Once a scientist and an architect, Chris and Abbie are now the founders of England’s most exciting new distillery - hand-built and fully-sustainable! We asked them some questions about their fantastic project...
Hi there, it's great to speak to you! So, who are you and what is the product you offer?
We are Abbie and Chris, the two founders of Cooper King Distillery, a self-built, crowd-funded distillery near York producing sustainable spirits underpinned by craftsmanship, honesty and adventure. The first in Europe to join environmental initiative 1% for the Planet, we run on 100% green energy and plant English woodland for every bottle sold.
We are champions of sustainability. Producing flavour-driven sustainable products is at the core of what we do, as we believe drinking good spirits needn’t cost the earth.
Chris & Abbie, founders of Cooper King Distillery.
Wow, that's an impressive project! Great work on building it yourselves too.
What are the negative effects of traditional spirit production and how does your new way benefit the planet?
Traditional gin distillation methods require large amounts of water and energy, due to the use of inefficient copper stills. In addition, grain and botanicals required are sourced from all over the world. We have bucked the trend and are one of only a handful of distilleries in the country to distil under vacuum on innovative rotary evaporators, which save 26,000 litres of water a year, and require far less energy.
Raw materials are sourced as close as possible to the point of distillation. We have our own-beehives which supply delicious raw honey for our gins and we’ve been growing trial batches of lemongrass on site too. The barley used in Cooper King whisky is grown 7 miles away on a family-run farm and the wheat for the gin is all grown within Yorkshire. Even the raspberries and lavender used in some of our spirits are grown within 15 miles of the distillery. Sourcing high-quality ingredients close-to-home mean we can celebrate terroir, support English growers and dramatically reduce food miles.
We love your methods! What sustainable goals do you have as a business? And why are these are important to you?
We are a Circular Economy business, which in a nutshell means stopping waste, improving efficiency, and looking after both people and planet. It’s also a mindset. It’s about understanding the impact your business has on the environment - the damage it causes - and is exploring ways to mitigate this with bold, decisive action.
It means researching, collaborating, and engaging. It means knowing that your work will never be done, but it is an ongoing and rewarding quest for innovation and improvement. Here are just some of the ways we’re reducing our environmental impact, with plenty more initiatives in development.
1 square metre of native English broadleaf woodland is planted for every bottle of gin sold, thanks to our charity partnership with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT). We’ve planted over 10,000 square metres (one hectare) of managed woodland so far, offsetting 166,000kg of CO2 (figure provided by YDMT and the Forestry Commission). We head into the Yorkshire Dales to help YDMT during the tree-planting season, which always makes for a fresh day out!
100% Green Energy
As one of only a handful of distilleries in the UK to run on 100% green energy, moving to a green energy supplier is the single biggest thing we’ve done to tackle climate change. It’s more expensive, but hugely reduces the environmental impact of operations, supports Britain’s energy independence and reduces reliance on fossil fuels.
1% For The Planet
Cooper King gin bottles carry the 1% For the Planet logo on the neck tag. It’s an organisation that pairs environmentally-minded businesses like ours with hard-working charities whose primary goal is the preservation of our planet. We produce the only gin in Europe with 1% for the Planet accreditation, meaning that we formally pledge to donate 1% of gin sales to our partner charity, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT), which in turn is spent on planting native woodland. We far exceed the 1% target, donating over 2.5% of all gin sales to the YDMT.
Two years ago we introduced the country’s first gin refill scheme, whereby customers bring their empty gin bottles back to the distillery for a refill, saving them £6 off a new bottle. This ‘bottle for life’ reduces landfill and helps raise awareness of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. The scheme has been very well received: we’ve seen a 25% increase in bottles refilled in the last year vs the first year.
A clever origami-style recycled cardboard box developed with a local box-maker - to ship bottles from the distillery - has eliminated the need for plastic packing materials such as bubble wrap and parcel tape. Any packing material we do use is either shredded cardboard made from the off-cuts of the boxes or 100% biodegradable potato starch pellets. Even the tamper-proof seals on the bottles are paper, not plastic.
Most premium spirits are packaged in heavy glass bottles to give a perceived quality, but we instead opted for a lightweight alternative that weighs 300 grams less on average. This uses less raw materials, reduces transport emissions and saves money - meaning you pay for the liquid inside, not the bottle.
Once gin distillation is complete we send the spent botanicals to renowned bakery Haxby Bakehouse, to be upcycled into delicious bread and pastry glazes, or we compost them on-site (the compost smells delicious!). The compost is then used to grow next year’s botanicals. On the whisky side, the spent barley grains from the brewing process are collected every week by a local farmer who feeds the fibre-rich feed to his cattle.
Great progress indeed! What advice do you have for people who want to make an informed choice when purchasing spirits?
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how their actions affect the health of the planet and are actively seeking products that are produced sustainably, from companies that have sustainable values at their core.
Look beyond the greenwashing and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Businesses with a genuine green ethos will only be too happy to discuss their initiatives, their achievements, and the areas they still need to improve.
Thanks, that's really helpful. And finally, what tips do you have to live a more sustainable life?
Start small, and ask questions. For example, compost your food waste, use toilet paper made from recycled paper, choose FSC certified paper etc. Once you start down the path of trying to live more sustainably, you begin to question everything. Then the fun begins.