I first encountered Copeland’s signature blend, Merchants’ Quay, during a blind tasting Jon R hosted for the Water of Life team. Of all the whiskies on offer, this was the one that impressed me the most, and it wasn’t long before I ordered a bottle. And with a little further inspection, it’s clear that this whiskey deserves a more in-depth examination.
Copeland is one of the plethora of new distilleries that have sprung up as part of Ireland’s whiskey renaissance. Sited in an old cinema in Donaghadee, the distillery started production in 2019, having raised its capital from crowdfunding.
The Merchants’ Quay is Copeland’s first whiskey, aimed “signalling at a taste of things to come” while they “wait patiently for our malt and pot-still whiskeys to mature.” This is sourced whiskey: Copeland credits Brian Watts of The Great Northern Distillery in assisting them with its creation. This serves as a great example of how sourcing can help a brand establish itself and prove its credentials; its own spirit is due to mature in 2024.
Copeland hasn’t started their whiskey brand with an easy option: they’ve decided to show a capability for more complex creations from the start. The Merchants’ Quay features three different styles (grain whiskey, double distilled and triple distilled malts) aged in four different casks (a virgin American oak barrel, re-char bourbon cask, first-fill bourbon cask, and Oloroso sherry butt). Coupled with the decision to bottle without chill-filtering or artificial colour, this hints that Copeland will be targeting the artisanal sector of the market.
So, what is the result of Copeland’s first foray into the realm of whiskey? And what does it tell us about the distillery’s future?
Copeland Merchants’ Quay
Blended Irish Whiskey
Natural colour, non-chill-filtered.
Nose: There’s plenty of fruit: peach, nectarine, and raspberry, accompanied by rich toffee. There’s also a generous helping of spice from cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.
Palate: The fruit notes from the nose are repeated and joined by bitter orange zest; the spices also return. There’s sweetness too from honey and salted caramel.
Finish: Oak notes and spices linger.
Opinion: Hopefully, the Merchants’ Quay is a sign of what we can expect from Copeland. Smooth and balanced, this dram is very easy to enjoy. This ticks all the boxes for a quality blend. The evolution between nose and palate is particularly good, with the notes from the nose echoed and enhanced as the palate opens up.
This is not the most complex whiskey out there. I would say that it is far better suited to casually sipping than for a deep inspection. At just under £30, there are also cheaper blends on the market. However, the Merchants’ Quay performs well at this price: it is flavoursome enough to stand out from slightly cheaper blends.
The decision to release their inaugural blend as non-chill-filtered and natural coloured is atypical for blends around this price point. I don’t think anyone would have thought less of Copeland had they not done this. However, I suspect this is a statement of intent for future releases. I will be interested to see what Copeland does with the Merchants’ Quay once its own spirit reaches maturity in 2024. I genuinely hope they are able to recreate the flavours and keep the expression alive. It’s worth noting that the early samples of Copeland’s spirit that featured during their Belfast Whiskey Week tasting were apparently very well received.
The Merchants’ Quay is a great blend, and gives me high hopes for Copeland’s future.