Adventures in Gin Land

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Meet the maker – Cooper King

Whilst holidaying in North Yorkshire, we dropped in to meet Abbie and Chris, the team behind Copper King gin.

Cooper King gin has only been in production for just over a year, launching their Dry gin in May 2018, but in that time have made an impact on the industry, owing to their green credentials and commitment to sustainability. It’s an ethos that runs through everything they do, from the 100% green electricity, to using locally sourced botanicals, to planting 1sq metre of trees for each bottle of gin sold, to committing to donate 1% of dry gin sales to environmental causes, and the list goes on.

But it’s not just the sustainability ethos that drives them, in speaking to Abbie and Chris, it’s very clear that innovation, and producing the best spirits they can, is at the heart of everything they do.

It’s a family affair

The distillery is a distinctly family affair, the distillery building itself is built on the site of the stable block where Abbie’s grandmother kept her horses, on land they bought from Abbie’s parents. The original intention was to renovate the stable block, but a site survey showed the floor wouldn’t be up to supporting the huge weight of the brewing vessels, so the team set about rebuilding from scratch, using Chris’ architecture background to design the new building. Friends and family all rallied around to help with the build, including a group of friends who decided to spend a stag weekend building a distillery, rather than having a boozy weekend away.

Honey used in the gin is provided by Abbie’s father from his hives close to the distillery and, as the family name stops with Abbie and her sister, the still is named Nielson, in honour of the name, which we think is a lovely touch.

Whisky is king

Chris and Abbie never set out to make gin, their focus was purely on the whisky. Six years ago, after finishing their studies and not sure which way to turn, the couple took a one way flight to Australia, eventually ending up in Tasmania, just at the time the island was gaining worldwide recognition for the whiskies it was producing. They spent time visiting each of the small craft whisky producers, volunteering and learning the art, realizing that here was an industry in its infancy where the shackles of hundreds of years of tradition didn’t exist, meaning that producers were free to think differently, and in doing so, create world beating spirits. It was this approach that filled them with excitement and a commitment, upon their return to the UK, to produce the best whisky they could. It took them a further two years of traveling around the world, learning about the industry, writing a business plan, and returning to Tasmania for training, before they returned to the UK and started on the tough road of starting the distillery.

The custom Tasmanian built copper still

Crowdfunding the dream

Armed with their experience and business plan, the couple approached banks to try and get a loan to launch the business, but the men in suits were having none of it. But as breaking with tradition is what they are all about, this set-back didn’t stop them, turning instead to applying for grants and raising funds by creating “The Founders Club”, a crowdfunding campaign offering exclusive access to early release whisky and other rewards for those wanting to invest. The Founders Club now has over 400 members from around the world and is continuing to grow.

Ginspiration in a vacuum

So what about the gin? When they returned to the UK, there were already over 1000 gin producers in the country and, although people kept asking about a gin, the team thought they were too late into an already crowded market. It was a visit to a producer in the south of England that opened Chris and Abbie’s eyes to the possibilities of making a gin. At that meeting they were introduced to vacuum distillation, a process by which the spirit and botanicals are heated in a vacuum chamber. This causes the spirit to boil at a much lower temperature than in a conventional still, which in turn doesn’t damage the flavour compounds, producing more vibrant and truthful distillate. This set them off thinking, and with Abbie’s medical science background, they thought vacuum distillation was something they could use to produce something unique in the market.

The vacuum stills

So what type of gin did they set out to make?

The couple approached the style of gin they wanted from a whisky drinkers perspective, thinking about aroma, mouth feel, the palate on the finish etc. They wrote down a detailed description of the gin they wanted to create, as if it were being described by someone who was drinking it, and then selected the botanicals that could contribute to achieving that goal. They knew they wanted to use Abbie’s father’s honey and local lavender and the vacuum distillation process gave them fine control over the distillation of each other individual botanical. This allowed them to fine tune their recipe very quickly. Once the recipe was created, they could group the botanicals into temperature ranges to speed up the distillation process, making it more efficient for production runs. However, the size of the current vacuum stills means that it still takes two days of back to back distilling to produce enough to fill 250 bottles of gin.

The base spirit is bought in, but locally made. Because of their sustainable/locally sourced ethos, Abbie went to great lengths to source from a local manufacturer who wouldn’t normally supply on such a small scale, but her persistence paid off. This saves a large amount of food miles and adds further local provenance to the gin.

The distillates are blended together, along with a little malt barley spirit, produced in their custom Tasmanian built copper still, and left for a week to allow the flavours to marry together. The gin is then bottled, one bottle at a time.

A spirit of collaboration

In addition as their signature dry gin, Cooper King currently produce a herb gin and Smoked & Spiced gin, produced in collaboration with Skosh, a Michelin Starred restaurant in York. A berry liquor is also in the development stage for Founders Club members. Given their whisky focus and use of barrels, we wouldn’t be surprised if there is a barrel aged gin in the pipeline, but time will tell.

The team love experimenting and have collaborated with a number of local restaurants to produce flavoured vodkas and own label gins. It is this curiosity and willingness to try new things that we are sure will mean we’ll continue to see fantastic and innovative spirits being produced.

After tasting a number of their gins and vodkas we bought a couple of bottles, so we’ll be writing separate posts on our views on these soon.

Go and say hello

It was an absolute pleasure meeting Abbie and Chris. Their passion for their work is so clear to see and the spirits they have produced so far are exceptional, so we are very excited to see how Cooper King grows and develops in the years to come.

If you want to find out more about Cooper king for yourself, their distillery is open most Saturdays for public tours. Their gin can be purchased and tours can be booked through their website.

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