Today’s Master of Malt exclusive is from our Kentish neighbour Copper Rivet Distillery, which has kindly let us bottle its first ever single cask release! It’s Masthouse Single Malt – Single Cask #137.

Copper Rivet is not just one of the most exciting distilleries in England, but in my book, it’s one of the most promising in the world. Since 2016, the family-backed brand founded by brothers Matthew and Stephen Russell along with their father Bob and head distiller, Abhi Banik, has been on a mission to put their hometown, Chatham in Kent, on the world whisky map, just as it was once the world’s leading shipbuilding town. 

I’m from Kent myself, having grown up in Maidstone, and there was always a bit of snobbery towards Chatham, the kind you get from neighbouring towns that need to feel better about themselves. But Chatham is doing a stellar job of proving doubters wrong, particularly at the stunning historic dockyard. New apartment buildings, restaurants, and hubs of activities are sprouting up all over the place. But the jewel in the crown is Copper Rivet Distillery.

The family has renovated a massive, derelict nineteenth-century pumphouse, then filled it with distilling equipment designed by Banik and built by a local engineering firm. A restaurant and tapas bar called the Pumproom offers food and drink made from seasonal ingredients to match the sparkling views of boats sailing by. It’s a distillery worth visiting for lots of reasons other than the quality of its whisky. That standard, however, is already unbelievably impressive.

Copper Rivet Distillery

The beautiful Copper Rivet Distillery

Whisky creation at Copper Rivet

This is the kind of operation which includes no shortcuts, evidenced by Copper River taking the trouble to farm its grain locally and adopting a ‘low and slow’ approach to fermentation and distillation. Overall, the approach is one that complements traditional approaches with innovative distillation techniques, driven at its core by a belief that a whisky’s flavour should come from deep in the distillate.

Fruity new make is the goal, which requires the creation of a clear wort and very long fermentation, about seven days, to promote esters, with two different yeast strains used. The distillery also uses both pot and column stills, the latter with 40 rectifying plates. Multi-grain mashes, brewing temperature profiling, fermentation disciplines, and mixed-pressure distillations are all employed to create that signature fruity floral distillery character. 

The thick, red brick Victorian walls of the distillery and its roof made of glass and wood combine with the southern climate to create an internal micro-climate with ambient temperatures ranging from summer highs of 44 degrees celsius to winter chills of just 4 degrees. That means maturation is quite quick but at the cost of a greater angel’s share. Most Masthouse Whisky is matured in ex-bourbon casks (first-fill, second-fill, and re-fill), but there’s also other experiments, particularly doing things like trailing char and toast levels in virgin American oak.

Copper Rivet Distillery

The team at Copper Rivet

The Masthouse Masterclass

Copper Rivet has launched three core expressions of Masthouse Whisky to much acclaim since the end of 2020: Masthouse Single Malt (Double Pot Distilled), Masthouse Single Malt Pot & Column Still, and Masthouse Grain Whisky

When the first single malt was released, Henry had this to say: “I’d say it was about the best young single malt I’ve ever tried: fruity, harmonious, packed with flavour but not overworked, the use of oak is just perfect. Banik has avoided the two pitfalls of young malts: trying to get too much flavour in from different cask types and making the resulting whisky rather hard work, or just creating something pleasant but a bit bland”.

Having tasted the range myself, I concur wholeheartedly. The vibrancy, clarity, and complexity of the fruity note in whisky so young is mindblowing. Each whisky has its own distinct personality, but there’s a distillery character present throughout. It’s one of the most comprehensive and impressive core ranges that has been created in the last decade. So you can only imagine how excited I was to learn the distillery was releasing a single cask just for us. 

Masthouse Single Malt - Single Cask #137

Masthouse Single Malt – Single Cask #137

Masthouse Single Malt – Single Cask #137

This Masthouse single malt began life as Belgravia barley harvested in August 2016 from a 40-acre marsh field (the level of detail the brand provides is superb). It was then pot and column distilled in 2018 before being filled into a virgin American white oak cask (no. #137) that had a high toast and a medium char. It was then disgorged in July 2022 before being bottled at 56.2% ABV. 

Virgin oak is difficult. That wood has had no contact with alcohol before, so it’s going to give whatever you put in it everything it’s got. You need a characterful spirit to ensure it doesn’t get lost, and you need to be brave enough to give it time to add the characteristics you want from it, like oak spice and rich vanilla. This whisky manages that difficult balance, building on the notes of the core Masthouse Single Malt, Pot & Column Distilled Whisky by retaining those estery, sweet fruits while drawing out and intensifying the creamy vanilla and toffee elements. The palate is a little front-heavy and more time in the cask could have mellowed that, but otherwise, it’s beautifully balanced and very moreish. I defy you not to refill your glass.

Masthouse Single Malt – Single Cask #137 Tasting Note:

Nose: Full of candied fruit, with foam banana sweets, Rosey Apples, and pineapple chunks, as well as rich fudge, posh dark chocolate, and a very soft warming and spicy aroma of gingerbread dough.

Palate: Slick varnished wood appears before toffee, vanilla, a little coffee, and golden syrup temper things and brings us into creamy, sweet territory. The fruit is more tropical and juicy here, while baking spices mingle away in the backdrop. 

Finish: Very satisfying, the big cask notes start strong but fade to leave lots of estery fruity goodness.

You can buy Masthouse Single Malt – Single Cask #137 here.