A day in the life… Cooperking Distillery..
Every now and again you meet some people who really impress you, they might be just someone you pass on the street or someone you actually know.. Abbie and Chris are two people who really deserve every success they wish for, but then doesn’t everyone ! Well yes but these two just have that certain something that makes you believe in them, it’s like an infection, you listen to the story and as you listen you believe every word, you feel like you are living the dream with them and like I said you pray it all works out for them..
Both Abbie and Chris are setting up the Cooperking distillery on the outskirts of York and when I first met them it was just a back yard to the parents property that they intended to turn into a dream !!
Thst dream is now a reality and it’s just seems a perfect time to introduce you to them..
An interview with Abbie from Coooerking distillery….
Can you tell us a little about yourself
Hi there! I am Abbie, one of the co-founders and directors of Cooper King Distillery. We’re a self-built, crowd-funded and family owned distillery 10 miles north of York, established by myself and my fiancé, Chris.
5 years ago I was a bio medical research scientist, and had recently finished my PhD. After spending the last few years travelling, researching, training and self-building our distillery, I am now head distiller here at Cooper King.
Can you tell us a little about the day to day job you have / had and the new career within the distillery and what what is / will be involved.
As with all start-up ventures, my days are incredibly varied.
Whisky production starts imminently, so recently I’ve been finalising the brewing process, overseeing the commissioning of the Tasmanian whisky still with Chris (which is the only one of its kind in Europe), and working with our Master Cooper to get our first casks ready.
In addition to our unique whisky still, we are also one of a handful of distilleries in the country to use a vacuum still (aka a rotary evaporator), which allows us to distil at cool temperatures, creating incredibly fresh and vibrant spirits. During the summer you might find me harvesting honey for our gin with my father from the on-site beehives, or running trial distillations with our recent crop of lemongrass, also grown here on site by my talented mother. It is truly a family affair!
Why did you decide on a career in the world of whisky and what prompted the idea of your own distillery
I obtained my PhD in 2013, a year after Chris qualified as an architect. We were living in Leeds, working long hours, and those around us were beginning to get married, have kids and buy houses. We could suddenly see your lives mapped out in front of us. We weren’t quite ready for family life yet and we thought, it’s time to disrupt things! So, we both quit our jobs and bought one-way tickets to Australia.
While in Tasmania we stumbled across their whisky scene. One of their whiskeys had just won best in the world, which had never been won outside of Scotland or Japan. This was big news in the whisky world. After a few emails to a friend with a whisky blog back home in England, we wrangled an all-expenses paid trip to all 8 distilleries on the island, to help provide blog content.
What we discovered blew us away. Small and innovative operations run by passionate people making exceptional whisky by hand, many of whom had no industry background. The whiskies were unlike any we had tried before; they were superb. It was at this point that we realised to set up a successful whisky distillery, you did not need millions of pounds, nor did you need Scottish roots. We had found a challenging venture that we could both work on together, andindulge our love of flavour.
Two years, several countries and many, many whiskies later, that idea had snowballed into a solid business plan. In January 2016, we returned to the UK, hitting the ground running to establish a truly independent whisky distillery right here in Blighty. We’ll lay down our first cask next month.
What is it that you enjoy the most about the industry?
Meeting passionate, friendly and like-minded people. We are obsessed with flavour and value craftsmanship. As such, working with the likes of Warminster Maltings, Britain’s oldest traditional floor maltings, to source stunning Maris Otter barley, and Alastair Simms, England’s last independent cooper, to work our casks is incredibly rewarding.
We’ve also been fortunate enough to develop spirits with the teams behind some of Yorkshires (and England’s) finest restaurants such as Skosh in York and The Black Swan at Oldstead, which have been both challenging and exciting in equal measure.
What has surprised you most about your journey so far
The outstanding positive response from both the public and industry, in such a short space of time! Our long-standing crowd-funding campaign, The Founders’ Club, now has 400 members from across the globe. It is an incredible community of members of the pubic and industry alike who are helping shape the future of Cooper King Distillery. We’re incredibly grateful for their contribution, and it’s always a pleasure to welcome new Founders to the family. We can’t wait to release the whisky from the first filled cask at the distillery, cask #001, and send it out to our Founders. It’s one of the ways we thank them for their continued support.
There are a limited number of spaces remaining; you can find out more and join through our website: http://www.cooperkingdistillery.co.uk/founders-club.
Is there any achievement that you are most proud of so far in the journey
There are so many! Raising the start-up funds from scratch, self-building the distillery, launching our first spirit to the public, winning an international gold award for our gin, commissioning the whisky still, planting over 2000 sqm of English woodland (more on that later)…
What is exciting you the most about the future
Without a doubt, filling that first cask of whisky. After 5 years of adventure, determination and hard-work, I can’t believe we’re now on the brink of laying down our first cask.
What is the long term plan for the distillery and what style of whisky will you hope to produce
Mashing, fermenting, distilling, ageing and bottling of Cooper King whisky all here on site, and we aim to keep it that way. This will ensure we create an authentic and truly unique English whisky, inspired by our experiences in Tasmania.
There is something magical about sitting in the tasting room, looking at the whisky still in the distillery, all the while knowing that whisky is maturing in the bond store next to you!
In terms of style, we love rich, robust and fruity whisky with tons of character. Some of our first casks to be filled are Australian apera and wine casks. We’re maturing in small, 100 litre casks to produce a full-bodied, flavoursome spirit in around 3-5 years’ time.
Due to our small output of whisky (approximately 4000 litres a year), we have the opportunity to innovate, explore different grains, yeast strains, and of course, cask types. We have some very special casks in the pipeline, and anticipate the majority of our whiskies to be released as single cask expressions.
Can you tell us about the Gin you produce and the long term plan for this
We use honey from our family beehives, beautiful lemongrass and a touch of locally grown lavender to create a vacuum-distilled gin with incredible savoury lemongrass flavours, a silky mouthfeel and delicate floral notes.
We use both wheat and malt spirit during distillation, and it has won over many whisky drinkers and a fair few ‘non-gin drinkers’ too, which we take as a big compliment. We plan on keeping it within our core range going forwards.
The gin, and the distillery as a whole, has a strong environmental focus. We run on 100% green energy, and plant 1 square metre of native English woodland through our Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust partnership for every bottle of Dry Gin sold. This makes it the first gin in Europe to join the 1% for the Planet® initiative. To date, we’ve planted over 2000 sqm of new woodland!
We’ve travelled to some stunning, remote places in the world, and believe in the importance of looking after our planet and caring for the environment so that future generations can enjoy it too.
Have you got a favourite whisky?
It changes depending on the season. At this time of year I like nothing more than a dram of Aberlour A’Bunadh with a drop of water to really open up those fruity, Christmas pudding notes. Cheers!
I would like to thank Abbie and Chris for everything including taking the time out of their extremely busy lives in order to do this piece..
Even though this journey is now a few years old it is still the beginning and there are so many exciting times ahead, let me wish you both every success for the future…I hope I will be able to re visit many times over the next few stages and show everyone the progress as it happens..
Thank you ..