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Cooper King Distillery

The Story
Cooper King Distillery was founded by Abbie & Chris and is an independent, family-owned micro-distillery located in Sutton-on-the-Forest. The story begins back in 2014, when the pair left the UK with one-way tickets to Australia. This leap into the unknown coincided with the emergence of Tasmania as a world-class force for quality whisky production. Following a two-year stint living in Australia and inspired by the unfaltering success of the emerging Tasmanian whisky industry, Abbie & Chris returned to the UK with a plan to develop their own independent craft distillery near York, Abbie’s home city.

The challenge of starting a distillery from scratch required a lot of determination. A crowd-funding campaign was launched to raise significant finance for the initial start-up costs and help prove market demand. The distillery was built over the course of a year, on the site of an old stable block, and almost entirely by hand with the help of friends and family. Further funds were raised through a bank loan and an £18.5K innovation grant to fund the key equipment for the distillery: a bespoke copper pot still and specialist gin distillation equipment.

Cooper King Dry Gin was launched in May 2018 and has received rave reviews from both novice and expert gin lovers. Hand distilled using honey from the distillery’s beehives, lemongrass and a touch of locally-grown lavender, the gin has incredible savoury lemongrass flavours, a silky mouthfeel and delicate floral notes. The initial batch of premium single malt whisky, made using Yorkshire barley, begins production in late 2018, with a projected release date of 2023.

Core Values
The company holds ‘craftsmanship, honesty and adventure’ at its core. They work with the best local craftspeople; from local artist Emily Stubbs who created the marbling for the award-winning bottle design, to the last independent master cooper in the UK, Yorkshireman Alastair Simms whose skilfully crafting their single malt whisky casks.

Focussing on flavour and provenance over volume means, Cooper King source the best local ingredients for their premium products. Investing in a state-of-the-art vacuum gin has enabled them to develop a gin with rich juniper notes married with juicy citrus and floral layers of local honey to deliver a fresh, vibrant gin of exceptional character, described by one prominent gin blogger as a ‘game changer’.

Cooper King are one of only a handful of distilleries in the country to run on 100% green energy and the first European distillery to join the international environmental initiative - 1% for the Planet - donating at least 1% of all gin sales to charity. This means they plant one square meter of woodland in the Yorkshire Dales for every bottle of gin sold, through the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. By planting Yorkshire woodland, composting botanicals, running a refill scheme, adopting plastic-free packaging, planting an on-site orchard and supporting beekeeping, they stand apart from the competition.

Cooper King distillery is currently the only Yorkshire gin distillery open for public tours. They continue to put people’s experience at the heart of everything they do.

Business Growth/Future Goals
In the first 5 months since the gin launch, Cooper King have secured over 100 outlets including Booths supermarket, produced 4 bespoke sprits for a Michelin starred restaurant, featured in The Guardian and the Financial Times, launched distillery tours and a whisky cask scheme, landed a potential export deal, taken on their first employee, planted over 2,200 m2 of woodland in the Dales and sponsored two high-profile events.

In an effort to become more environmentally responsible, they introduced a gin refill scheme in September 2018, whereby local customers bring their empty Cooper King bottles back for a refill, in return for 15% off. This has proved hugely popular, developing customer loyalty as well as reducing landfill.

Passionate about supporting Yorkshire businesses and promoting Yorkshire produce, Cooper King has already partnered with 20 local businesses. This includes the Michelin-starred restaurant, The Black Swan at Oldstead (recently rated the number one restaurant in the world by Trip Advisor), for whom Cooper King produce a range of bespoke spirits. Created using flowers and herbs grown in the Black Swan’s kitchen garden, which are picked, delivered to the distillery and freshly distilled on the same day, the vacuum-distilled spirits feature prominently on the restaurants’ menus.

To increase reach and raise awareness of English whisky, they created the English Whisky Map which continues to be shared far and wide and has secured fantastic press coverage, including the Financial Times. Similarly, The Yorkshire Gin Map, shared extensively on social media, was created to highlight Yorkshire’s gin producers and showcase the region’s many tremendous brands.

Cooper King have some potential export deals in progress and many more exciting new products and collaborations in the pipeline. In addition to increasing tour availability, they are now looking to introduce bespoke private events at the distillery and to offer regular tasting nights.

Since being involved in the SIAFS project, Cooper King have attended our workshops including Sales Training, Packaging, Exporting and SALSA, as well as many of our networking events.

Abbie says: “The SIAFS workshops have had a positive impact on how the business is run. It’s connected us with other local food producers, engaged us in important conversations, provided us with the tools to improve our sustainability efforts, and helped us focus our sales strategy. Access to such high quality workshops are often unaffordable for new business such as ourselves, so to have the SIAFS project within our locality and for free, is tremendous. The whole team are friendly, supportive and always looking for ways to help or connect us to useful resources.”

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