G & Tree: How To Launch Your Own Sustainable Gin Distillery

How often does another industry inspire you to build a new business? This sustainable gin distillery rethinks the impact a spirits business can have, from the ground up. Raise your glass to Cooper King Distillery.

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Gin. Hands up if you’ve had a G&T this week? Or last week? 

The original spirit revival shows no sign of slowing down, despite most of us sloshing around in the stuff most weekends. 

It’s hardly in short supply in the UK, with over 166 registered gin distilleries in England alone. And while some have delved down the flavoured route or ever more outlandish botanical combinations, an unassuming Yorkshire gin distillery stands out for its sustainable commitment.

It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? 

A couple fed up with their corporate jobs, head to Australia, fall in love with Tasmania whisky (yes really) and return to Yorkshire to self-build their own small batch sustainable gin distillery, Cooper King Distillery – the first in the UK to really bed in sustainable practices from the build to the botanicals.

“After spending time in Tasmania and falling for their whisky production, we spent a year crowdfunding and getting innovation grants before self-building the distillery in our second year and launched our first gin last May,” explains co-founder Chris. 

“In Tasmania, we were struck by the beautiful wilderness and we want to launch a business that protects the environment closer to home. That care for the local landscape runs through everything we do, from using a Yorkshire box maker for example, rather than use plastic, to being the first distillery to sign up to 1% For The Planet.

Within a year of their first gin, they’ve sold over 5,000 bottles, been stocked in Booth’s, used by English Heritage and have a Yorkshire whisky in the pipeline, so I spoke to one half of Cooper King Distillery, Chris, to find out how they’ve achieved a green dream of a gin business. 

Get a sustainable build going…and keep going

Abbie Neilson and Chris Jaume, are a scientist and architect by trade, and Abbie’s family has land that goes back generations in Yorkshire. A handy spare stable block and acre of land bought from her parents have been turned into the Cooper King Distillery, which has been built from the dismantled and rebuilt stable, reusing the timber and employing all of the couple’s architectural skills to make it as green as possible. 

“There was a 100 year old house in the village that was being knocked down so we rescued floor boards from that that we used. The distillery still looks like an old barn, with insulated windows and roof and it’s entirely self built,” explains Chris.

In addition to the building, there’s a composter on site, rain harvesting for water and it’s powered by 100% green energy. There’s a closed loop cooling system that has already saved 13 tonnes of fresh water this year. Even the traditional gin bottle has been reimagined, they have ditched the heavy bottom to use less glass.

A native woodland and orchard has been planted on site and the team are investigating greener alternatives to waste. A sustainable business’ learnings are never done.

Donate and give back to the local landscape

Cooper King Distillery made the largest ever donation from a gin distillery to plant trees – not the other side of the world but in their backyard, by teaming up with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT). This autumn they’ve donated enough to plant 140 trees, bringing their total to 740 so far.  For each bottle of gin sold, the team plant one square metre of woodland. Many of those they’ve planted themselves by hand.

Want to know why we ALL need to be planting trees? Click here.

But planting trees alone won’t get you onto our sustainable radar. What comes through speaking to the team behind Cooper King Distillery, is their detail oriented, bottom up approach to making a distillery as different and ethical as they can and to be as transparent as to what needs more work.

Encourage people to come and learn

Cooper King Distillery enable a real promotion of Yorkshire ingredients, the landscape and its people within the selling of a gin, infused with the warmth and character of some of the UK’s most charming landscapes.

The distillery offers visitor tours and ‘closed loop cocktails’ from an upcycled bar on site. There’s even an on-site air BnB run by Abbie’s mum if you want to really enjoy the local gin (then have a lie down).

The cocktails use up waste ingredients and the emphasis is on distilling and making tinctures with whatever is left over from other processes, each season. They could be garnished with homegrown rosemary or include a tincture rustled up from otherwise surplus ingredients.

There’s also a gin refill system in place (why has no one else thought of this?). Buy a bottle and return it to the distillery and they will refill at a 15% discount.

Image A small batch distillery can have a big local impact

Keep your ingredients simple 

Cooper King Distillery’s gin is distilled with lavender, honey and lemongrass, which were whittled down as the winning flavour profile after testing more than 50 combinations. The first two are grown or made on site (there are six beehives kept by a beekeeper father in law), lavender grows on site and while lemongrass had to come from Thailand to begin with, the distillery is now growing its own in a polytunnel. A new gin will be coming that teams this homegrown lemongrass with basil.

While the brand’s juniper currently comes from Macedonia, they’re looking to change this.

Get a community behind you

The business was launched thanks to a crowd-funding ‘founders’ campaign that raised around a third of the money needed to get the build done. They have founders all over the world, who as well as buying into a sustainable distillery, wanted to offer support and help.

“The whole project has been pretty wholesome and people who’ve invested in any products and the story and the ethos, which has been great to see,” says Chris.

It’s not just the gin-loving community that Abbie and Chris are a vocal part of. 

Their Yorkshire location means a lot to them and they support other Yorkshire businesses as much as possible. From Yorkshire grown ingredients to a local cooperage to make casks to working with Yorkshire conservation projects, the story of Cooper King Distillery is the story of communities coming together.

Be transparent

Sadly sustainable businesses don’t get built overnight and there are often elements outside the control of a new business with small budgets. This is the same for pebble as it is for a lot of brands we feature and the people I speak to. What is important is being honest about where you are and what you want to achieve.

Cooper King Distillery have nailed this, they’re really clear on what they haven’t managed so far.

“In spirits there’s not a huge number of distilleries who are focusing on sustainability – provenance and care about where things are made – so being transparent and honest about where and when it’s made and how it’s sourced, there’s nothing to hide and people are responding to that,” explains Chris.

When you distill it all down to a handy feature, it seems easy eh? But behind every successful sustainable business are years of blood, sweat and tears. And gin. (Whether you run a gin distillery or not).

Pour yourself a sustainable G&T. Now what could that inspire you to start?