#22 Goodbye 2022, see you soon 2023

A very dramming year


TL;DR: As usual this period gives us a chance to reflect on the year about to end. It has been an intense one for us, particularly the second half. Whisky-wise, we had some very fantastic experiences, some disappointing, and a few average ones. While we are looking forward to “dramming around” in 2023, here our 2022 highlights.  

Aaaand…It’s December, and we are finally on holidays. By the time you will be reading this, another Christmas will have just passed, we hope you had a great day of celebrations with your loved ones, and that you are now bloated and relaxing on Boxing Day (or St. Stephen, as it is known in Italy).

Because of our jobs, we both arrived at the end of the year very tired. However, it was also a year full of fantastic whisky experiences, that we hope to repeat next year. In 2022, we visited 19 (Gianluigi) and 20 (Teresa) new distilleries (17 in Scotland and one in England together, Gianluigi visited one in Canada, Teresa one in Ireland and one in England). We also had the chance to revisit some good old acquaintances, like GlenAllachie and Deanston (amongst our favourites). We were able to go to Orkney (hurray!) to catch up with both Scapa (aye!) and Highland Park (nay!).

Sheep grazing with Scapa in the back.

And, finally (FINALLY), we visited Islay for the first time, after our March 2020 trip was cancelled by you-know-what. What a crazy holiday that one, our rented campervan broke down on day 1, half-hour away from the ferry terminal. Although we had to get last-minute accommodations and move around by taxi, we managed anyway! And what a visit, we have to say that whisky tourism on Islay is something really different. Take the Laphroaig tour for example, the token system to pick the drams for your tasting at the end makes it much more flexible than most of the other tours, so that can be enjoyed by both novices and experts. Moreover, Bunnahabhain (best warehouse tasting ever…just the bottling prices a bit too steep), Lagavulin, and Kilchoman rewarded us travelling there by including no-core range drams, all limited ones, which made the experience truly special. We wished other distilleries on far-away islands would do the same… We can’t wait to go back to Islay, to catch up with the other distilleries, and revisit some.

Moments before the best warehouse tasting ever.

Other than Islay we had some incredible whisky experiences, like the Deanston Winter Fest (coming up soon in the blog), or the GlenAllachie tour during the “Speycation” (coming up soon too).

Deanston WinterFest: that’s happiness after three tastings.

This word was brilliantly created by our friend Cath, and greatly implemented by  Justine (Kask Whisky): over the weekend we visited 5 distilleries (+ 1 being built) and did a few tastings, including one in the now closed Coleburn distillery, and one in the Strathisla’s warehouse. A couple of weeks earlier, we were again in Speyside for the Dramathon, and of course we visited (or revisited) a few distilleries: Glenfarclas (new visit), Glen Grant and Glen Garioch on the way back (both revisits).

The direct-fired Glen Garioch spirit still.

Some of the tours we did were OK, a bit standard but nothing to complain about: we’d say that usually you get what you pay for. Disappointments came from distillery-exclusive bottling prices. In some cases, instead of rewarding you for visiting the distillery (and already paying for a tasting or a tour), they put a 20-30 quid premium on those. Not nice. The only distillery experience that was really a disappointment and we regret paying for was Highland Park. Despite avoiding the basic tour (£30, already not cheap) we opted for the improved one (£75, the most expensive tour we did so far) to be denied any dram of distillery exclusives or other limited bottlings, and just taste the core range which we could have done in Edinburgh anytime. An expensive tourist trap, we won’t go back there (sorry James, you were a superstar guide though!).

A nice but waaaaay to pricey Blair Athol (£120!!!).

With the Covid19 restrictions behind our back, we could attend our very first whisky festivals, the Fife whisky festival in March and the Whisky Fringe in August – we had a lot of fun, let’s see if it’ll be the same with bigger events.

Enjoying a break between the two Fife Whisky Festival sessions.

In-person tastings came back too. We did a few organised by our friend Justine, of course, as well as others by Mark, Murray (both at Kilderkin) and Colin at Tipsy Midgie. We had some cracking drams, including a 20y Dutch single malt from Zuidam, a fantastic Doorly’s rum (from Foursquare distillery) and some cracking Daftmill-s and Bruichladdich-s. Also, SMWS events came back, including our favourites: Outturns and Distillery Visits (an event where you can taste whiskies brought by a distillery representative together with some provided by the SMWS). This year we did the Glen Moray distillery visit with Iain Allan connected remotely and the Distell one (Deanston/Tobermory) with the very funny Brendan McCarron: both cracking events with awesome whiskies! Gianluigi also decided to become an Aqvavite Youtube Channel Patreon: Roy’s content and entertainment are really priceless, and this was long overdue. We also attended a very funny blind tasting in Glasgow where we finally met all those whisky folks we’d only seen on screen until then.

Awesome Aquavitae event in Glasgow!!!

By writing this up, we realised 2022 was intense not only because of work, but because of whisky too! We hope to bag more distilleries in 2023, although we’ll probably try to be more selective when picking tours and experiences. We are also starting to organise whisky tastings: the first will be towards the end February and will be Port-cask related (we got the idea during our fantastic trip in Portugal…tickets here), but the following ones will involve bottles we picked up in our travels, not necessarily at distilleries, eheh…Stay tuned! Overall, it’s still a very long way to become whisky geeks, but we’ve learned a lot this year and we hope to continue the trend!

Not just whisky for us…coming to a tasting soon!

Happy holidays and see you next year! Slainte!

#21 Exploring down South

On the banks of river Medway: Copper Rivet distillery


TL;DR: Although some of them have been around for many years, English whiskies still feel like the new kid on the block, but what a kid! On this trip, Teresa visited Copper Rivet distillery, in Chatham, and what a nice visit! 

In recent discussions, probably around WhiskyTube or somewhere else on the web, we heard statements like this a few times: “if there’s something to keep scotch whisky producers on their toes, it will be the rising of English whisky”, more or less. Jokes aside, the growth of whisky production South of the border is quite impressive. Last time we checked the English whisky map there were forty (4-0!!) distilleries, seven more since the previous time.

Our experience with English whisky has been quite good so far. Among the first ones we tried there was Bimber, whose crispy and nice character (at least, the ex-bourbon cask matured ones we tried) made it quite sought after recently (also, stay tuned to the blog for our visit to the same owners’ new distillery in Speyside, Dunphail…coming soon!!!). Earlier this year, we visited the Lakes Distillery: its product is very cask forward, but very tasty and balanced as well. One of the best we tried so far is definitely the Cotswold single malt – the bottle we had evaporated quite quickly. It is produced in small batches (5-6,000 bottles), 46%, unchill-filtered, no colour added, vintage year mentioned on the bottle, reasonably priced and available everywhere: what more to ask? We also tried the ex-bourbon cask matured cask strength, quite yummy too!

Something we liked about the English distilleries we encountered so far is that they tend to be very transparent: while their single malt whisky is not ready, they market something else (gin, vodka), and if they use other whiskies, they are quite clear about it (such as The One blended whisky series). Unfortunately not all producers make it clear which is their own spirit and which is sourced…pointing westward.

When a Victorian pump house becomes a distillery: Copper Rivet.

It was also because of these positive experiences that we were very happy when Stephen Russel from Copper Rivet distillery invited us to visit them. Copper Rivet is the only spirit maker in Kent, so an opportunity not to be missed. In October, a couple of months after Stephen’s email, I (Teresa) went to London for work, so why not try to make it there?

I took a train from St. Pancras late on a late afternoon, direction Chatham. Not a very long train ride (40 mins or so), but long enough to enjoy the landscape on this very sunny, almost summery day. The bus stop was right outside the station, but I had to wait quite a bit for the right bus to arrive, which afterwards made me wonder whether taking a long stroll wouldn’t have been easier. Anyway, the Dockside area was in sight, finally!

Once a flourishing industrial harbour, Chatham Dockyard closed in the 80s. Later on, it underwent a revamp and is now home of residential buildings, shops and restaurants, as well as a living museum under the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust. At the end of dock 5, I recognised the brick building I had seen on the distillery website – good, I was in the right place! Stephen later explained that it used to be a Victorian pump house, a masterpiece of hydraulic engineering.

The entire distillery in one shot.

I was welcomed in the small reception (and shop), and I realised no one else was there (well, I could have guessed it from the late hour and the empty car park). So a private distillery visit, yay! Stephen brought me outside and started telling me the story of Copper Rivet. The distillery is essentially a family venture and, quite a peculiar feature, almost a DIY project. They started production in 2016, and everything from grain to bottle is built around a ‘low and slow’ concept, which also implies staying local whenever possible. They source barley from farmers in the area (within 2o miles), which is then malted at Muntons, of course separately from everything else for full traceability.

Stephen then showed me the production area, a big space with a part-glass roof. Mashing is done in brewers’ mash tuns at a low temperature, followed by a very long fermentation (around a week) – again, ‘low and slow’.

Mashing station.

Interestingly, they are equipped with a pot still and a column still, which gives them the opportunity to experiment with distillation. Different from all distilleries Gianluigi and I visited so far, the stills were built by coppersmiths in the area (so no classic Forsyth or Frilli).

Meet Sandy, the pot still.

Stephen remembered, almost amused, how assembling the column still was quite the challenge! For maturation, they use ex-bourbon casks, sometimes in combination with virgin American oak, because the idea is to produce a gentle, very drinkable whisky, even at a young age. Before moving on to the tasting, I noticed another still, which they use to make gin. Another interesting craft project.

Meet…the gin still (sorry I forgot your name!).

From the production area, we entered the cocktail bar and restaurant they run alongside the distillery, the Pumproom. A big but nonetheless very cosy place, with a beautiful view on the marina…Not bad at all as a place for the tasting! First off, a wee taste of vodka (yes, they also produce vodka from scratch like Arbikie, although not from potatoes but from grains) and of their briefly aged spirit (Son of a Gun, reduced at 47.4%), to get a sense of the spirit produced – very fruity in my opinion.

To warm up the palate.

Then, the whiskies: a single malt whisky (~5y, classic double pot distilled, 45%), a column malt whisky (~3y, mix of column and pot distillation, 45%) and a grain whisky (~3y, combination of wheat, barley and rye, 42%). All uncoloured and unchilled filtered, as clearly stated on the labels, together with information on grains provenance and barrels composition – big shout out for such transparency! My favourite was the column malt whisky because to me it better brought out the fruity character of the spirit, but actually, they’re all very good sippers.

Young whiskies, yummy whiskies.

Overall, a great experience with an excellent host. Also, a unique opportunity to start filling our gap of knowledge about English whisky, a more and more interesting and bustling world. This calls for more trips down South, definitely. Until then, slainte!

Copper Rivet distillery tour and tasting

Price: £15.00 pp (October 2022, but I was invited)

Duration: 1h

Tasting: Vela Vodka (mix of wheat, barley and rye, 40%), Son of a Gun spirit (mix of wheat, barley and rye, 47.4%), Masthouse single malt whisky (~5y, classic double pot distilled, 45%), Masthouse column malt whisky (~3y, mix of column and pot distillation, 45%) and Masthouse grain whisky (~3y, mix of wheat, barley and rye, 42%)

Target: anyone

Value for money: very good (assuming the public tour is similar to the one I had)

Highlights: the beautiful location and the experimental production process

Link: https://copperrivetdistillery.com/