Raising a glass with Daniel Szor from Cotswolds Distillery

Native New Yorker Daniel Szor swapped city life in London to realise his dream of setting up a whisky business. SoGlos finds out more about his new venture, Cotswolds Distillery.

Daniel, tell SoGlos readers a bit about yourself and where you work.

My name’s Daniel Szor and I’m the founder and CEO of Cotswolds Distillery. I grew up in Manhattan and now live in a farmhouse on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border of the Cotswolds.

How did you end up in the Cotswolds?

I’ve lived in Europe for the past 20 years. We spent 10 years in Paris and moved to London in 2006 as my wife Katia is British. We were living in London and bought a place near Shipston-on-Stour as a weekend home and really fell in love with the area and decided that it was our hope to one day move out here fulltime.

I was also revaluating my professional life and career, as I’d been working in hedge fund investments for 30 years and was interested in doing something different.

When did you finally make the move?

We opened the distillery doors on the 1 July 2014.

How did the idea for the business come about?

I was passionate about whisky and passionate about the Cotswolds and this seemed like a wonderful way of putting those two things together. The idea came about in a light bulb moment that I had in the summer of 2012 when I was looking out the window of our farmhouse.

There’s a big field of barley out back and as I looked at it I thought why isn’t there anyone distilling in this part of the world. There’s wonderful barley, grains, fruit and a history of agriculture which traditionally has always brought about some form of distilling.

Where there any other factors that influenced you?

I was also aware of what’s been going on in the States for the past several years – what’s referred to as microdistilling or craft distilling. Very similar to microbrewing that started in America and is now huge in the UK.

What did you have to do to educate yourself on the whole distilling process?

I went up to Scotland to take a week-long course in the fundamentals of distilling taught by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and it certainly helped to have a bit of a theoretical background.

But, I felt there was a limit to how much experience and education I could get, so the best course of action seemed to be to take on some expert advisors who really knew what they were doing when it came to whisky.

My favourite whiskies all come from Scotland so I thought the best place to start was working with some Scottish veterans. So back in June 2013 I met Scot Harry Cockburn who has been in the whisky business for 50 years and used to run one of the big distilleries in Islay called Bowmore.

I hired Harry as a consultant and I took a second consultant on board by the name of Jim Swan, who’s also Scottish and one of the world’s experts in flavour, maturation and wood aging for whisky.

What are your tips for beginners who are looking to start drinking whisky?

A good way to find out what you like is to buy a couple of whiskies and taste them blind, if possible.

Is there an optimum way to drink it?

Well, it’s all personal taste, but those who really appreciate the spirit would say that you can get the most out of it by drinking it neat, at room temperature, with only a small amount of water served on the side that you can add as you wish. Certainly, don’t drink it with ice and if possible without it any mixers.

Does the type of glass make a difference?

It does, for the same reason that people traditionally drink brandy in snifters which are big balloon-like glasses that allow you to really get your nose in there and get the aromatics.

With whisky there’s now a glass that’s almost become standard for drinking single malts and it’s called a Glencairn glass and they actually look a little bit like the stills in which whisky is made.

Would you tend to drink whisky alongside food or is more a standalone drink?

You certainly could drink it with food and it’s a central part of any Burn’s Night if you’re having haggis. It does work very well with spicier foods and pairs well with chocolate-based desserts too.

Is the gin a newer addition?

We started doing gin around the same time as the whisky and it’s a marvellous complement to whisky which is an aged spirit and takes time to mature, whereas gin and all other white spirits are unaged and ready to consume out of the still.

For whisky makers that’s a terrific thing because with whisky you have serious cash flow issues as you have to invest a lot of money in the manpower and ingredients to make whisky, but you’re putting it into barrels that have to be aged for a minimum of three years. Whereas with the gin we have a product we can put on the market and sell immediately.

So, you can’t buy your whisky just yet?

You can’t buy it now simply because if we were to sell it you can’t call it whisky under EU law unless it’s been aged for three years. So, our first major release is not until autumn 2017.

Where does whisky get its colour from?

When it comes out of the still it’s completely clear, no matter what you’re distilling whether it’s rum, bourbon, whisky, cognac or brandy because anything that’s distilled leaves the colour behind. They get that brown colour and flavour from the wood barrels in which they’re stored.

Are the gin ingredients sourced locally?

We have nine botanicals in our gin, some are things like grapefruit and lime which don’t grow too well in the Cotswolds, but the most interesting ingredient in our gin is Cotswold lavender and that actually grows at Snowshill just around the corner from us.

What’s the best way to drink gin?

We’ve created a signature serve cocktail called a Gin Faisán which is the Spanish for pheasant – the bird featured our logo. This cocktail features our gin, pink grapefruit juice, lime juice, a little sugar syrup and it’s delicious and very refreshing.

It also makes a wonderful gin and tonic. It’s a very strong gin, 46 per cent whereas most gins are 40, so when you dump a load of tonic water in it you don’t lose the taste.

Is the idea the people can come and visit the distillery?

I wanted to do it as they do it in the Highlands of Scotland where the visitor experience is important. We’re in a rural farm-like setting in a beautiful area of the Cotswolds so from a visitor experience standpoint it’s very enjoyable.

What’s your all time favourite drink?

There are very few spirits that I don’t like, but my all time favourite remains a very good single malt whisky.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time in Gloucestershire?

We love just being out here in the country. We’ve just got a yellow lab puppy whose name, of course, is Whisky, and we love going out for walks with him. There are lots of pubs in our immediate area we like along with a particularly good whisky and wine shop called John Gordons that we’ve discovered in Cheltenham.

For more information see Cotswolds Distillery or call (01608) 238533.

By Anna McKittrick

© SoGlos
Thursday 26 February 2015

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