Copper Rivet Distillery founder, Stephen Russell, has said he wants his ‘ultra-crafted’ whisky, gin and vodka to outlast him and stressed the importance of having more than just a gin offering in the UK market.
Russell and family decided to bring a derelict Victorian pump house in Chatham, Kent back to life as a distillery two years ago and wanted to create quality crafted products with the community as its driving force, the founder told Imbibe.
‘Our approach to the market is very much as a local distillery. We want to re-engage the local community and be the “spirit of Kent.”‘
After acquiring the site in November 2015, work quickly began on renovating it; fast-forward two years and the owner says there is ‘pent-up’ demand for the three Copper Rivet products: Dockland Gin, Vela Vodka and Son of a Gun.
‘For us, it was really important to have the three amazing products,’ Russell said. ‘What is proving very interesting is the vodka. We always thought Son of a Gun (whisky) would be a product that would engage with the bar community. It is beautifully made and very likeable – it is quite rare.’
The local founder said there is pent-up demand for all the products in the likes of The Gibson and Roka. Black Rock is also ‘keen’ to get involved in the whisky.
‘If you think of the level that has gone into the spirit, then it is only right we are targeting the bars and restaurants that will take the same care and attention and will it be shared by their customers. Their customers will care sufficiently about what they are imbibing.’
The Copper Rivet Distillery team set out to do something quite different: to make an authentically crafted, genuine and local product.
Russell explains: ‘We looked at the well-trodden parts of craft distilling; that included using a German still manufacturer but it wouldn’t have given us the flexibility. We wanted to control everything.’
And that includes finding local craftsmen to make the stills, which have a patent pending.
‘It was part of our collaboration to regenerate,’ he added. ‘We had already decided to create the neutral grain spirit from scratch. It made us think about what we would put into the stills – we call it “ultra-crafting”. We could have gone to a grain maker and say what we wanted, but we didn’t.
‘We thought that we would go one step further and work with a local farm business and described to them the nature of the grains we wanted. We think we are the only distillery that is having grain specifically grown for them. I think we are one of a few that are making grain to glass spirits.’
Although the construction has taken the best part of two years, Russell said it’s a lifelong ambition for him and his family to do this. The family has been involved in the alcohol business for his entire life. He recalls some of his earliest memories as a child soaking wine labels off bottles for his father to use in his shop.
‘If you are going to do this properly then you can’t hurry. We said at the beginning that it isn’t for us, it’s for our kids.
‘We are not marketeers and we do not have a massive marketing budget. We are working with people who are enthusiastic about what we are doing.’
One such person is master distiller Abhi Banik. Banik was recruited by the Russells to create the still and produce the liquids for Copper Rivet.
‘It is not all about money,’ Russell said. ‘It is about making an amazing product that people will love, enjoy and appreciate the craft.
‘The proof is in the drinking and I’m glad we did it this way and took the time and our decisions have now been vindicated. We wouldn’t have felt comfortable to say this was a crafted product if it wasn’t fully crafted. The good news is that it shows in the spirit.’
In terms of immediate plans, the team is working with accounts in the on-trade and wants to increase production to meet said pent-up demand.
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