Copperfish: making gin with ‘picture postcard’ appeal!
Andy Walton is the creator of Copperfish Distillery in Looe, Cornwall. With a background in finance and sales, he’s worked in the food and drink industry for over 25 years. However, with several years part-time involvement in distilling, an interest in making spirits was already developing. Three years ago, he joined forces with an old colleague, Billy and an acquaintance of his who had some distilling experience and a set of stills he’d brought over from America.
Origins of Copperfish Distillery
They discussed starting a distillery and following on from this, Andy’s research led him to suggest a bold branding approach. They already had a unit on the harbour car park in Looe, where the distillery was going to be based. Andy helped to develop the Copperfish brand, before pitching the name to the public during a music festival in September 2017.
“We invited the public to come in and look around and we gathered around 400 email addresses“, explains Andy. “When we were ready with our ideas, we emailed those 400 people with a simple survey. This gave us an idea of what people would be prepared to pay for a craft-distilled whisky or moonshine, where they’d expect to buy it and, more importantly for us, which was the preferred branding out of four options. Copperfish won hands down!”
Copperfish – a name with local significance
Copper is synonymous with distilling and the area of SE Cornwall where they’re situated has a significant mining tradition. Looe is a reasonably sized fishing port in Cornwall with a fish market, so the name links the brand to the locality.
They spent many months afterwards, getting the unit set up and the stills installed, before launching their first spirit in July 2018. Viewing the gin market as too crowded, they began with Copperfish Moonshine. This was made from fermented corn, malted barley and wheat, with ingredients sourced locally. They followed this up soon afterwards with some flavoured moonshines. However, differences in opinion on the future direction of the company ended the partnership. So, by the end of the year, Andy and his colleague were left without the kit they’d been using.
New direction for the distillery
Over the following months, Andy, Billy and Billy’s stepdaughter Gemma, who had started to spend more time with the business, decided to rethink the way forward. Andy and Gemma spent time going to trade shows and events, looking at the different options available for spirits production. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that they needed to buy another still, as Andy recalls. “I did quite a bit of research looking at various forums and who was putting in installations that were getting loads of recommendations and praise. That’s how I found Ryebeck.”
Andy remembers speaking to several equipment suppliers before deciding on Ryebeck in June 2019. “The biggest issue for us as a new, small and recently incorporated business was that many suppliers gave us short shrift. It was like ‘there’s the catalogue – give us a shout if interested!’ There was no real desire to assist and provide any experience or pass on any knowledge.”
However, his experience with Ryebeck and, in particular, speaking to MD Tim Prime, was very different. “With Tim, you get the personal angle and you are made to feel important. I felt that he was providing above and beyond in terms of the service and the advice – something bespoke.”
Ryebeck’s personal service
Tim listened carefully to Andy’s requirements so that he could offer fully bespoke advice, as Andy describes. “We explained to him what we were looking to do. We wanted a still that would allow us to do whisky, rum and potentially gin. Tim quickly came back with some quotes. About the end of July, we decided to proceed.”
Then it was a question of financing the operation and Andy is grateful to Tim for all his advice and assistance. “Our search for financing options took several weeks. At that point, I got back to Tim and said that because we’re a new business, we’re struggling to find people open to finance us. Tim came back with contacts and facilitated introducing us to a couple of finance houses for small businesses. We had a quote through after we’d provided accounts, it looked favourable and so we decided to proceed.”
Installation of the still
There were particular logistical considerations for the type of still, which Tim took on board right from the start. As a result, they agreed on a 500L still with three columns and twelve bubble caps. Andy explains further: “The kit ended up being bespoke. Due to our location and our building, we have quite a low ceiling and Tim worked with the manufacturers to develop our still. We now have three columns instead of the two which were on the original specification to allow us to fit comfortably within the building. We’ve ended up with a superb still which both Tim and ourselves are very pleased with.”
The still was installed and commissioned at the end of 2019. A key element in this process was the involvement of Ryebeck’s Master Distiller, Craig Law who helped provide some invaluable training on the new equipment. “Just a day with Craig and you can learn so much“, Andy recalls with enthusiasm. “The new still is very consumer-friendly and, compared to our previous still, it’s a lot more straightforward.”
The name of the still has been chosen from a Facebook competition. It will be based on three important characters from Looe’s history.
Ryebeck’s network of expertise
Andy is full of praise for Tim’s network of contacts with business expertise: “This is very valuable to a small or new business looking for various avenues of help. It’s almost like Tim’s created a one-stop shop. It takes away a lot of pain, time and effort in looking for people. Tim could introduce us to finance people who were probably able to get things moving quicker because they were able to talk to Tim. His virtual one-stop shop sets him apart from everybody else.”
Although at this stage the company did not have a still, they did have a shop at the front of the distillery. So, they were able to sell their backlog of moonshine throughout the year, along with t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise. Although originally Andy was not going to enter the gin market, circumstances changed his mind. “We found that we were turning away 60% of people who came into the shop, simply because we were not doing gin. As a result of that, we decided that we needed to make a gin.
So, the week after their new still was installed and commissioned, they launched Looe Gin, just before Christmas, aiming for the local holiday trade. This will be followed up soon by a pink gin, flavoured with fresh raspberries. Andy is in doubt that they made the right decision to start with a gin: “Given the sales we’ve had over the Christmas period, it’s been very lucrative, despite being in a crowded market.”
Branding the gin
The design has a mermaid on the front with a picture of Looe beach. “It’s a very holiday postcard style“, says Andy. “The gin is dry and straightforward. It’s a very good take on a London Dry. We recommend serving it with Fever Tree Mediterranean and a slice of orange, preferably a blood or Seville orange, garnished with a sprig of coriander. We’re not trying to be clever. There are plenty of good gins out there. Where we’re doing well is our branding on the bottle. It is very different. Rather than the approach of other craft distilleries in the locality, we’ve gone very much with a bold, picture-postcard look. It stands out and is at an approachable retail price of £30.”
Andy has many plans to develop the business and brand image through new spirits, sales channels and merchandise. He wants to build regular gin sales from the shop, particularly during the holiday season (Easter to end of September). Andy is keen to continue the relationship with Ryebeck, which he views very positively indeed. “We’re very happy with the service we’ve had. We like the personal angle and the fact that Tim’s always available on the phone. We have a good relationship which we want to continue.”
Currently, the Copperfish team is making a mash for a new premium moonshine. They hope to enter the wholesale market with this in due course, once volumes reach a certain level. They’re also trialling an oaked moonshine, appealing perhaps to Bourbon drinkers and intend eventually to produce a whisky. However, their next big plan is to produce rum and they’ll be contacting Tim and Craig for help with that. They may also speak to Ryebeck in future about bottling and labelling equipment, as currently this is all done by hand.
Glowing testimonial for Ryebeck
Andy has no hesitation in recommending Ryebeck to others thinking of setting up a distillery or choosing their equipment? “They need to consider speaking to Tim, because you get a personal approach with plenty of advice and valid knowledge. For a small, new business, finding somebody who has the interest and the time to spend with you is quite difficult. A lot of people just can’t be bothered to invest the time. Tim treats you like you are special and a very important customer. He created a bespoke product for us that fitted our specification and needs, our building and location etc. I just don’t think there are many outfits out there that would go to that level of detail and customer service.”
If you’re interested in purchasing distillation equipment or are seeking some advice, do give Ryebeck a call. You can reach the team on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.