It has always been interesting to me that when people talk about the growth of whisky, they look towards Ireland. While, of course, the island has seen a large number of distilleries in a short period of time, they have always been well known for their whiskey and started off with some pre-existing whiskey distilleries.
England, on the other hand, did not. The closure of Lea Valley in 1910 marked the end of legal whisky distillation for a century right up until St George’s opened just over a decade ago. English whisky has since grown in leaps and bounds. The breadth of English whisky over the past few years has been astounding and, with England having (approximately) 25 whisky distilleries and Ireland having 38, the difference is less than one might think.
Ireland’s pre-existing distilleries mean that new distilleries and brands could bottle whiskey from the previous distilleries, solidifying themselves as whiskey producers before their own whiskey comes of age (in some cases before the whiskey has been produced or distillery, built) and even after to keep their availability at the same levels, Meanwhile, their English neighbours must wait. This is not to be disparaging to any of them, the whiskey that they have produced is often quite good if sometimes out of the average customer’s reach.
So, why do people not consider English whisky?
It always does seem that when you talk about or present an English whisky to someone, the response is ‘nae, surely you mean Scottish whisky’ or ‘stop acting the maggot, it’s Irish Whiskey!’. But maybe people really should give it more thought.
English whisky grows day by day and is continuing to build around the world. Recently, an article in The Times spoke about how America is beginning to appreciate English and Welsh whisky more (though this could be down to the tariffs placed on Scotch by a certain orange git, but hey, a win is a win). The English Whisky Festival held in October 2020was a resounding success and English whisky releases, though slowing down due to COVID-19, have continued to astound everyone. It tastes great – it’s new and exciting and, should you live in England, there may be a distillery right around the corner for you to support and potentially visit, so grab yourself some English whisky.
Why am I talking about this?
Mainly, it’s curiosity. I find the lack of interest that many in the whisky sector display towards anything not from the big five producing countries astounding. Talk about something interesting and unique and eyes dull, blinders go up and suddenly talk turns towards releases we’ve seen before, distilleries we’ve visited previously and more often than not something that costs a lot which is in the hands of a multinational company as opposed to someone local and independent.
With all that said and done, let’s dive into what we have today: a brand-new first release bottling from an English distillery. This World Whisky Wednesday we are looking at the Masthouse release from Copper Rivet.
Co-Founded by father, Bob Russell and sons, Matthew and Stephen, Copper Rivet distillery is years in the making. Between them, they have four decades of experience within the drinks industry and, in the early part of the 21st century, this experience between father and sons would be pulled together as they began to wonder: why work for others when we could make our own?
Years would pass with this small dream slowly maturing and, in 2012, Stephen would meet Abhishek Banik, now head distiller of the Copper Rivet distillery, at the ICBD in Edinburgh. When you want something, you go to the source, and it seems the family did just that.
Moving forward different locations would be discussed, argued and wept over as promising sites became unattractive due to location, logistics, cost etc. In 2015, Matthew found the perfect location by chance when, while out with his family, they passed Pumphouse No.5 on the river Medway near Upnor Castle in Chatham. After discovering that the building was for sale, the distillery had a home and the following year, the distillery would run its stills for the first time and the doors would open.
Originally distilling gin and vodka, the distillery has always specialized in grain to glass distillation with a heavy emphasis on craft spirits to showcase what they can do, heading to their site you’ll find a handy search option that can tell you just where in Kent the barley for your bottle of gin came from. A very niche piece of information, that is often overlooked, is that Copper Rivet haven’t been shy to push this as one of their unique selling points.
Moving forward through the years, it was obvious that they would eventually produce whisky and the distillery was happy to tell those that asked that the whisky would be released when ready. It was ready just recently and, on the 16th of November 2020, Copper Rivet released their first whisky, The Masthouse.
Distilleries often give you various pieces of information. They might tell you the batch, the barrel, the age, the bottle number or any combination of the lot but Copper Rivet seem dead set on telling you absolutely everything about the whisky, and on the bottle at that. In fact, looking at the bottle the only they don’t tell you is the exact age, though they have handily provided the harvest date (August 2016), vintage (2017) and bottling date (November 2020). With some quick math we can figure that out…. this whisky is three years old.
It’s refreshing to see a distillery with such honestly behind what goes into their whisky, and without the ‘holier than thou’ attitude that normally accompanies it. Following this if you want a look at your own bottle, you’ll have to crack the seal that is placed on the box, something that has been welcomed by a few members of the whisky community as it is a slight deterrence against the dreaded flipper. That name, Masthouse, is inspired by the tradition and history of Mast Making within the Chatham dockyards where the distillery is located.
So, what exactly goes into the whisky? As a Single Malt it is 100% barley, specifically Belgravia barley. Single Estate sits proudly on the label and the distillery is happy to tell you the barley is grown on a 40-acre field on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent by farming company Burden Bros. The whisky was ‘(double) Pot distilled in accordance with the Invicta Whisky Carter’ (we’ll get to that), aged with barrels,
All of which were American Standard Barrels, a mixture of first fill ex-bourbon and Virgin American Oak with a Heavy Toasting. After all this the whisky is cut down to 45% and filled into a 500ml bottle.
Personally, I appreciate the attention to detail here, it certainly makes a much easier time of searching out what the nerdy little details are, though as I mentioned we have to spend some time to the Invicta Whisky Charter. What in the world is that?
If the text there is a bit too small for you to read, here is a handy little link that explains it all. So, what does it say?
The Invicta Whisky Charter outlies the distilleries commitments and values, for instance where the barley may be harvested (within 50KM of the distillery) where it may be produced (within England), the style of distillation and what casks may be used. As Stephen Russel said,
‘We’re obsessive about creating beautiful, accessible spirits for people’s enjoyment and the way we’ve built our whisky distillery reflects that. We’re not in Scotland, so we have some flexibility in the process. Among the most significant differences between Scotch and English whisky is that England’s whisky distillers are not bound to using only certain types of casks and stills, so we have a big opportunity to be creative and innovative in the way we bring flavour through.’
Maturation may occur in any natural wooden casks with no additives, though casks that have been innovated with may be used provided that the distillery clearly labels these innovations for the consumer to plainly see.
In short, the Invicta Whisky Charter is the distilleries promises of what will go into each and every bottle of its whisky and how it will conduct itself. In creating the Invicta Whisky Charter Copper Rivet distillery have set themselves on a path and clearly have a goal in mind, continuing to utilise their core USP as grain to glass and transparency. Far from holding others to the standard they set out, the Charter clearly stipulates,
‘We don’t presume to lay out standards on behalf of other great distilleries in other regions of England – we expect that they may wish to set their own rules and standard which underpin the character of their spirit. This is our charter, for our whisky.’
This is… an interesting approach. The idea of an ‘English Style’ has been a question that many a whisky drinker has asked about and is not easily answered. Given the lack of recent history of English whisky distillation, historical styles do not exist as for people to draw inspiration from and given that the English distillers come from and learnt from all over the globe defining a signature English style is not something that can be done.
For what it’s worth, I can get on board with it. This is the creation of a distillery style and promise. It is unobtrusive to other distilleries, the whisky itself retains a very affordable price despite the restrictions the distillery has laid on themselves and as each bottle of their whisky so far has contained their charter it does not confuse the consumer as much as other attempts at something similar have been. The question of whether they will continue to include the charter in accessible form to drinkers or if it will change as the distillery grows is a question for their next release, so for now it holds promise.
So, to the taste test, the most important part of the whisky. Will the Copper Rivet Masthouse float or flounder? Will their Invictus Whisky Charter be a blessing or another piece of marketing in an over saturated whisky world? Only one way to find out, and for reference, this is bottle number 1394.
The first scent to greet us is yellow old wizened apples, lovely and sweet with a touch of tartness. There’s some porridge with some white chocolate shavings and a dusting of cinnamon sugar, dried apricot cubes and raspberries, a hints of mint and squeeze of lemon juice. It heads towards cereal notes with oat and puffed wheat, a very breakfast-y whisky. The unripe stone fruits start to rise, cantaloupe, honey dew melon and a touch of pineapple skins, they need to ripen a bit but really move well with the whisky. On the end there’s a hint of coconut shavings and unripe kiwifruit, very tasty.
A sip shows gingerbread and over stewed lemongrass tea, herby with some pepper and moving into fruity tones, granny smith apples with frozen peach slices and blackberries, all with a scoop of bubble gum ice cream. It’s a refreshing and cool, crisp whisky, the mouthfeel hits with pepper and alcohol, very spritely. Some nuts move in, cashew and almond cookies made with white chocolate before bounty chocolate bars, before a finish that is vanilla ice-cream driven with pepper fruits, nicely rounded and screaming ‘have me with ripe cheddar’.
This is a noticeablely young whisky, though not by any means poor. It has some rough edges, the pepper and spice that come off the whisky form into quite an explosive mouthfeel that is a touch devoid of flavour but builds the experience. This is a breakfast whisky, what some call a ‘shower dram’, and feel well suited being paired to porridge, oatcakes, cheddar and maybe a sliver of salmon.
Did the Invicta Whisky Charter fail Copper Rivet? Actually far from it, knowing what went into the whisky built on the experience of it and knowing that they will continue this in the future is good to hear, though I would be curiously to try some new make and discover whether the oaky hit comes from their stills or is entering during maturation, the choice of casks seemed interesting to me and I would curious to see more though they have stated they intend for a Sherry Cask whisky at some point in time.
This is a good whisky. I don’t know if it’s a great whisky as far as far as English Whisky is concerned, it’s no TOAD Rye or Bimber First Release but it stands proudly above pretty much the whole range from The English Whisky Company. The fact that I’ve written over 2000 words on the whisky however should give you an idea of how I feel about the distillery and whisky, it’s one to follow, buy, drink, and talk about.
So would I buy this whisky again? Yes. Most definitely yes. As far as first releases go it’s quite a lot better than others I’ve tried, it doesn’t break certain barriers but I see the whisky only getting better and this distillery hitting a few ‘Distilleries to Watch’ lists over the next few years. It’s tasty, it’s flavour driven, and for a first release it is EXTREMELY affordable. This bottle cost me £45, and while the website is sold out you can head to Master of Malt and buy a bottle for £44.95, that’s fantastic.
The Copper Rivet Masthouse First Release is a great mouthful in more ways than one, and is worth picking up. English Whisky is only getting better and better and this is a perfect example of that, and supporting the small guys like Copper Rivet helps English Whisky immensely. Good for sipping, good for supporting, good for everything and underappreciated.
Just like that.
If you would like to learn more about Copper Rivet, click here to discover their story, here to see their products and here to pre-order their next whisky.
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, Copper Rivet or otherwise, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke.
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