable for the strength; and, indeed, a phenomenal expression of barley shining through the STR wood. Hugely viscous – it’s a joy to swirl around the mouth, something way underrated in a spirit. The barley is more dominant than the wood, curiously; or rather the maltiness merges with the toastiness very well. Chocolatey. Warming with cloves and ginger. Figs again. The cranberry note – perhaps more cherry-like here, less tartness – endures. But the integration of flavours, that boldness of barley versus the rich fruits, is marvellous.
Reaffirms my thoughts that this is easily among the best new distilleries in Europe, and it’s two hours from my door. So I should probably visit a third time. This is a brilliant whisky for one so young – it’s three years old and has more flavour than much of what’s coming out of Scotland’s knackered casks at four or five times its age!
In five years time? Lord only knows how much fun this place will be. So yes. For £65, you should be buying this.