In musical parlance, a second album can often be a difficult proposition for a band – particularly if that band found immediate success and acclaim with their first release. There’s pressure to follow-up the feat with a further triumph….indeed, there’s invariable expectations to surpass that debut with a remarkable encore. Difficult second album syndrome is well documented, but also to my mind has application for the growing category of young distilleries – some have had remarkable introductions, others have raised heckles with their initial pricing – but, regardless, there are still hopes and preconceptions for what comes after.
I was impressed with Cotswolds first release – particularly with the quality vs. price. For their encore, the distillery has stuck to the roots of its first success with a release which plays strongly to the use of wine casks. Founder’s Choice has been matured in recharred American oak red wine barriques – so called STR (Shave, Toast, Repaired/Re-charred) casks. Pioneered by the sadly departed Dr Jim Swam, these casks offer a high level of activity due to their re-planed internal surfaces. Their use is growing in popularity amongst a raft a new fledgling distilleries – many of which seem to be eschewing both the use of virgin oak and/or smaller casks to imbue flavours quickly for their initially young single malt releases. So far, I’ve been impressed with many of the releases I’ve tired that have used STR maturation – whilst the highly active casks impregnate the spirit rapidly, they tend to feel a lot less heavy-handed and much more integrated than smaller-sized ex-bourbon casks.
Founder’s Choice is delivered at a cask strength of 60.9% ABV. Whilst issued as an NAS, given the age of Cotswolds distillery itself, it’s a fair bet to suggest this is three year old whisky. You can pick up a bottle for £65.96 on Master of Malt (indeed as of writing there’s currently a flash sale on for the next eight hours - £54.96 – amazing timing). To my mind this is a very fair price - £20 more than the first Single Malt release, but at a considerably higher bottling strength. It’s pleasing to see Cotswolds sticking to their market proposition - no over the top packaging, no false sense of luxury and importantly no insane buyers premium.
Nose: Expressive hedgerow berries are up first – cranberries, redcurrants and sloes – part bright, part reduced and jammy. Baked apples and orange peels support alongside more typical aromas of toffee and desiccated coconut. Ginger and white pepper effervesce around the fruit salad, adding some zing, before receding into more malty territory with Alpen and oat cakes. A few drops of water releases some stoniness with touches of chalk. A good splash introduced caramel shortbread, toast and ripe melon.
Taste: The arrival has weight and mouth cling – it’s quite viscous and offers a punchy delivery at 60.9%. Burnt toffee, chocolate and syrupy berries sit with charred wood, golden barley and toasted cereals. Similarly to the inaugural Cotswold’s Single Malt, this is all about the underlying ingredients with maltiness taking the lead and the STR wood ably providing back vocals. Wood levels are surprisingly restrained, burnt, a touch dry, but in no way overwrought – their main manifestation is through pepper and ginger – both heady and intense, but sitting well with the overall berry compote. Reduction takes two forms here – a few drops adds some suppleness with sappy, resinous oak and a brighter berry note – particularly cranberry. A more concerted effort to bring this down to close to 50% (as best as my eye can tell) introduces crème caramel, dried winey fruits and the chalkiness detected on the nose.
Finish: Quite long with lingering pepperiness, char and demi-sweet red berries.
Cotswold’s first encore performance proves that sometimes sequels can surpass originals. Founder’s Choice might not have the most original of names, but its contents loudly state that if you weren’t watching the Sourton-based distillery you certainly should be now. There’s incredibly vibrancy here – big punchy flavours, expressive fruitiness, and perhaps most impressively, a sense of depth that other 3 year old whiskies just generally aren’t delivering. Whilst this is totally drinkable at its natural cask strength, it also shines with various levels of dilution – nuances added at each stage, but always with a pleasing underpinning of maltiness. Second time’s a charm.