At the centre of Copper Rivet’s claim is the contentious issue of whether spirit made using a mash of 100% malted barley that is distilled on column or ‘continuous’ stills can, after maturation, be considered to exhibit characteristics generally associated with single malt whisky. On account of the high ABV off the still, lighter style and comparatively more ephemeral organoleptic properties, column-distilled spirit has not historically been recognised as single malt in Scotland or Ireland (instead it is considered grain whisky), nor is it recognised as such by competitions including this title’s World Whiskies Awards.
However, though regulations governing Scotch and Irish whiskey stipulate the need for batch distillation in copper pots to qualify as single malt, distillers in England and Wales are presently free to label such malt spirits in this way without breaching any laws. This is because regulation of English whisky currently falls under rules inherited from the EU, which define only ‘whisky’ and not ‘single malt’.
Copper Rivet’s co-founder Stephen Russell explains the team’s motivation for creating this new spirit: “Scotch whisky regulations say that Scottish malt whiskies can only be produced in a pot still; but in England we have flexibility to use techniques pioneered in other countries. Inspired by those beautiful, lighter-style whiskies — in particular from Japan — we’ve combined a pot distillation with a distillation in our unique 10-metre-tall, 40-copper-plate column still. This combination of stills, we think, adds extra complexity to our whisky made from Belgravia barley malt, locally grown at the Isle of Sheppey.”
However, this is not the first British whisky to be made by distilling a mash of 100% malted barley using column distillation. In Scotland, Loch Lomond distillery produce their signature Single Grain whisky using a mash of 100 per cent malted barley that is then distilled using a column still. However, the Scotch whisky regulations are clear: spirit produced in this manner can only be labelled as single grain Scotch whisky.
As referenced by Russell, Japanese expressions such as Nikka Coffey Malt have also explored this territory over the past decade — though that spirit is different again, as it is produced by redistilling new spirit from Ben Nevis Distillery in Scotland on Nikka’s Coffey Still, a traditional type of continuous still.
Nevertheless, in spite of its contentious status, Copper Rivet’s use of separate pot and column distillation runs does set this expression apart from the vast majority of whiskies produced in the UK. This new 'Column Malt' whisky will be joined by The Masthouse Column Distilled Grain Whisky (2016 Harvest) over the next 12 months, but is also distinct from The Masthouse Single Malt Whisky, released in November 2020, on account of that expression’s use of double pot still distillation and new or ‘virgin’ oak maturation.
Copper Rivet Distillery’s co-founder Stephen Russell added: “We’re obsessive about creating beautiful, accessible spirits for people’s enjoyment and for their intellectual and gastronomic interest.
“This is one of the first whiskies which makes good on our commitment to use the freedom we have to innovate in whisky production and be creative in the service of creating wonderful whisky. What’s fascinating is that our customers will be able to taste, side by side, our pot-distilled single malt and our column-distilled single malt.”
Masthouse Column Malt Whisky Bottle Strength, is available for pre-order online, at RRP £45 (50cl bottle) plus £6.95 P&P to addresses on the UK mainland.