Your website says that Cooper King Distillery was ‘compelled by our love of good whisky’. What’s your history with whisky and distilling, and what led you to turn your whisky dreams into reality?
Tasmania is where our love of good whisky blossomed. In 2014 Abbie and I, a scientist and an architect, left our hard-earned careers in the UK to embrace the Aussie ideals of sun, sand and adventure. Worn out from studying for four degrees between us and fed up of the long working hours and miserable commutes post qualification, we saved up our hard-earned pennies, filled our backpacks and left the rat race with open minds.
While we were living and working in Tasmania a nearby distillery won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky, a feat never accomplished outside of Scotland or Japan. We decided to investigate. What we discovered blew us away: small and innovative operations run by passionate people making exceptionally good whisky by hand. The whiskies were unlike any we had tried before, with a unique character which could only be described as Tasmanian. We soon became hooked.
For the next two years and while still abroad, we educated ourselves on every aspect of distillation and starting a business from scratch. We tasted hundreds of whiskies and importantly, trained our noses. We hit the ground running when we returned to England late 2015, and now here we are, with the gin stills running and the whisky still hot on its heels.
I believe you will be making gin too, what does that entail?
Making gin is a very different challenge to whisky, and one we’ve fully embraced. We believe when tasting gin produced on a genuine craft, small-batch scale, it should tell a story of the people and place that made it. In this case, it’s Yorkshire, and we want to showcase some of the botanicals the region has to offer in our York Dry Gin.
Here at Cooper King we’re using 13 botanicals, including honey from our own bees on site to bring light floral notes and a gentle sweetness, along with Yorkshire lavender, grown just 10 miles away.
Our approach to distillation is unique to Yorkshire and won EU funding for innovation. The spirit we’re producing tastes incredibly fresh and vibrant. You’ll have to come for a visit to see first-hand how it’s made and to try some for yourself!
Why is sustainability important to your brand?
Cooper King was born from an adventure travelling to some of the world’s most beautiful locations. From an environmental aspect, it’s only natural that we feel strongly about helping to preserve the planet so that future generations may enjoy it too.
For every bottle of York Dry Gin sold we’re planting 1m2 of woodland in the Yorkshire Dales through our charitable partnership with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. This initiative has enabled us to obtain 1% for the Planet accreditation, making York Dry Gin the first and only gin in Europe with this accolade.
The single biggest step we’ve taken is choosing to use a 100% green energy supplier. By powering the distillery with green energy, we reduce the environmental impact of our operations, while supporting Britain’s energy independence and reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The slightly higher energy costs mean our products cost a little more, but we believe this a step in the right direction towards global sustainability and promoting green energy projects and wind farms. It’s a small change for the distillery, with a positive impact globally
Tell us about where you distil – you have some interesting plans for the future, don't you?
We’ve spent the last year self-building our distillery, tasting room and shop with the help of friends, family and our Founders’ Club members. We’re located on the site of an old stable block, just outside Sutton-on-the-Forest, York. It has been a hard but rewarding 12 months!
We mash, ferment, distil, mature, bottle and label all our products here under one roof, which gives us complete control over the quality of our products.
We have big plans for the future! We’re sat on a sunny plot of rural land, and are looking to expand with an events space, café, terrace, on-site accommodation… so far we’ve planted an orchard to produce fruit for our products, and have planted a native woodland on site too. Anyone fancy an evening of gin tasting paired with great Yorkshire food, followed by luxury woodland glamping? Watch this space…
Since the distillery and tasting room is part of your home, how do you balance distilling with family life? Do friends and family get involved, too?
Absolutely, it has been a real hands-on affair for all friends, family and Founders over the last year or so. Living on site, and having everyone involved, has created a wholesome, sustainable business which we simply couldn’t have done alone. We’re eternally grateful to those who have given, and continue to give, their support for this venture.
Anyone can get involved in supporting Cooper King by joining the Founders Club, what does this involve?
When you join the Founders Club you become part of the Cooper King story. You’re helping support England's only self-built whisky & gin distillery, and shaping English distilling history.
You’ll be rewarded with first-release gin, whisky from our first ever cask, exclusive merchandise, lifetime discounts and you’ll be able to shape the future of the distillery. You’ll be invited to take part in developing products, invited to special members-only events, and will have your name engraved onto our Founders Plaque.
Our Founders are integral to the success of this venture, and we feel honoured to have had so many people join already. You can join or see the many other rewards here: www.cooperkingdistillery.co.uk/founders-club
As an ex scientist and architect how do you divide the work between the two of you, and what do you both do best?
Good question. In many ways we are very much still an active scientist and architect! Abbie’s skills have been invaluable in developing and distilling our gin recipe, and my skills as an architect have been put to good use designing and building the distillery itself!
What are you most proud of achieving with Cooper King distillery? Are there any moments that really stand out for you?
There are a few moments that stick in my mind. Completing the building was one. The first gin and tonic we had here at the bar in the finished tasting room was an absolute delight.
The copper whisky still arriving was another. It was hand made in Tasmania by a superb still maker and is the only one of its kind outside of Australasia. Assembling it here in Yorkshire after 3 months at sea was very exciting (watch the video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QocTwfHbTOQ.
Finally, I think one of our proudest moments is yet to come – when our first gin launches to the public through our website on Tuesday 22nd May 2018. So much hard work has gone into sourcing the ingredients, the bottle design, the distillation itself – we really can’t wait to let others try the fruits of our labour.
* * *
Cooper King York Dry Gin goes on pre-sale through their website on Friday 4th May exclusively to newsletter subscribers and Founders’ Club members, ahead of the public launch on the 22nd May 2018. You can sign up to the mailing list or Founders’ Club here: http://bit.ly/CKDnewsletter.