Funding the distillery was the biggest challenge. Initial funds were raised through an innovative crowdfunding campaign, the Founders’ Club, to help finance the build of the distillery. Today the Founder’s Club has around 400 members from across the globe, growing the Cooper King community every day.
‘With the help of a small team of family and friends, we built Cooper King Distillery from scratch on the site of an old stable block. We were awarded an £18k innovation grant for our state-of-the-art cold vacuum gin still and a 900-litre copper whisky still from Tasmania, which is the only one of its kind outside of Australia or New Zealand.’
Taking inspiration from cellar doors in Tasmania’s vineyards and the Melbourne café scene, Chris and Abbie have created a cosy, rustic, timber-clad tasting room, with a bar and large hand-made oak table overlooking a window into the distillery production area. Here they welcome tour guests, host events, sell spirits and engage customers with the hand-crafted nature of spirits. ‘The public tours have been a huge success, with people travelling from far and wide to sample the spirits and learn how they’re made. We’ve even had visitors from Tasmania!’
Gin: when flavours take charge
At Cooper King Distillery, they will mash, ferment and bottle their whisky, which takes three years to age, on site. And in the meantime, Chris explained, they’re making their own gin: ‘the more we learned about gin, the more we realised it’s a really exciting drink to distil. You can be so free with it. Focusing on flavour and provenance over volume means we source the best local ingredients for our premium products. Cooper King Dry Gin is cold-distilled with honey from our own beehives, lemongrass and locally-grown lavender. Distilling cold means we preserve many of the delicate flavours that would normally be destroyed by heat, creating a beautifully fresh, vibrant gin of exceptional character, described as a “game changer” by The Gin Fayre.
The more we learned about gin, the more we realised it’s a really exciting drink to distil. You can be so free with it.
Abbie, whose scientific credentials made her a natural distiller, explained how this has been taken up by a local restaurant: ‘we produce a range of bespoke spirits for renowned Michelin-starred restaurant, The Black Swan at Oldstead. Created using unusual botanicals such as marigold flowers and fennel pollen, the plants are picked fresh from their kitchen garden, distilled fresh the same day and served on their famous cocktail menu. More spirits will be distilled as other fruit, flowers and herbs come into season.’
The world’s best whisky: underway
The first Cooper King whisky won’t be available until 2024, but until then the business will continue selling gin and running events and tours at the distillery.
‘We’ve had so much interest from local bars and restaurants that want to stock us, and lots of online orders. The support has been incredible. It helps that we’ve been very honest and open about who we are. This is our passion and I think that’s coming through and people are connecting with that.’
The couple have plans to set up a smokehouse and a bakery on site, and hope to one day win the title of world’s best whisky with Cooper King. An ambitious target but one that Chris sees as having a wider significance: ‘An English whisky has never won that before. That would be absolutely fantastic for us but also for the English whisky industry as a whole.’ And, as Abbie pointed out, there are some perks to having a distillery in your back garden: ‘it’s my birthday soon and I’ll be celebrating with a gin and tonic made by my own fair hand. It’s going to be an amazing feeling!’
It helps that we’ve been very honest and open about who we are. This is our passion and I think that’s coming through and people are connecting with that.