Our visit to the Cotswolds Distillery was a pretty last-minute decision. While flicking through the leaflets provided to us in The Hayloft, our gorgeous accommodation, I came across one advertising the Cotswolds Distillery, and booked onto a tour pretty much immediately. This wasn’t just a quick wander and some free booze (though there was some included); it was really interesting and educational, and a proper behind-the-scenes look at how everything works at this young distillery.
About the Cotswolds Distillery
The Cotswolds Distillery was founded in September 2014 and is the first full-scale distillery in the Cotswolds. They work hard to use locally-sourced ingredients and typically traditional processes to create their special gins and whiskeys. The Distillery’s Visitor Centre, which features a shop and cafe, is open daily and also offers alcohol-based experiences including cocktail, gin and whiskey blending masterclasses, and distillery tours.
Their produce is purchasable online, and they also hold two shops around the area in the villages of Bourton-on-the-Water and Broadway. The latter also offers a gin blending masterclass and tastings.
Location & access
The Cotswolds Distillery itself is based near Shipston-on-Stour in the northern Cotswolds, about a two-hour drive out of London. It’s best reached by car. The closest train station is in Banbury, about a half-hour drive away from the Distillery by taxi. The car park is gravel, but the paths around the Distillery buildings are paved and the Visitor Centre has step-free access.
The Tour & Tasting experience we attended was largely undertaken on foot; it lasted around 45 minutes of mostly standing and walking before the tasting session which was seated. However, one member of our tour group was an elderly gentleman who was provided with a seat at each area, and our tour guide regularly checked in to ensure he was comfortable. One section of the tour involved a flight of stairs to see part of the whiskey production process up-close; once we’d had a look, we came right back down again within a few minutes. If stairs aren’t possible for a visitor, they can still participate in every other aspect of the tour.
The website recommends that if you’re planning on drinking, you journey by pre-booked taxi to ensure your safety. However, if you’re not drinking for whatever reason, alternative soft drinks will be provided along with taster samples to take away if you’d like.
We attended the Cotswolds Distillery Tour and Tasting. Booking online in advance is advised; our tour was full even at 11am on a Monday in early December. It lasted a little over an hour and we paid £15 each. This included an entertaining and interesting tour of the Distillery, one of its warehouses, and a tasting session at the end with additional tasters provided at no extra cost. Naturally the idea is then that you’ll go and purchase some of their produce in the shop, but of course this isn’t a requirement, and we felt that we’d received a great experience for the price we paid.
Cotswolds Distillery Tour
We arrived a little early, so after checking in we spent a bit of time in the Distillery’s lovely Visitor Centre, sampling some of their cafe’s lovely food and exploring the different bottles and merchandise available in the shop. The Centre was opened in 2019 and is absolutely beautiful; both modern and in keeping with its surroundings, its wood panelling, exposed brickwork, and huge fireplace make it easy to lose track of time. The cafe, with its comfortable seating, dog-friendly policy, and window into the main Distillery floor next door has clearly become a local meeting place for friends and businesspeople alike.
When it was time for the tour to begin we headed into a smaller room off from the shop with rows of benches and a screen. Our lovely guide, Dean, introduced himself; he’d previously worked as part of the Distillery’s development team for new products but had missed the front-of-house element so had returned to touring. He did a brilliant job, answering our questions, making everyone feel at ease, and giving us all a lot of laughs. We watched a short video on the (somewhat brief!) history of the Cotswolds Distillery before moving out of the building and round into the distillery building itself.
Here, the process of making the Distillery’s award-winning gins and whiskeys was explained to us in easy-to-follow detail. The space itself was absolutely beautiful (especially considering it’s basically a factory floor), flooded in natural light shining off the silvers and coppers of the stills. As mentioned above, after the talk we got to go up to look at everything in more detail, admiring the finer details of the traditional machinery.
From here we moved on to the warehouse where shelves of casks holding ageing whiskey are. In order to be classed as whiskey, it must be aged in a cask for at least three years; the Distillery actually started making gin to fill the time while their first whiskey batches matured! The warehouse houses the first-ever cask the Distillery filled, as well as many others from across the years. Most of the casks aren’t stored here, though; there just isn’t enough room, so space is hired elsewhere for the hundreds of casks required. I loved seeing the handwriting on top of the different casks where workers had signed them.
After a short talk in the warehouse we headed back to the Visitor Centre for the tasting. This took place in an absolutely beautiful room with various types of seating and a gorgeous bar area. Those of us who were drinking had a small taster of gin and whiskey each, and we were taken through the process of trying these – first smelling, or ‘nosing’, them before tasting a small amount neat. After this, extras were offered such as tonic for the gin. We were then able to request tasters of anything else the Distillery produced, which is brilliant if you’re wanting to work out what to buy in the shop afterwards.
As Greg was driving he didn’t try anything there and then, but he picked up his tasters along with anything else he was keen to try. When he asked if he could have two tasters of everything he wanted to try so I could try it out with him, Dean was more than happy to oblige. Finally we all had a small glass of the Distillery’s Irish cream, before moving back out into the shop.
All in all…
We had a really great time at the Cotswolds Distillery. We both learned a lot, and it was fascinating to find out more about how this kind of business is set up (and the kind of up-front cash required…). The drinks we tried were absolutely beautiful; it was easy to see why they’ve acquired the reputation they have in such a short space of time. I picked up a few taster bottles for small Christmas presents, as well as taking advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free offer on the Irish cream, which is simply gorgeous.
If you’re in the area and have even so much as a passing interest in gin, whiskey, or alcohol more widely, I’d really recommend taking a visit to the Cotswolds Distillery. You’ll have a warm welcome, learn lots, and (if you’re drinking) leave feeling even warmer.
Find more from the Cotswolds here!