Copper Rivet distillery opened its doors in 2016. It was established by Bob Russell and his sons, Matthew and Stephen.
Bob Russell has worked within the drinks industry for over 40 years. In 1979, he opened Medway’s first wine bar, Topper’s.
The family’s aim was to bring industry back to Kent, to renovate an existing building and cultivate renewed interest in the area. The Russell family have lived in nearby Rainham for over 40 years, so Kent was always going to be home to the distillery. They achieved their aims by purchasing the old pumphouse, (Pumphouse No. 5) on Chatham’s historic dockyard.
Situated on the banks of the River Medway, Copper Rivet distillery perfectly blends historical interest, generations of expertise and a modern approach to distilling.
The yachting marina immediately next door was once the dockyard’s Basin Number 1. The distillery building housed the steam-powered pumps used to drain the basin. It took 1 hour 45 minutes to drain the whole dock.
Chatham was Britain’s first royal dockyard. Nelson’s ‘Victory’ was built in Chatham, as well as many submarines. Located on the opposite side of the river is Upnor Castle, which Queen Elizabeth I commissioned to protect her navy. It was also the largest gunpowder store in the country.
The Russell family have lovingly renovated the listed building and brought its history back to life. You can see original mechanisms, winches and pulleys inside their new delicatessen.
I was very fortunate to be invited on a tour round the distillery. Huge thanks go to R&R Teamwork for organising this, (though I apologise to both them and Copper Rivet for nearly fainting – distilleries get hot!).
Upon arrival, you are greeted with gorgeous pink architecture. The distinctive coloured brickwork gleams in the bright sunshine.
The distillery is named after the copper rivets found in the abandoned building, (the pumphouse closed in 1984 and was left derelict). It’s a nod of respect to the building’s illustrious past and a touching way of continuing its legacy in the 21st century.
The Russell family were also drawn to the level of craftmanship and engineering which rivet production entails. To create thousands of rivets with perfect consistency is a feat on its own. This ethos and dedication ties in with the distillery’s own aims. Additionally, the word ‘copper’ is a tangible link to the distillery’s stills.
“Times may change, but the Dockyard Spirit endures.”
Copper Rivet distillery is a name you’ll want to remember. With a raft of gins and ‘craft’ spirits being launched every month, it can be difficult to make your brand stand out. Copper Rivet are not adding to the noise by shouting about their products, they’re quietly building a loyal fanbase by highlighting authenticity, integrity and a ‘grain to glass’ approach.
The Copper Rivet team knew that the only way to ensure the highest quality from start to finish would be to do everything themselves.
The ‘grain to glass’ approach sees them work with local farmers to commission the exact strains and varieties of grains they wish to grow, to process the grains themselves and ferment their own wash. This wash is then distilled to create both their Vela Vodka and the base spirit for their Dockyard Gin. In very simple terms.
There are very few people taking this level of hands-on involvement and a huge amount of credit is due to Copper Rivet for this.
The distillery currently produces four spirits: Vela Vodka, Dockyard Gin, Son of a Gun, (a cask-aged spirit) and the slumbering Malthouse Whisky which is due for release in 2020.
Every aspect of distillation is conducted on site. The Burden family are farmers, contracted to grow the distillery’s wheat, barley and rye. These are grown within Kent – near Canterbury and on the Isle of Sheppey. The local water is filtered through chalk beds to allow the yeast to showcase its distinctive fruit esters during fermentation. All of Copper Rivet’s products are created in small 900 bottle batches. The products are bottled and packaged on site.
The distillery houses three stills: a 300 litre gin still called Janet, a 10 metre column still called Joyce and a whisky still called Sandy. All three are named after Matthew and Stephen’s grandparents, were designed in-house and made by local craftsmen.
Copper Rivet’s head distiller, Abhi Banik, is a Heriot Watt graduate. He is amazing. Abhi has a brilliant manner of friendliness blended with an enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge and passion.
Abhi designed Copper Rivet’s stills, including the best gin still I’ve ever seen. His unique design allows two infusion techniques to occur simultaneously during distillation. There’s one rectification, two infusions. In very basic terms, there are two pot stills resting on top of each other. The lower houses neutral spirit whilst the upper holds neutral spirit with the botanicals. There are also separate botanical baskets at either side. This means that the botanicals are kept away from direct heat, creating a more delicate extraction. The different baskets also mean that each botanical can be treated individually and placed in the most suitable area of the still. This affords so many possibilities and nuances. Rightly so, a patent has been applied for.
Abhi and the Russell family seem to be the perfect fit. Together, they’ve already employed two assistant distillers, both of whom are local engineering graduates. Everyone is avidly passionate about creating a centre of excellence for distilling, encouraging young people to join the industry in all capacities and offering multiple opportunities for learning within the company.
The base spirit of Dockyard Gin is produced from wheat, barley and rye. It is fascinating to witness the level of attention at this point of the process – many distillers simply buy in neutral grain spirit, where ‘grain’ doesn’t tell you much. Copper Rivet chose their unique combination and you can trust that the percentages of each grain are just so for a reason.
Juniper from Italy
Orange Peel from Spain
Orris Root from Europe
Lemon Peel from Italy
Elderflower sourced locally
Grains of Paradise from Africa
Angelica Root from Europe
Green Cardamom from Guatemala
Coriander Seeds from Bulgaria
I particularly like that Copper Rivet bottle their spirits in 20cl and 50cl sizes. Whilst this is cost- and labour-intensive, it’s a brilliant opportunity for getting your product in front of as many people as possible. The bottle shape and design is identical across the sizes so you never feel like you’re getting a lesser experience with the smaller size.
The copper coins at the bottom of the label “represent the strengths and values which inspired us and best describe our ethos. They symbolise home, heritage and honesty.”
The nautical influence is gently addressed by way of eight squares representing eight flag signals to spell out Dockyard. It’s a simple way of blending historical references into the design whilst maintaining a modern look and feel.
Aromas: Bright, yet deep and earthy. Lavender over a solid juniper core with cinnamon, cassia and angelica. Lifted citrus over the top.
Palate: A fantastic silky texture. Rich red berries, juniper and spiced earth. A touch of peppery heat is balanced by soft citrus and a floral note on the finish.
With Tonic: Resinous, earthy green pine and coriander aromas. Lighter and more citrus-led on the palate with a more distinct elderflower character. Warm gentle earthy spice on the finish.
Dockyard Gin is a brilliant example of how to balance flavours and create a solid, well-rounded expression. I'm excited to see Copper Rivet continue to build their fan-base and know that there are some fascinating product development ideas for the future!