Perched on the edge of Kent’s River Medway, Pumphouse Number 5 cuts a defiantly Victorian contour against Chatham’s Historic Dockyard. Its industrial-age hydraulics may have long since become an arachnids’ playground, but the site was reborn in 2016 as the home of Copper Rivet Distillery.
Given the distillery’s penchant for fusing the traditional with the innovative, I’m tempted to describe Copper Rivet as retro-futuristic. It’s also resolutely local, being only one of six UK distilleries to control the entire process from grain to glass — a single-estate distillery, if you like. The wheat, barley and rye they use are grown nearby, while all of their spirits are crafted in small batches of 900 bottles.
I visited Copper Rivet to sample their range, which currently boasts the flagship Dockyard Gin, award-winning Vela Vodka and the untamed wild card Son of a Gun (unaged whisky), with Masthouse Whisky due to set sail in 2020. Here are my thoughts…
I always considered vodka to be straight down the line — simple, clean, functional. But Copper Rivet’s charcoal filtered Vela Vodka has so much going on that my olfactories had trouble keeping up. An initial creamy, coffee-like smokiness (if you can imagine such a thing) gives way to cereal notes with a savoury “bloody mary” aura, with celery, paprika and peppercorn all coming through. And it’s all deceptively smooth on the tongue.
Vela Vodka ran off with the Double Gold award at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards in 2017, and I can see why. If you’re yet to be converted to vodka, this’ll be the one to do it.
VELA VODKA: 40% volume. RRP £27.45 (50cl). 20cl and 5cl bottles also available.
Stockists: Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt, Hedonism, Selfridges, Hennings Wine Merchants, General Wine Company, Shepherd Neame (Todd Vintners), Hercules Wine Cellars, Olivers of Copthorne, Pages of Ramsgate, H T White of Eastbourne, Maison Maurice of Northfleet, Westerham Brewery, Champers Wholesale, Jeeves and Johnson of Canterbury, Enotria & Coe, thedrinkshop.com, drinkwarehouse.co.uk, specialitydrinks.com, copperrivetdistillery.com
In person Copper Rivet’s charismatic head distiller Abhi Banik (pictured below) comes across as something of a maverick genius. You can imagine him in a top hat and goggles, sweating over test tubes in a 19th century laboratory.
He designed the unique, bespoke gin still that produced the Copper Rivet’s Dockyard Gin, which is apparently “a contemporary take on traditional naval gins”. The result is a very juniper-forward spirit, with notes of elderflower and citrus. Sweetness from the wheat kisses you on lips, while a kick from the rye smacks you satisfyingly in the throat.
Its glossary of botanicals includes Bulgarian coriander seeds, Italian lemon peel, Guatemalan green cardamom, grains of paradise from Africa, European Angelica root…
It doesn’t stray too far from the classic gin template, but this is an elegant drink, made in a progressive style.
DOCKYARD GIN: 42.1% volume. RRP £28.45 (50cl). 20cl and 5cl bottles also available.
Stockists: Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt, John Lewis; Hennings Wine Merchants, General Wine Company, Waitrose (selected stores and on line), Hedonism, Selfridges, Shepherd Neame (Todd Vintners), Co-Op (selected stores), Hercules Wine Cellars, Olivers of Copthorne, H T White of Eastbourne, Pages of Ramsgate, Maison Maurice of Northfleet, Westerham Brewery, Champers Wholesale, Jeeves and Johnson of Canterbury, Enotria and Coe, thedrinkshop.com, drinkwarehouse.co.uk, specialitydrinks.com, copperrivetdistillery.com
SON OF A GUN
The Billy the Kid of the Copper Rivet gang is this clear grain spirit. Son of a Gun could be described as a spin on Wild West moonshine — although it’s far less likely to make you turn blind.
Named after after a pejorative term for a child conceived aboard a ship, Son of a Gun is actually the unbarrelled, unaged offspring of the distillery’s keenly awaited Masthouse Whisky, which is currently resting in oak and won’t be ready to emerge until 2020.
I was pleasantly surprised by its notes of tequila, banana and tropical fruits. It’s impressively/dangerously smooth, but at 47.4% volume it’s not taking any prisoners. A mouthwatering appetiser to the impending small-batch Masthouse whisky, it’d make a distinguished digestif, as well as an unusual cocktail base.
SON OF A GUN: 47.4% volume. RRP £31.25 (50cl). 20cl bottles also available
Stockists: Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt, John Lewis, Hennings Wine Merchants, General Wine Company, Hercules Wine Cellars, Olivers of Copthorne, H T White of Eastbourne, Pages of Ramsgate, John Lewis, Maison Maurice of Northfleet, Westerham Brewery, Champers Wholesale, Jeeves and Johnson of Canterbury, Enotria & Coe, thedrinkshop.com, drinkwarehouse.co.uk, specialitydrinks.com, copperrivetdistillery.com
Copper Rivet conducts hour-long tours of the distillery, taking place on Wednesdays to Sundays. See copperrivetdistillery.com for details.
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