Anchored in Tradition: Copper Rivet Distillery’s Masthouse Whisky

Nestled within the picturesque and historical dockyard heritage site of Kent lies the Copper Rivet distillery where Masthouse Whisky is made. With a fervent dedication to creating only quality spirits, this distillery focuses on the unique character and appeal of its creations, continuously looking to elevate English whisky to new heights. Although Ireland’s whiskey renaissance has been in the limelight in recent years, a deeper exploration into other countries uncovers a true hidden gem – England’s Copper Rivet.

The Water of Life team had the privilege of being approached by Stephen Russell, one of the three founding family members (two brothers and a father) of Copper Rivet, who shared with us his vision of showcasing their premium spirits with a distinct English flair. We were absolutely thrilled with this opportunity, not only because of the stunning location and friendly atmosphere, but also because it gave us the chance to explore and sample some much heralded English whisky. As avid advocates of the burgeoning English whisky industry, having recently reviewed other notable distilleries such as the Spirit of Yorkshire, the Lakes and the Cotswold’s, we simply couldn’t pass up this offer.

What made this offer irresistible? Since 2006, English whisky has been experiencing a steady increase in popularity, albeit not as rapid as Irish whisky’s revival. However, it is now gaining momentum and has shed its fledgling status. This is thanks to the Treasury’s leniency in issuing permits for distilling, which has allowed more distilleries to enter the market. With over 40 distilleries across England, each with a unique age and flavor profile, there is something to suit every taste.

Although the two-hour drive to Copper Rivet was a bit of a trek, we were warmly welcomed by head distiller, Abhi, who paused his work in the midst of a brew to show us around the distillery. The moment we stepped in, we were immediately enveloped in the aromatic scents of fermentation and mashing, and I was instantly captivated. Abhi then ushered us into the tasting room, where he proceeded to give us an incredibly thorough and detailed breakdown of every aspect of the distillation process, leaving nothing to the imagination. His passion for the craft was palpable, and we were left feeling thoroughly impressed and eager to sample the fruits of their labour at this point.

Abhi took great pride in informing us that all of their grain – barley, wheat, and rye – is locally grown and processed into grist on-site before being used for fermentation. He emphasised that their distillery process functions entirely by hand (including all of the cuts) and is non-automated, which he believes is crucial to their unique character and reputation. Over the course of a seven-day fermentation, Copper Rivet employs two unique brew profiles to produce two distinct washes that offer a range of aromas and flavours. By intentionally under pitching the yeast, they ensure consistency in achieving the characteristic tropical fruit and banana notes that defines the DNA of their spirit. Abhi also mentioned their commitment to sustainability, although they prefer not to boast about it. All water is reused at every stage of production, and some of the by-products are repurposed at the fine dining restaurant next door, which we were eager to learn more about…and taste.

Abhi’s emphasis on flavour over quantity truly resonated with me, and it became clear during our tasting that everything produced at Copper Rivet is crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail. Moving onto the distillation process, we could see the pride in Abhi’s eyes as he showed us around the impressive distillery. Three stunning stills stood before us, including the beautifully engineered copper pot still, affectionately named “Sandy” after Stephen’s Grandfather, “Joyce”, their copper column still, and “Janet”, their patented gin still with four different vapour phases and pressures. All of the stills reflect their ethos of ‘Low and Slow’, with the first distillation taking approximately 6-8 hours (all done in Sandy), and the second distillation lasting 10-12 hours in Sandy (for Pot Distilled Single Malt); 6 – 8 hours in Joyce (for Column Distilled Single Malt) and 6 hours in Janet for their Gin. The stills were beautifual and showcased the romantic and artisanal side of English whisky making.

During our visit, I couldn’t help but address the elephant in the room – the fact that Copper Rivet produces a single malt whisky or ‘column malt’, as they call it, using a column still for the second distillation. This could be considered a grain whiskey according to Irish and Scottish legislation. Abhi explained that, in fact, while they originally called this still a column, because it’s 10 metres tall, it’s a hybrid – a pot, with a batch column with 40 copper plates atop to maximise copper contact. Among the key differences is that ‘columns’ in Ireland and Scotland are continuous stills. This, he explained, is one of the wonderful things about producing whisky in England – you can vary processes if it produces a superior result, rather than being bound by legislation which doesn’t always serve the spirit well.

While Irish and Scottish distilleries typically use continuous stills to produce their column distilled whiskies, Copper Rivet’s Column Distilled single malt stands out by being distilled in a pot still equipped with a 40-plate column on top. This method shares similarities with the Lomond Still, which features a four-plate column atop a pot still.

As a founding member of the English Whisky Guild, he highlighted the ongoing debate over the title of “Malt English Whisky”. There seems to be confusion over whether it’s the pot or the column still that is the issue, with concerns over copper contact and materials used to make the stills. Abhi believes that there needs to be a baseline for English whisky, as it’s not Scotch or Irish, and regulations need to evolve to reflect this. He is keen for everyone to have a common understanding and for the regulations to develop in a way that supports innovation. Despite the controversy surrounding the ‘column malt’, I was even more intrigued to try it, as it showed Copper Rivet’s commitment to innovation and pushing boundaries.

Copper Rivet firmly believes in upholding a tradition of uncompromising standards, exceptional quality, and constant innovation and experimentation. They hold the belief that consumers have the right to full transparency about the products they purchase and consume, including how they are produced and made. As part of their commitment, every bottle of their whisky is meticulously crafted with strict adherence to the standards set forth in their own ‘Invicta Whisky Charter’. This charter was established to ensure that every sip of their whisky embodies the unique character, rich flavour, and unparalleled quality that they want their brand known for.

The team at Copper Rivet also take their cask selection seriously, opting for mainly ex-bourbon casks and virgin oak barrels that have been highly toasted and medium-charred. While other distilleries might rush to mature their whiskies in different and more exotic types of casks, Copper Rivet takes a more measured approach, experimenting behind the scenes to ensure that each release is of the highest quality. It’s clear that Copper Rivet’s commitment to flavour doesn’t end with the distillation process. Even the maturation phase is carefully considered to ensure the best possible outcome. After the whisky is disgorged from the casks, it’s given time to ‘marry and settle’ in a stainless-steel tank for up to two months. Despite Copper Rivet’s decision to refrain from producing special releases and finishes, as well as avoiding selling to private cask investors or independent bottlers, Abhi recently teased a forthcoming collaboration with a prominent figure in the industry. More details about this project are expected to be announced in the early summer.

As the tour was drawing to a close, I became increasingly curious about the inspiration behind Copper Rivet and the style they aim to replicate. So, I took the opportunity to delve deeper into Abhi’s mind and gain some insights. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Abhi was not confined to a particular style or region. Instead, he drew inspiration from a wide range of whiskies, including Speyside, Irish, Japanese, and even Canadian whiskies. This amalgamation of different styles and regions is what he believes makes Copper Rivet’s spirits unique and distinctive. Personally, I found Abhi’s approach to be intriguing and I was eager to sample their spirits to see if the combination of different elements came across.

Following our memorable tasting session (stay tuned for the review!), Abhi graciously invited us to dine at ‘The Pumproom,’ a fine-dining restaurant situated alongside the distillery on the picturesque banks of the River Medway. As we settled in, Abhi insisted that I try one of their signature cocktails to begin. Without hesitation, I opted for an espresso martini, given their delectable coffee liqueur that I sampled just ten minutes earlier.

To start, we were presented with a tantalising selection of bread and Chatham-ite© butter, made from the same yeast used in the distillery. The unique addition of the yeast provided a delightful twist to the butter, making it a novel and delicious accompaniment to the bread. We then indulged in a mouth-watering Hoisin Beef short rib, Japanese turnip, and mustard seed small plate, which was an absolute feast for the senses.

I must express my utmost appreciation for the impeccable hospitality extended to us during our visit to Copper Rivet. From the warm welcome to the engaging tour, Abhi and his team left no stone unturned in ensuring we had an unforgettable experience. As I toured the distillery, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation, realising that English whiskey is rapidly gaining serious recognition in the industry. Copper Rivet’s commitment, passion, and ample resources are clear indications that they are on the right path.

Abhi’s emphasis on flavour over quantity was evident throughout our visit, and his dedication to this ethos is commendable. It was evident that Copper Rivet takes pride in creating unique spirits, and I have no doubt that they will continue to achieve great things. Whilst I am excited to share my review of their spirits (review coming, I promise!) I won’t divulge any secrets. However, I can attest that each drop of liquid I sampled on my visit was a testament to Copper Rivet’s commitment to quality and their passion for producing English whisky.

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