Stinking Bishop & Pear Spirit
So Dymock is not exactly part of the Cotswolds – fair enough. It lies beyond the vale, close to Herefordshire; but it is in Gloucestershire, where the Cotswolds mostly lie and therefore the connections are strong, whether poetical or musical or agricultural. To the eye the contrast is great – no gilded limestone villages in Dymock, no stone walls, no wolds and valleys. This is a remoter place, a quiet place of rolling fields and meandering villages of brick and wood and plaster: lush dairy and fruit country, perfect for cheese and eau-de-vie. I went to visit Charles Martell. He is the man behind one of the better known of the newer English cheeses, the suitably named 'Stinking Bishop', a deliciously tangy, aromatic, creamy star of the cheese firmament. The cheese making room, as sensitive as an operating theatre, is closed to visitors. Just around the corner from it, however, is another production room where something else is created, as traditional as cheese but a little less widespread these days in England – pear spirit.
There are few enough distilleries in England. This was not always the case but draconian laws have over the centuries have seen to their demise. The Scots and Irish found a way to get around them and as a result have flourishing whisk(e)y industries, whilst the sassenachs have more or less confined themselves to gin (which, paradoxically, was one of the reasons for the suppression of spirit making in the first place), and a little vodka. The result is a country abounding in fruit but with almost none of the wonderful fruit spirits that are found in Germany and France. If you want to make your own, you have to do it illegally or squeeze through an excruciating and tortuous licensing process. Sometimes one wonders how anyone produces anything worthwhile when dealing with the forces of bureaucracy.
Charles Martell's distilling apparatus is housed by chance in an ancient building that turns out to have been long ago a distillery, which means that it is probably the oldest purpose-built working example in the country. But it is the apparatus itself that catches the eye, a Heath-Robinson affair of gleaming brass and copper and taps and dials that stands opposite the entrance, looking as it might well be able to convert base metal into gold. Poke your nose into the vat and the sensual perfume of pear spirit fills your nostrils. Currently labelled with the brand name 'Owler', that is likely to change to simply bear the name of its maker.
There was one last surprise in this unsung corner of the region. Underneath a tarpaulin rested a three-dimensional Christmas card in the form of a pin-perfect Victorian stagecoach, with flawless coachwork smooth as marble and all the curves and lamps and velveteen you could wish for. What could be better than being wrapped up inside the carriage or out on top, team of horses out front, bugler behind, a crust of bread smeared in Stinking Bishop in one hand, glass of pear spirit in the other, careening along the highways?
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