It has been operating for almost 2 years and is located just a few miles from my home. It makes one of favourite spirits, has another one in the making and offers tours. Yet I have never been to Copper Rivet distillery in Chatham. I am not sure why? Time maybe, absent mindedness? Whatever the reason, I have rectified the situation and came away kicking myself for not having been sooner.
There truly are that not many distilleries, breweries or wineries that have resonated with me as much as Copper Rivet. They are doing what I would love to do. Creating a product of exemplary quality and provenance with the utmost attention to detail. Every process examined to see if it might be improved upon to raise their benchmark even higher.
Housed in the magnificent Pumphouse No. 5, adjacent to the River Medway in Kent, it was a chance discovery. Mathew Russell, one of the family owners along with Stephen and Bob, had been visiting historic Upon Castle when looking over the river saw the Pumphouse. The following Monday, Matthew drove to Chatham Maritime and discovered the building was for sale. I don’t believe in fate particularly, but the family had been looking for a suitable property for this project as far afield as Scotland, so to find one so perfect, and in their home town was truly fortunate.
Having been in the planning stages for a number of years, in 2015 they finally acquired Pumphouse No 5 and commissioned local craftsmen to build the 10m high column still in which to produce their own Neutral Grain Spirit. This is common is Scotland but almost unheard of in England. 99.9% buy in the NGS (presumably of varying quality) in plastic containers to distill into their brand of gin.
This passion for quality is extraordinary and the lengths they go to, ensuring they can control the process from farming the grain to bottling is exceptional, and a big gamble. But that gamble is one that results in one unique selling point. If a company is willing to go to these lengths, with care and consideration from the outset, then you can be certain that the finished product will be exemplary or why go to the bother?
This obsession means they only use grains grown locally and can work in conjunction with the farmer to ensure the absolute best quality. The three grains they distill (wheat, barley and corn) are milled onsite to be used in the production of their gin, vodka and whisky. These are made by Abhi, who was recruited from the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling in Edinburgh, where he was teaching post graduates. Sharing the brothers passion, I guess, was essential along with the technical skills required. The fact that Abhi could also design the pump house must have been a very exciting proposition as well. Within it there are 3 stills names after family members –
Sandy – Named after the Russels paternal grandfather which will be used for Whisky.
Joyce – Their grand mother who was tall and fiery which is used to make the NGS.
Janet – There maternal grandmother who was soft and delicate is used to distil the gin.
Having taken so much care to create a spirit in house, it is only reasonable to expect that when put through a unique copper still (made to their own specifications) that it should be exceptional. The still is unique (patent pending) in that Abhi can insert, for want of a better term, a Boquet Garni, filled with the aromatics in the form of a cartridge into it. In this you will Italian Juniper berries, locally sourced elderflower, Bulgarian Coriander seeds, Spanish orange peel, Italian lemon peel, Guatemala green cardamom, grains of paradise from Africa, European Angelica root and Orris root.
These combine to make not a only a gin so smooth that it can be sipped, but one that has an elegance and finese. It maybe the time of year, but I found hints of Christmas Cake in there, maybe down to the citrus and spice. Maybe what makes it so special is that the maceration happens away from the heat source so is conducted at the same and consistent temperature. This is turns allows subtle nuances to develop and aids to the smoothness.
Chatham has many maritime and military connections with Nelson learning to sail there, the 1st ever Union Flag being produced there and Resolute Desk is in the Oval Office. So it is no wonder that this combined with the sheer quality of their Dockyard gin, that it was used in the naming ceremony for HMS Medway. The Royal Navy have launched over 4000 ships yet this was only the 2nd to be launched without champagne. The other was Elisabeth where a whisky was used.
I am not a regular vodka drinker as I generally like my spirits neat and full of flavour and character unless in a cocktail. Named after the sail shaped constellation used for navigation since Roman Times, this charcoal filtered vodka is different. It had complex notes with a back note of pepper. I generally could drink this neat over ice with a splash of something like lime as they recommend.
Son of a Gun
This is a bit of a rarity, being the unaged spirit that will ultimately be used for their whisky. I found a beautiful nuttiness to it complemented by pepper and honey. It has been distilled to be used in cocktails primarily, and I witnessed an Old Fashioned being made using it and the angostora bitters, of which the mixologist must have spent 5 minutes dissolving the sugar cube into the drink. There dedication to creating perfection continued.
Copper Rivet are producing one of the very best gins in the UK and deliver on their promise. The future looks exciting with the release of a whisky in 2020 but perhaps more exciting for me, experimenting with terroir. They plan to male gin from individual parcels of grain to determine if there is a difference. They will all be inoculated using Anchor Gold Yeast to retain consistency and then made in an identical fashion. This will be totally unique to them and offers a very exciting opportunity. I cannot wait to taste them.
The distillery is also open for tours (see the website for times and prices) which given the reviews I have read are excellent. Next door is also an excellent cafe to enjoy a cake and coffee post tour.