We sent intrepid reporter Victor Smart to the Chatham Docks at nighttime (nice!) to witness the launch of Copper Rivet, the UK’s latest micro-distillery. Although it will be a few years before their Kentish whisky will make it onto the market, the Russell family are already producing Son of a Gun, Vela Vodka and Dockyard Gin from originally-designed stills and a technique they call ‘ultra crafting’.
Son of a Gun is an unaged spirit aimed squarely at bartenders and mixologists. That is, until Copper Rivet release Masthouse Whisky in 2020.
For those eager to savour Kent’s finest single malt whisky my advice is ‘be patient’. The new Copper Rivet Distillery has laid down barrels of its Masthouse Whisky but it will be another three years before this is old enough to sell. Only then will we know whether the owners, the far-sighted Russell family, called it right when opting a year ago to set up locally in Chatham dockyards rather than to start distilling north of the border.
Yet there are intimations of what is to come. The distillery’s Dockyard Gin and Vela Vodka brands made in stills alongside the whisky are already tickling discerning drinkers’ palates. And the product which will in 2020 find its way onto the market as whisky is now available as unaged spirit under the soubriquet Son of a Gun.
Stephen Russell, co-founder of Copper Rivet, explains that Son of a Gun is aimed squarely at ‘mixologists’. (A little later research on my part shows a lively online debate about the relative merits of a mixologist versus a bartender).
Of all the four or five brands that the distillery produces, Son of a Gun is, Russell explains, the “irreverent spirit”. The label sports an image of a heavily moustachioed man, an original ‘son of a gun’, or illegitimate child born on board ship alongside a cannon. It is one of those products which intrigues and one suspects it will be a hit with hipsters.
Russell declares rather candidly that “we are not marketers”. While true literally, the family has a very distinctly defined approach to selling its wares. All small-batch distillers go for low volumes and talk up the craft aspect of their production and many offer tours around their premises: Copper Rivet has gone one better.
Russell explains, “We decided to do things the hard way, starting absolutely from scratch by taking responsibility for the entire production process – from growing the grain to producing the spirit in your glass. We believe this is the only way to deliver truly distinctive spirits.”
The grains are grown in Kent by local farmers. And this uncompromising approach has led the company to design its own stills (patents are pending, apparently) and have them built by local craftsmen. The whisky kit is an exception – its tricky design had to be crafted north of the border.
Russell calls all this “ultra-crafting”. And he freely admits that Copper Rivet are one of the few distillers “crazy enough” to pursue this no-compromise approach quite so strenuously. This purism certainly anchors the company in the local heritage of the Chatham dockyards and undergirds the authenticity of the brands.
Even so the proof must always be in the drinking.
Though we are biding our time for the Kentish single malt, an on-site mixologist (or maybe a bartender) shows off his skills by concocting for us a Vesper Martini from the company’s Dockyard Gin and Vela Vodka plus some Cocchi Americano. The original creation of novelist Ian Fleming, this luscious recipe shows what true discernment is all about.