Not that long ago in a distillery not that far away....New spirit first ran from Cotswolds’ two pot stills (Mary and Janis) on 5th September 2014. Seventeen days later the very first casks of Cotswolds single malt were laid down to slumber. Fast-forward to the end of 2017 and the minimum 3 year maturation period had passed. Already over 25,000 visitors had been attracted each year and the distillery was (and still is) Tripadvisor’s #1 thing to do in the Cotswolds. At this stage, other new distilleries have (at least in recent history) bolted out the gates with fanciful stories of luxury and premium alongside even more fanciful inaugural edition bottle prices. But, not Cotswolds.
In something of a rebellion against current new distillery trends, no outlandishly priced first edition whisky was produced and no soul destroying 1st bottle auction was held. The initial release (4,000 bottles), of the batch produced single malt was introduced with an RRP of £44.95. A far cry away from suggesting that 3 year old whisky should commend the same premium as that of brands established hundreds of years prior. It’s wonderfully refreshing to see someone resisting the new galactic order of over-priced young malt whisky that’s flooding the market.
This review has been a long time coming. I’ve been talking to several of the team at Cotswolds for quite some time now (the distillery being only a short hop from where I’m based). And yet, I’d not quite got to sitting down and putting their first whisky under the microscope. A chance encounter yesterday at the Waitrose Drink Festival in London reminded me of my omission.
Cotwolds is maturing spirit in a variety of casks – 1st fill ex-Bourbon, STR wine casks and ex-sherry seem to be the mainstay. However, I’ve heard reports of port casks already being utilised – so the distillery clearly already has its sights set on having a broad palette to draw from as it develops beyond its first few years. The distillery’s first release is composed from the 1st fill ex-bourbon and American oak STR casks. STR (Shave, Toast, Repaired) casks were pioneered by the sadly departed Dr Jim Swam – if you’ve sampled Kavalan’s Solist Vinho Barrique you’ll have experienced them already. The wine element of the whisky is responsible for its somewhat dark hue – much deeper than many other 3 year old whiskies – but without any artificial tinkering from E150a. Likewise, the barest minimum amount of filtering has been employed. The bottling is delivered at 46% ABV and costs £45 in the UK.
Nose: Young with creamy fat ripe fruit, but eschewing the feinty copper that often pervades many fledgling whiskies. Café latte, buttered crumpets and plenty of malt provide a canvas for a compote of raspberries, apricots, oranges and gooseberries to fit on top. ‘Green’ woodiness provides a resinous herbaceous note – youthful, but a lunar mile away from predictable common-or-garden first fill vanilla. Reduction pushes the cask before the spirit – with some wood chips and planed timber. It loses the definition of the bright fruitiness – 46% ABV suits this much better.
Taste: A surprisingly amount of weight given the age of this whisky – no doubt due to the omission of heavy-handed filtering. The result is an arrival that’s sticky, slightly oily and has a good amount of mouth cling. There’s less fruitiness in the development (though strawberries and apricots are still abound) – this is much more malt-forward. Toasted cereals, oaty biscuits and muesli are joined by golden syrupy, butterscotch and chocolate sweetness and plenty of cask spice – quite a mix: cinnamon, allspice, clove and plenty of tingling pepper. These build steadily into the back palate, where more overt woodiness – twigs and branches and a semi-medicinal charred oak are perceptible. The addition of water emphasises natural barley sugars and lifts some of the top note fruitiness back into focus – raspberries, strawberries and a handful of coffee beans.
Finish: Medium with pepperiness, charred wood, reduced sugars, gentle vanilla, and soft wood tannins.
Cotswolds Single Malt is a very strong proposition for a 3 year old whisky. There’s lots to like here. It’s largely spirit forward, and that spirit is packed full of body and character. But, perhaps most importantly the cask composition is sympathetic to the spirit – allowing nuance to develop, rather than hitting it over the head with the vanilla stick. When reviewing young whiskies, my mind-set is often about assessing future promise – here, Cotswold’s have delivered a whisky that’s already a finished article. There’s no greedy inaugural premium, no fanciful backstory designed to reinforce an artificial sense of history, and no over the top packaging calculated to add an appearance of false luxury. This is straight-up good whisky, at a reasonable price - it's a model that many other new distilleries would do well to learn from.