Distilling in the Cotswolds

Photo by Ann Holland

In this interview, Ann Holland talks with Debs Carter, Marketing Director of the Cotswolds Distillery, a company producing whiskies, gins and liqueurs, about how the company came to be established here.

Ann Holland: Why did Dan move into the Cotswolds to build a Boutique Distillery?

Debs Carter: our founder Dan, a native New Yorker, moved to the Cotswolds after working in finance in London for many years. Seeking to leave behind that world and spend more time in the picturesque countryside of the Cotswolds with his family, it eventually dawned on him that he could combine his love of whisky with his desire to start a new business.

A dedicated whisky fan, Dan saw the fields of golden barley around his house in the Cotswolds and had a brainwave ‘I suddenly thought, there’s barley all over the Cotswolds and nobody’s distilling it, let’s be the first!’

Can you give us a brief description of how Dan created this amazing Distillery?

Having found a derelict site near his house in the Cotswolds, Dan set about building a distillery and a team to run it, and the doors of the Cotswolds Distillery opened in July 2014.

Who were the people who supported Dan?

When we started seven years ago, we had help from a couple of Scottish whisky legends, Harry Cockburn and Jim Swan. Between them they had over 100 years of ‘grain to glass’ whisky production knowledge, which we were able to combine with the region’s best-in-class ingredients.

It’s taken incredibly hard work but we think we’ve managed to produce something truly remarkable. We couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved.

What were and are the values behind the Distillery?

We have always been inspired by and cared for the Cotswolds – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we strive to support it as much as possible. We believe in quality and flavour above all else, and we are dedicated to making Outstanding Natural Spirits in one of the most beautiful regions of the world.

This involves using the best possible ingredients, doing everything by hand – from peeling our grapefruits to running the stills – and paying great attention to detail. We love what we make and we love what we do – our spirits are truly lovingly crafted.

How many staff work for the Distillery?

We currently employ around 50 people across our sites in various roles. We are incredibly proud to have amazing people, who live nearby, making great products in an amazingly beautiful place.

Roughly how many people visited pre-lockdown compared with today?

We run three tours a day at the distillery and welcome visitors to our shop and café. During lockdowns, all of those activities were suspended but we have been glad to reopen our visitor centre this summer and start to show off our beautiful part of the world – people are always so complimentary about our distillery home.

Has Brexit made a difference? How are export markets doing?

All parts of the industry are still working through the new processes required for movement of goods. However, we export to 36 countries globally so we are not reliant on the EU.

Obviously the pandemic created a loss, but I and most of the village were very pleased to receive our Cotswold sanitiser.

What was the worst of covid?

We were happy we were able to help our local and rural community during the covid pandemic by providing free hand sanitizer. The pandemic created some difficulties for us – we had to shut our shops and cancel our experiences, and many members of staff were working remotely for a large part of the pandemic.

What made the business resilient as the pandemic rolled in?

We have a very good distribution in the off-trade, for example in supermarkets and off-licences, and so we weren’t reliant on the on-trade (pubs and restaurants) in the way that many other brands were.

More From Central Bylines

You have a garden I love the garden and I still see the barn owl, the muntjacs, the fox, the voles, the badgers, rabbits, green woodpeckers, blackbirds, blue tits, gold finches, butterflies, oak and ash trees. I’m glad that the ecosystem is well cared for. Are there any changes to come?

Supporting and caring for our AONB is something very important to us, which is why we ask people to donate a small amount of money to ‘Caring for the Cotswolds’ – a scheme which supports projects that conserve vital habitats.

Our Wildflower Gin collection is also inspired by the beautiful wildflower meadows of the Cotswolds, and so we donate to the ‘Glorious Grasslands’ initiative which aims to create the largest wildflower-rich grassland in the country. We’ve also planted our very own wildflowers in our field opposite the distillery which will benefit both wildlife and the environment.

How else has the Distillery established a rapport with the villagers and how far did people travel to visit?

We are delighted to have been able to offer employment opportunities to young people in the village. We’re pleased to welcome people from all over the world to our distillery and we can’t wait to start welcoming them back.

Could we have a critique of Dan’s most interesting book?

Born in 1962, our founder Daniel Szor is a native New Yorker now living in the heart of the Cotswolds. After a career in finance spanning 30 years and multiple cities, he gave it all up after relocating his family to a remote farmhouse and starting his own distillery.

Spirit Guide: In Search of an Authentic Life is the story of how Daniel found himself quite so far from where he grew up as the son of Polish immigrants, swapping hedge funds for hedgerows, befriending strange Swedes, grizzled Scots and a former cage fighter along the way, all to make his dream a reality.

A guide to following the beat of one’s own entrepreneurial drum, this book is a finely balanced dram and a distillation of what matters. It offers itself as a talisman for anyone wondering what their next step might be, and as a timely reminder that while life may be short, it will always grant second chances to those willing to make the leap.

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