Another week rolls around and I finally have the opportunity to review something I’ve been keen to look at for a while. Around the world we’re seeing the resurgence of old whisky nations but it’s especially expressed in Australia and England, and my being an Australian in England is a good enough excuse for me to talk at length about this distillery. Coming to you from York, this World Whisky Wednesday I’m looking at the Cooper King Pilot Series New Make.
Through the 18th century to the early 20th century England was home to multiple whisky distilleries, famously whisky historian of the day Alfred Barnard wrote in his 1887 work The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom of distilleries through London, Bristol and Liverpool. Unfortunately English whisky distillation ceased for a number of years when the Lea Valley distillery closed in 1903.
Fast forward to 2020 and you have roughly 25 whisky distilleries operating through England, while some of them are in different stages of development there’s no doubt that in the next decades we’ll be seeing much more English whisky gracing the shelves.
Cooper King made this map, love the support they give the community
If you’re familiar with Australian whisky history you’ll note the similarities, an industry reduce to rubble has been resurrected by a few and now the industry is seeing interest from all corners of the globe, but why the preamble and the Aussie link? Let’s talk about Cooper King Distillery, arguably one of the most exciting new distilleries.
Founders Abbie and Chris (holder of a PHD in biomedicine and architect respectively) were worn out of the long arduous hours that such roles demand and were in need of a little break. If we stretch our minds back to the time before Covid we can remember a time when Australia had it’s borders open and many a young Brit would journey to see the sights, sounds, surf, and pick fruit from trees to hold a two year working holiday visa. Abbie and Chris were joined by their friend Tom on their trip to Australia in 2014, and while there discovered the wonders of Australian whisky.
Drawn to Tasmania by the announcement that had stunned the whisky world (that an Australian Whisky, Sullivans Cove, had won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky from the WWA). Caught up in the whirlwind of activity that is the Aussie whisky scene, drinks, discussion and distilleries were their breakfast lunch and dinner and an idea began to form over drinks, why could they not turn their skills towards their own distillery? As Abbie had completed a four year PHD in Biomedicine she knew roughly the ins and outs of alcohol so why could she not turn that towards her own whisky? Turns out they could.
The next few years would be an educational journey learning from as many sources and peoples as they could, legends such as Bill Lark, Peter Bignell and William McHenry helped the couple get the basics down before they returned to England in 2016 and starting work on their distillery. It all paid off when they finished their construction and started distilling in 2018, starting with Gin early in the year and filling their first whisky casks with new make in the autumn.
So that’s how they got started but what is happening now? Gin and whisky obviously. While they are expecting their whisky to be released until 2023 in the mean while they’re showcasing a wide variety of different gins, and their whisky new make to boot.
To add to the list of interesting and impressive facts about their distillery is the commitment to sustainability, green and renewable energy. Powering the distillery is green energy company Ecotricity which utilises renewable energy sources. The grain and the casks for the whisky are sourced around Yorkshire, their bottles are made of a thinner more environmentally friendly glass that uses less materials to produce and for delivery they package their bottles in a futuristic product known as cardboard that fits snugly around the bottle keeping it and the planet safe.
What a world of wonders we live in
Enough about the amazing story of the distillery though, what about the whisky/new make? Well it’s 100% malted Maris Otter barley, sourced from within Yorkshire and malted at Warminster Maltings, double distilled through their custom made 900L copper pot still. Another piece that makes this truly unique distillery, the still is the only one of it’s kind outside of Australasia.
A huge thanks to @WhiskySophie who took these photos for me
The Tasmanian made Knapp Lewer still helps keep alive that distilling knowledge and the memories that Abbie and Chris made during their two year journey through that Great Southern Land. Not to say that Abbie and Chris are alone in their distillery, the staff are reportedly a brilliant bunch. While I can’t vouch for all of them Assistant Brewer and Distiller WhiskySophie is a rising star in the whisky world, both when making the drink and drinking it. Give her a follow on Twitter and Instagram if you can.
And when that’s all done it’s in a nice looking bottle, but as we spoke about on Monday we mustn’t let all this amazing history distract us from what really matters, the taste of the whisky.
The nose starts by teasing us with thick drops of manuka honey landing on sweet malted barley, if you let your nose follow that then suddenly you’re transported to a field of malt, each grain glistening with toffee and mingling against cashews. Interspersed through physics defying scents we find fruits and nuts, lunch box muesli bars with blueberry and raspberry, citrus of passionfruit and some ripe pineapple before a touch of cinnamon on the close.
A drop on the tongue returns us to the honey but the field is now swamped with macadamia and muesli, the berry replaced by apples, pears and peaches canned in syrup. A few ripe grapes poke their heads up next to some black pepper corns, it’s welcomingly refreshing with a touch of zesty, tart citrus, enough to get the palate watering for another sip. No one will judge you if you indulge it.
Finally the finish holds medium length and full bodied fruits, nectarines and pineapple rolling about a barley field before a light dusting of pepper ushers them and the dram away.
I spoke on Monday about my disbelief in scoring systems and I stand by those remarks, but I’ll offer these remarks,
Drinking this is the equivalent to listening to The Killing Moon by Echo & the Bunnymen, ‘damn that’s good’.
I will definitely be purchasing more bottles of the new make and eagerly await the release of their matured whisky.
It’s just brilliant. The story behind the whisky and distillery is a real treat to read about and I urge you to visit their blog and learn all you can. The fact that they are working to reduce their carbon footprint and be sustainable is fantastic and adds joy to the liquid while drinking it, knowing I am drinking an ethically and renewably created drink means a lot to me. I have great hopes for Cooper King. It’s easy and relaxing, well balanced and varied enough to interest the mind as the palate slips over different flavours.
To Abbie, Chris and everyone working at Cooper King you’ve done a great job. Now, what cocktail can I make with this to get my partner interested in buying a case……
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, Cooper King or otherwise, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke.