Breathtaking spirits without compromise
Funny how things come about … On a recent class Daryll & I were waxing lyrical about preserving the seasons and using the harvest on our doorstep to a regular attendee of The Cookery School at Thyme, when it transpired that his son, Barney Wilczak, was another advocate of capturing the essence of delicious fruit and preserving it – but in a very particular way. Two years in the making, in June this year Barney launched his distillery business. As his father explained Barney’s ethos we were snared, tell us more … and of course this led to a visit to the extraordinary Capreolus Distillery. Taking ‘Thyme Out’ has never been such a treat!
This small distillery is tucked away in the heart of the Cotswolds in the market town of Cirencester. On arrival we walk through the pleasant town garden of Barney’s childhood home to an unassuming building, a lean-to greenhouse of timber and Cotswold stone, but inside is the most beautiful custom-made copper still. A gentle individual, Barney took us through the process required to produce his utterly delicious spirits – we listen to the description but it is his dedication, his passion, his commitment to uncompromising standards that took our breath away. His level of research & trialling – the delivery of two tonnes of blood oranges which needed to have the zest removed from every one is a perfect example of how everything is truly a labour of love where this man is concerned. And his beautiful ‘Garden Tiger Gin’ – named for the daytime moth seen flying in England’s summer months - for which he distilled in the region of 70 botanicals and spices individually to taste and eventually pared down to the 34 that form the flavour of this distinct gin.
Barney's interest in natural history and botany is one that has traversed his childhood into his work life. As a conservation photographer he has supplied images to partners in over 116 countries. From the tropical forests of China to the three years spent photographing the finest lowland hay meadow in the UK (hidden here in the Cotswolds!) for his book ‘The Meadow,’ he has been immersed in the fine nuances of the natural world. This deep understanding provides the perfect basis and understanding of the beautiful ingredients he works with and the artistry to capture their essence.
So to the tasting … good fun and some success in the blind-tasting where the individual distillations were concerned. It was the Eau de Vie that had lured us to this lovely place, they are exquisite - Plum Eau de Vie, Pear, Apple (aged in a mulberry cask of which he is justifiably proud), Elderberry & finally the astonishing and eagerly anticipated Blood Orange.
We were truly privileged and utterly impressed by Barney’s product, and without hesitation we invited him to speak at our August Thyme’s Table dinner, where we served the Plum Eau de Vie with our dessert of ‘Peach, Attar of Roses & Sesame’ – I am pleased to report that that occasion was a huge & happy success & Barney seduced all our guests with his gorgeous spirit (both sorts!).
We mentioned to Barney that our late autumn crop of medlars looks as though it will be as bountiful this year as last, his eyes lit up, I can feel a collaboration coming on …
Images courtesy of Barney Wilczak Photography