Chris Jaume’s whisky journey, and that of his partner and Cooper King co-founder Abbie Neilson, began eight years ago when the pair left Leeds for Australia. Freshly qualified as an architect, and Abbie with a PhD, both with their one-way tickets in hand, Chris admits that they had absolutely no plan whatsoever. Luckily, they landed on their feet. Chris had previously worked with Master of Malt, and after contacting the team there he and Abbie were given the opportunity to visit a number of Tasmanian distilleries and producers to write about, and photograph, their work. They fell in love with how the Tasmanians were making whisky, particularly given the fact that most of these producers had no industry background to speak of, nor any substantial financial backing. The pair spent a couple of years working with Bill Lark, commonly referred to as the ‘godfather’ of the modern Australian whisky scene, and eventually returned to the UK. Some grant applications and Crowdfunding efforts later, Chris and Abbie set about hand-building their own distillery in Yorkshire. That was how Cooper King was born.
When we'd finished doing the tour of Tasmanian whisky distilleries, the chaps at Master of Malt said we could have a bottle of whisky from any of the ones we'd visited if we were to write about it. So, we got the Port Cask, and it's like stewed fruits, orange peel, Christmas pudding, spice – absolutely delicious whisky. We, as lowly backpackers, were living in the back of an estate car and yet we'd just gone to a bottle shop and spent $250 on this bottle of genuinely fantastic whisky. We've still got a bottle of it, and it still evokes memories of backpacking and where the whole idea was born from.
Organic Single Malt
We know Annabel Thomas, and hugely admire Nc’nean’s sustainability ethos. It has just become, I think, the UK's first net-zero whisky distillery. So that's huge, and we massively admire that, but also their whisky is fantastic with tonic. We spent some time in Japan, where highballs are a big thing, and whisky sodas were drunk everywhere, and we're slowly pushing it on everyone who comes to the distillery. The reason a lot of people who don't particularly like whisky or haven't got on with it give is because they've been told to drink it neat and it's just overwhelming. If whisky can be enjoyed and someone needs tonic with it to do so then that's a thing to be applauded.
Dark Fired Bourbon
They use a local corn – a really sweet variety of corn – and smoke a third of it over hickory wood before mashing, and it's so full on. It's matured in 100-litre casks, and it's incredibly oaky. There are smokey bacon notes, there's barbeque…It makes an awesome Old Fashioned, and I'm a huge fan of Old Fashioneds, so I'd have to go with that. There's also a tie-in with us. We went to visit them before Covid, and we now source our casks directly from them. The spirit coming out of them is beautiful.
Port Charlotte 10
We had AJ come and visit here pre-lockdown, before they turned the distillery B Corp. There's fermented mango, TCP, tobacco, spice, white pepper. It's such a mad whisky, and incredibly moreish. Peated whisky always has a soft spot in my heart, for two reasons. On a trip to Edinburgh years ago, Abbie and I were sat in the window of a little restaurant and just beginning to get into whisky, and we asked what they'd recommend and they brought over a Lagavulin which was beautiful. And as a child, my grandparents ran Sunday lunches and things, and there'd always be a bottle of Talisker that would be passed around.
New Make Spirit
Our new make is all about mango and peach – there are so many tropical flavours on the nose and palate. It makes an incredible Caipirinha, which is normally cachaça and limes and sugar, and nothing else, so we swap out the cachaça for our new make, and it's just a beautiful cocktail and about as tropical as you could think. Sitting on a beach, drink in hand, sounds idyllic.
I've just got into mountain biking in a big way, so maybe a mountain bike to go find some trails on the island. I think it would be that – a good, and very fast, way to explore the island.