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Meet The Maker: Chico Rosa, master distiller at Fielden

The master distiller of the rechristened Fielden talks to Douglas Blyde about a formative flavour-led memory, being soaked in porridge, and the meaning behind the brand’s name.

What inspired your journey into the realm of drinks?

The pursuit of flavour. I fondly remember when my father, Manuel Rosa, who was a winemaker in Leiriam, took the time and care to share little sips of wine with me as I enthusiastically shadowed him in his winery. The bottle-lined lab was always my favourite part. It was here that I got my hands dirty while helping my father, who was also my mentor, to carefully blend the ferments. I subsequently took on internships at neighbouring wineries to see how other professionals set about their craft.

Where were you educated?

I studied agronomy at the University of Lisbon while brewing beer part-time at home. Noting that the results were tasty, the latter led me to get a part-time job as an assistant brewer. I later shifted my focus from agronomy to food science so that I could study both wine and beer. After placements in wineries, I headed north to Edinburgh, where I studied an MSc in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University.

How did you join The Oxford Artisan Distillery?

I was fortunate to join right at the start as a distiller while I developed my dissertation in wild yeast selection for rye whisky production, in collaboration with the distillery.

Why has it been re-born as ‘Fielden’?

We chose Fielden, being the old English word for “of the field” because we see whisky as a product of agriculture. Originally, all our grains were farmed within 50 miles of the distillery. Today, under the Fielden mantel, we farm from Cornwall to Norfolk, hence having Oxford as our first name was distracting.

How have you grown with the business?

I recall the not-so-glamorous early days as a fledgling distiller, including being soaked in porridge! I gradually took on more responsibilities, like cask supplies, because I already had connections with cooperages. Eventually, I became the head distiller and production manager, working under Master Distiller, Cory Mason, and then rose to the role of Master Distiller, taking care of the product itself. But I see myself as a simple whisky maker.

Who else is involved in the Fielden project?

Our farmers and collaborators, from grain hauling and malting to warehousing and bottling, are invaluable. Distill Ventures, with its knowledge and connections, has also greatly supported us, directing the project in the best possible way.

Describe the new release?

Fielden Rye whisky is a journey which begins in our field. It describes the flowers amidst the grains, the fruited hedgerows, and the heat of the ripening sun. And also the soil: we are all about what is below, as much as what is above it. We wanted to delve into the symbiosis in the fields, where plants fully depend on the soil, and are an essential part of the ecosystem underneath – the fungi and insects which allow natural cycles of organic and inorganic matter to reestablish the soil fertility and also help the plant roots to absolve wider nutrients. All this brought us to the concept of ‘above and below’ being the centrepiece in our label and essentially being the golden ticket to a healthier world where farming is part of nature and not just a human activity.

How many bottles have you produced thus far?

Our first batch of Fielden Rye whisky ran to 6,000 bottles, which will increase to 10,000 bottles next.

How best should we enjoy it?

Neat, on the rocks, in a beautiful Highball, or as an Old Fashioned.

Who is your target consumer?

People who, like myself, are obsessed with flavour and who want to enjoy a world where we can live in harmony with nature.

Where can we buy it?

Berry Brothers & Rudd is our UK distributor. We also sell online in the UK. We are also present in Germany, Italy, and Norway. And I’ve heard of a random bottle turning up on a bar shelf in Melbourne.

What does the future look like?

As we keep striving for a revolution in the fields, we are exploring the use of rich grain species such as einkorn, emmer, and spelt. We are improving our traceability and starting research projects to understand more about what is going on in the field. We are also completing a new production site where every step in the process concentrates the grains reaped from each field.

What is your motto?

“The memories of flavours can transport us to faraway places.”

Finally, who would you raise a glass of Fielden to, past or present?

My father, given we are the fruit of what we already lived, and also my children, given they are the trees of tomorrow, and tomorrow is now!

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