Dan Szor – Cotswolds Distillery
From an outsider’s perspective, it feels as though Cotswolds has had an exceptionally big 2018 growth wise. New stills, greater capacity… it’s all been going on.
Gin Foundry: Hi Dan, thanks for talking with us. What’s it been like for you in the eye of the storm?
Dan Szor: The gin has always been well received but there were a couple of major awards that came through recently that brought us to the decision that it was time to revise our original ideas about the scale of the business and the ambitions of the brand and really step up.
From there, it was a matter of working out how we could do that whilst rigidly maintaining our production ethos; we invested in a whole new still and built a bottling hall to double our bottling capacity. Not cheap or easy, but totally worth it.
Exactly – investing in the future is always costly. Talking of which, your whisky has now reached maturity (and been very well received in the process). Has that changed things?
The weird and wonderful thing about making whisky is that the actual production (mashing, fermenting, distilling, casking) has happened every day for the past four years, so on that front not much has really changed at the distillery – it’s just that people know we’re doing it now!
You’ve added a new still, Dolly, this year. She’s a beauty! Has that changed life a little? More gin being made eases capacity, but adds more to manage too no?
Yes, it’s a lot more to do – we could have increased our output of gin by just moving to a multishot system (adding more neutral grain spirit to a batch of distilled gin, to stretch out the batch) but we’ve always believed that doing so damages the quality of the final gin, so our only option was to work harder, buy a bigger still and run it more often. It means considerably more hands needed on grapefruit peeling days.
At least it smells zesty for them… It certainly seems like greater capacity has encouraged (or at least coincided with) greater presence – Cotswolds Dry Gin is everywhere! Would you say Waitrose has been somewhat responsible for that awareness boost?
We’ve been really lucky that our small regional listing with Waitrose was really successful and they’ve just announced they will be expanding the gin listing to over a hundred stores across the country.
That’s a major one for us – it’s great knowing simultaneously that our gin is now much more accessible for people, but also that it’s in the hands of a retailer who really care about the products they list and are keen to encourage independent producers.
Gin brands don’t quite seem able to resist delving into variants, but you’ve kept your range simple, always placing a focus on the flagship. Was this a conscious decision?
I think it was just a matter of recognising that we’re a small team here – it made more sense to focus our resources on raising the profile of Cotswolds Dry Gin. There are so many avid gin drinkers out there who haven’t even heard of us yet and if we were releasing lots of varieties it would take time, money and manhours away from the flagship.
Very sensible approach. Although you are making lots of exciting exclusives for sale at the distillery. That in itself is a bold stance to take – what was the reasoning behind it?
From the start we’ve had a range of Distillery Exclusives – we figure if someone’s making the effort to come out to the distillery to visit or even coming to our website to shop they should be rewarded. Sarah and Dean have an amazing R&D lab in our new bottling hall, and highlights from the last year include our two varieties of bitters (lavender and pink grapefruit) and the Figgy Pudding Liqueur we did at Christmas. It’s always a good sign when the staff are queuing up to make sure they get a bottle when it goes on sale!
That sounds utterly delicious! Can you give us a quick hint at any releases you might have coming up?
We’ve actually got two gins coming up for release on our website and in the shop this year, one completely new recipe that Sarah has been developing all year (think oak and spice!), and one old favourite that has made seasonal appearances in the shop but is now due to become permanently available in full-size bottles. We aren’t saying more than that for the minute, but you can sign up to our newsletter on the website cotswoldsdistillery.com, we’ll announce the new releases there first!
Sign us up! Showing people around and having an open door really is such a huge part of your identity, and last time we visited there were plans to grow your facilities. How’s that coming along?
We’re very lucky to be in the location we are, and sharing that is hugely important to us. You don’t get the full idea of what we’re doing until you’ve seen the distillery in full swing. It’s why we’ve just broken ground on a new visitor centre. We got 30,000 visitors last year and we couldn’t give any of them a cup of tea on arrival, so a new space with more tasting rooms, a bigger shop and a café is a must. We’re planning on completing it by Spring 2019.
That’s brilliant news – we can’t wait to stop by for a cuppa and we’re sure we won’t be alone in that. In fact, one of the key things that sets Cotswolds apart from the rest is customer engagement. No one really looks at nurturing the relationship as much as you do. Why do you think that is?
It sounds clichéd but when you’re a small, tight-knit team, you take everything very personally. It still blows our minds and warms our cockles when we meet people who love our spirits.
If you’re a high-volume brand, owned by a multinational and run by agencies then you can’t have that level of personal bond with your customers, so we try to make the most of being a small team, and make sure that everyone gets to know us as the people behind the spirits.
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