With the county basking in the first few days of what we hope will be a long hot summer, what could be better than chatting all things gin with Chris Smart – co-founder of The Surrey Copper Distillery.
Based in Cranleigh, the distillery was founded by husband and wife Chris and Katherine who set about maximising the background in alcohol production (they both qualified distillers with PhDs biochemistry and brewing respectively) with their desire to create their own gin.
“Our youngest daughter was heading off to university, so the time seemed right to give it go while we had the house to ourselves,” explains Chris. “We chose gin because we love it. It was not a complicated choice at all. We just love gin.”
In fact, much of the company’s look, ethos and products take their lead from the pair’s passions.
“Katherine is a great collector of old books – our house is surrounded by old editions of literary classics and in particular early scientific works,” says Chris. “So, when the design team came to discuss branding, they noticed all the books and suggested we replicated that on our bottles. So that is why each blend is a ‘volume’ and the bottles, when lined up look like the spines of a book.”
However, there has been one book in particular that did far more than lend itself to the design.
“My wife had a Second Edition of Ambrose Cooper’s work The Complete Distiller and our first gin used his recipe from the 18th century with some added botanicals and florals – cubeb and elderflower. It took a few attempts to get to how we liked it, but we were satisfied that we had come up with something that would be recognisable to gin drinkers from Angus’s time as well as present-day fans.”
To craft those fine flavours, Chris and Katherine drew on their industry knowledge as they went in search of the perfect still – one which would combine the finest engineering with a beautiful design.
Chris explains: “We approached Green Engineering which is based just outside Sienna in Italy. We knew we wanted a copper still and they worked closely with us to design to one to meet our specifications.”
The still now takes pride of place in the ‘Spirit Lab’ which also houses another four copper pot vessels which go by the names of Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee, Alice and Wendy, re-emphasising the company’s literary affiliations.
The name of the brand itself derives from a meeting in the White Horse in Shere between the distillers and the designers who drew their attention to a story about a policeman who, in the 1830s, had rounded up a notorious band of sheep stealers in that very pub. The newspaper article was headlined the ‘Surrey Copper’, which resounded with Chris.
“It just sort of worked,” he recalls. “It links us to Surrey and its history and also to our still, so we went with it. It looks great on the bottles too.”
And while Chris is happy that the company has its roots in the past, there are also big plans for the distillery’s future.
“We have a new gin – which will be Volume 4 – ready to launch later this year and also we are extending our rum offer with a new blend, using spirits from the Caribbean and Dominican Republic that is also due to be released in 2022. The market for rum is really growing and gin, thankfully is still very popular, especially in Surrey which is always good news.”
We're sure Ambrose Cooper would approve!