Cotswolds Gin is distinctive, but classic and one of the best London Dry gins around. Here’s how the team approached it and what they tried to do to create something unique.
Were there any obvious botanicals that could connect you to the region, or was the aim to make something traditional?
We hoped to do both really. We always knew we wanted to do a ‘proper’ London Dry, something clearly juniper-led. Principally because that’s the kind of gin we like to drink and we wanted to make something timeless, not faddy. But we also had no desire to make ‘just another gin’ that you wouldn’t be able to pick out of a line up. Tying our spirits closely to the region is really important to us so we decided to introduce a local botanical to give a distinctive twist. We investigated a load of different options but in the end, the perfect botanical was just around the corner – there’s a beautiful Provence-style lavender farm at Snowshill near the distillery and introducing just a tiny amount of lavender gave us a fantastic, and clearly identifiable, flavour profile.
Was there a lot of trial and error?
We started by developing the library of 150 single botanical distillates and then the three distillers set about trialling different recipes, coming up with 60 different options. All the gins they came up with were blind tasted against each other and we whittled them down until there were 3 options remaining. We put together a tasting panel with the experts as Campden BRI, tasted them blind (with 4 established gins for good measure) and eventually picked the recipe that everyone now knows as out Cotswolds Dry Gin. All in all, the development process took about two months. We’ve been producing that gin pretty much every day since.
It’s getting the proportions of different botanicals right that takes the most time. They all behave so differently, so getting the nine elements to fall perfectly into balance is no small task. The black pepper, for example, is so potent. You really only need a tiny smidgen to get the peppery lift on the finish. Any more than that and it drowns out everything else. The lavender is tricky too – overdo it and it will make everyone think of their granny’s favourite soap, but just a little bit will give a fresh floral note that makes you think of sunny afternoons in the countryside instead.
What is unique about your production – distilling and infusion.
The process itself is pretty traditional (copper pot still, botanicals straight into the still for maximum flavour extraction), but the difference is in the detail. We knew we wanted to make a really robust gin, something that was delicious on its own but also stood up to tonic. So we essentially went overboard on the botanicals – we’re using about 10x the weight of botanicals that you usually would for a premium London dry. We also decided to use fresh lime and pink grapefruit peel rather than the usual dried stuff, because we knew that the oils in the fresh peels were going to be the key to a rich mouthfeel. Admittedly that decision was made back when we thought our gin would be an interesting side project that we’d run every now and then, rather than a daily feature of our lives with two stills running. It’s a LOT more peeling than we ever imagined, particularly given that it all has to be done by hand with a potato peeler, to avoid getting too much bitter pith in the still. The most visible difference with our gin is a result of all those fresh oils; it louches (forms a pearlescent cloudy haze) when chilled or diluted. That’s the oils from the botanicals trying to come out of solution and when we first ran the still and saw that the spirit louched we panicked – it’s traditionally considered a flaw in white spirits. But if you filter the spirit to remove those oils and thus prevent the louche, you’re pulling out compounds that are giving you flavour and mouthfeel. As whisky makers, we wouldn’t dream of chill-filtering our whisky, so why would we do it to our gin? We value flavour and quality above traditional ideas of ‘what a gin should look like’ so we decided not to filter it and to embrace the louche. And we’ve got no regrets – we’ve been told that we’ve been marked down for it in some competitions, but we’re convinced it’s the way more and more gins will go in the future. Just look at the craft beer movement – they’ve been pushing back against filtered and fined beers for a long time now and consumers get it, they know that more cloudiness means more flavour.
The other thing about our gin production that isn’t unique but is unfortunately increasingly rare, is that we don’t use the multi-shot method. A huge proportion of gins on the market have further neutral grain spirit added back in to their distilled gin, to eke out the batch and make more bottles from each run of the still. It’s a really efficient way of making gin, but we think the quality of the final product suffers for it. Some gins are as much as 1 part distilled gin to 25 parts NGS. Ours is the single shot method – the only thing we add to the gin is filtered water to bring it down from 83% abv (what it comes off the still at) to 46% for bottling. It would have been really easy to start multi-shotting the gin when we realised we needed to increase production, but it would fly in the face of everything we believe in as a distillery, so instead we just bought another still (so we now have a 500l and a 1200l) and worked that much harder.
Why was the region the obvious choice for the brand?
Because so much of it was tied up with Dan (our founder’s) decision to start the distillery. All he wanted to do was leave his career in finance in the City and do something for himself, which would allow him to spend his time where he was happiest; at home in the Cotswolds with his family. And cliched as it sounds, it was literally the sight of the barley growing in the fields next to his house that made him realise that he could be the first person to turn all that barley into whisky in the Cotswolds. The area has this rich agricultural history and he wanted to fit into it, so he decided from the off that the brand would be a celebration of the region – but more importantly, the products would be too. All the barley that goes into our whisky is from local Cotswolds farms and once we’ve mashed it, the leftover spent grains go down the road to feed our neighbour’s cows, for free.
There’s a real feeling that life here is meshed together, and we’re a part of that now and hopefully will be for a long time. The distillery is a fixture of the local community – we’re employing local people, using local ingredients and hopefully making products that people in the region are proud to be associated with. If we weren’t doing those things, we wouldn’t feel that we’d earnt the right to have the region’s name on our distillery and all our bottles – too many regionally named gins have little or no real links to the area because they’re distilled and bottled hundreds of miles away by contract distillers. Contract distilling is a reality of the industry and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but we do feel it’s actively misleading the customer if you specifically call your gin after a place and yet don’t admit that it’s made elsewhere.
Are there flavours in your gin that work well in particular cocktails?
Dan’s stipulations when we were developing the recipe were that it had to hold its own in a G&T, make an excellent martini and work well in a Negroni. We’re horribly biased but we’re confident it exceeds expectations in all three. But for something a little different, we’d have to go for a Corpse Reviver No.2: we make our own absinthe here (as you do) and it works perfectly with the Cotswolds Dry Gin – it really picks out the light menthol hint from the bay leaves in the gin. We’ve got a couple of hardened cocktail geeks working here and the things they come up with are incredible. But it’s a perfect playground for them; we have our own gin, whisky, versions of genever and calvados, absinthe, bitters, sloe gins, amaros, coffee liqueurs… and a whole R&D lab if they think up something that we haven’t made yet.
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