I’ve been following The Surrey Copper Distillery for some time now. Their story was one that really piqued my interest when they launched their first product in June 2018. Based on David Copperfield, the famous Charles Dickens novel, it’s got packaging you’d barely want to open, such is its beauty! The gin is based on a Georgian recipe which the distillery believe was also used to make early Victorian gins and you can read more on that here. I caught up with Dr Chris Smart, Managing Director and distiller at family distillery.
The first thing you notice about your gin is the amazing packaging. Talk me through the concept for your brand. Thank you for your lovely comments. The whole look and feel of the branding is designed to capture our love (and small collection) of old books, which includes the classics and scientific books relating to brewing and distilling. At the beginning we worked closely with our fantastic branding team at Nude Brand Creation in London who came up with several incredible ideas but the book theme really appealed to us. The front of each label has intricate design detail that has the feel of old novels and on one side has what, hopefully, is recognisable as the spine of an old book. The labels, printed by our incredible friends at Label Apeel in Leicester, have real copper hot-foiled over the top which adds another dimension. The labels also have a reverse side which has a few notes from our distilling book from when we were developing each product, some of which is easy to read and some not which makes it a bit more fun. How much did you have to alter the recipe you discovered?

For Volume 1 the base recipe is from a book first published in 1757 by from Ambrose Cooper who was a distiller in London at the time. The botanicals are basically the same but we added to two, elderflower and cubeb berries, just to boost the floral notes slightly which weren’t really there.

We did that to produce a very balanced gin which has a little bit of earthy, citrus, spice, floral and the piney notes from plenty of juniper. It also has liquorice which gives what I describe as a creaminess to the mouthfeel of the gin especially neat and enhances its smoothness, thus making it a genuine sipping gin which can be enjoyed just over ice. We hope Ambrose would approve.

Was there a brand that got you into gin?

Personally, there aren’t many gins I don’t love and that includes the non-craft big brands like Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Gordon’s. There isn’t one specific brand that got me into gin but I do love trying new ones whenever I get the opportunity, there are some absolutely fantastic gins out there.

For Volume 1 the base recipe is from a book first published in 1757 by from Ambrose Cooper who was a distiller in London at the time.
You’ve got two expressions, both London Dry. The recently launched Volume 2’s botanicals look like it’s more floral in nature. How do the two compare?

So Volume 2 is quite different to Volume 1, which is very juniper rich but no other botanicals dominate. Volume 2 is, as you say, more floral but not overly so. During the development, we probably overdid the floral and it wasn’t working, so we reduced those notes a bit and increased the spicy notes which really complement the floral.

The spice comes partly from coriander but mostly from pink peppercorns which give a very aromatic and more complex spice, and works perfectly with the floral.  The floral notes come from red rose petals, lavender, elderflower and hibiscus, the latter also gives a dark fruity note, a bit like dates, which is really good in this gin. In addition, Volume 2 has a decent juniper kick, I think that’s important in any London Dry.

What’s your favourite of the two?

That’s like saying which is your favourite child! Let me think. At the moment, because it has a great summer serve with elderflower tonic, I’d say Volume 2, but Volume 1 is a very tough gin to beat over the whole year as far as I’m concerned. Think I dodged that one pretty well!

You’re a family business, with both you and your wife being distillers. Are you both responsible for distilling and new product testing? 

Katherine was fantastic in helping us to get started and I could not have asked for a more dedicated and knowledgeable partner to work with, she really was a star. But she left the distillery at the end of last year to pursue a very senior, technical, corporate role with a large distiller. Since then she obviously hasn’t been involved.

Fortunately, we did a huge amount of product development work last year which will keep me going for quite some time. I do, however, get a lot of help from our two daughters (Emma and Sarah) who have developed a real interest in gin and I value their ideas. I should probably point out at this stage that they are both over 18.

Can we expect to see further volumes of Copperfield Gin? Absolutely. We have a several products ready to go. The idea to is build a library of gins for people to display on their drinks shelves. And if they run out of space they can also go on the book shelves! There are also plans to do one or two “Special Editions” so look out for those.
The idea to is build a library of gins for people to display on their drinks shelves. And if they run out of space they can also go on the book shelves!
Being stocked in John Lewis must’ve been a big moment. How has this helped the brand? Honestly being stocked by John Lewis, especially only a few months after launching our first gin, was a special moment. They are obviously inundated by dozens of very good gin brands every week, so to be selected from that group to be one of such a select number of gins in-store and on-line was incredible. It’s given us national distribution very quickly and the guys at John Lewis have been so supportive, especially with in-store tastings. I’m heading to Scotland this weekend to do a tasting at John Lewis Edinburgh, which if it’s anything like the Glasgow session I did a few weeks ago will be a lot of fun. Finally, what are the best and worst things about having a family business? Initially, when Katherine was involved it was great to spend time together at work, we divided up the responsibilities and it worked really well. Since she left our daughters have taken on a bigger role when they are home from university which has been brilliant for me. I’ve seen them increase their knowledge through attending spirit courses, working in the distillery and talking to customers at various gin festivals we’ve attended. Hearing them discuss the gins, the botanicals, how they are made etc., always puts a smile on my face and makes me very proud. So, those are the best things. In terms of the downside I can’t really think of one but that might change… I’ll get back to you on that! Copperfield Gin is available to buy on their website, and also at John Lewis.