The founder and owner of the Cotswolds Distillery, Daniel Szor, has paid a moving tribute to whisky expert and consultant Dr Jim Swan, who died four years ago.
Despite the pandemic the English Distillery has had a productive few months, and is celebrating a clutch of awards as well as the launch of its first sherry cask whisky.
The quality of the distillery’s whisky, bottled at less than five years old, has astounded many. But Szor says that it is not climactic advantages in the South of England, but the influence of Dr Swan.
“Jim took the view that if you took care of your new make spirit and made it to the highest quality, then put it in to top quality wood then you could make whisky ready to drink at three years old.
“To get that fruitiness he encouraged distilleries to run shorter heads – ours is just five minutes – and to make the cut at 68% or 69% ABV.
“And he knew where to find the best casks. If it hadn’t been for him I would, have wasted a lot of time and money. There are people selling barrels that are just terrible. The French have an expression which means ‘barrel merchants’ and it is almost an insult. It might be years before you realise that the cask was doing nothing.
“When you’re new to distilling and all the flavour and aroma is already there in the spirit after six months, it’s a great comfort. Jim would find the most incredible casks.
“And he developed the Shave Toast and Re-char (STR) process for barrels. Because of the three separate processes there is so much going on inside the cask, so many different effects on the spirit.
“It makes for a very flavoursome whisky. And it’s the flavour business we’re in, not the alcohol business. A perfumier would never say he was in the alcohol business, but he uses alcohol to promote the scent of his creations. And so it should be with the flavour and aroma of whisky.”
The legacy of Dr Swan can be found in a whole range of outstanding whiskies made by a diverse range of distilleries, Lindores Abbey, Kilchoman, Clydeside and Annandale in Scotland, The London Distillery, Cotswold and St George’s in England, Penderyn in Wales, Kavalan in Taiwan, Victoria Caledonian in Canada, Milk & Honey in Israel and Amrut in India.
Meanwhile the Cotswolds Distillery is looking forward to releasing a five year old whisky and Szor is clearly relishing playing a leading role in the growth of English whisky. A native New Yorker, he has spent most of his working life in finance in America. His journey from the frantic city trading floors to a rural idyll in England is recorded in a book he has written. Called Spirit Guide – In Search of an Authentic Life, it captures his enthusiasm.
“I love being part of the growth of English whisky,” he says. “We had a Zoom call recently where there were 14 distillers and everything was so positive. It wasn’t competitive and the atmosphere was cordial and friendly – a long way from my old life.”