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Heart over head

Hand crafting high-quality, great tasting drinks in small batches with passion and pride, Copperfish knows how to showcase the very best of Cornwall.

Words by Rosie Cattrell

It was back in 2018 that Copperfish Distillery began to take root. What was once the seed of an idea was now finding its form, with its feet set firmly on the Buller Quay in east Looe. It was the founders’ vision to create great tasting, truly authentic Cornish drinks, made right here in the county; a vision that lies at the heart of the business and rings true to this day, with the team still dedicated to the quest of putting Looe on the map when it comes to food and drink in Cornwall.

In conversation with Andy Walton, a Copperfish co-founder, it quickly becomes clear that passion runs at the heart of this venture, from the complex distillation processes and various flavours, right down to the concept behind the name, which he kindly explains to me: “The brand Copperfish pays tribute to two major Cornish industries, namely fishing and mining, and with that comes a secondary reference to the tradition of using copper stills in the process of distillation. Working closely with the talented Andrea Lilley of Moosedisco to bring the logo and our Copperfish creature to life, we chose to incorporate the colours of copper oxides to reflect the range of flavours available.”

Working alongside Andy is Director Billy Martin, Jemma Hackett in customer support, and Distiller Rob Johnston, the man behind the creation of the incredible range of products to the Copperfish name, from the mashes and fermentation right through to the finished bottled product, and that’s what sets Copperfish apart from the crowd; it’s made entirely from scratch!

With a mantra of ‘proper spirits, made proper’ running through the entire process, nothing is bought in pre-made to blend or flavour, as is so often the case. During our conversation, Andy kindly guides me through the process, from ‘cane to glass’, as the team like to call it.

“First, we carefully select varieties of cane sugar and molasses for different flavour profiles,” he explains. “These are used to create a wash which is fermented under careful supervision to create as much alcohol as possible, while generating the best flavour. The alcohol is then poured into the still and gradually heated up to the desired temperature, where the magic of distillation starts. Under the careful supervision of Rob, our distiller, the alcohol evaporates into the crown of the still before its long journey through the columns of plates where the spirit is refined before it condenses into white rum. Here, Rob expertly makes his cut. He removes the first part of the run, known as the ‘heads’, as this part has some undesirable elements and taste. Shortly after this he selects the ‘hearts’ to keep for our selected rums before discarding the weaker ‘tails’ at the end of the run. The hearts then go into our selected oak barrels; we have a range of barrels including some recoopered Caribbean rum barrels that have been crafted into smaller craft-size barrels, along with sherry and bourbon barrels.”

The results of such determination and careful attention to detail have reaped numerous awards, with their very first release, the Copperfish Gold Rum, winning the Taste of the West 2022 Gold award. With an incredibly smooth finish, this rum develops its flavour due to the generous length of time it takes to mature in the oak barrels, and goes nicely with a quality ginger ale, ice and a squeeze and slice of lime. It wasn’t too long after that the Limited-Edition Pineapple Rum was released, complete with a final stage of resting the aged rum on a bed of fresh pineapple, made even more fabulous with lemonade, ice, crushed mint and a wedge of lime.

Next would come the best-selling, Taste of the West 2022 Silver awarded Copperfish Spiced Rum. Delicately spiced to complement the great flavour of the barrel-aged rum, the usual sweet vanilla and fiery ginger are not to be found here; it is wonderful neat or with a tonic, cola or ginger ale. With the festive season in mind, the Limited-Edition Chocolate Orange Rum was next on the list, and the team put a little something different in the distillation process to the test; cacao nibs and orange peel were added to the infusion basket of the still, creating a delicately flavoured rum best poured over ice and cola or stirred into black coffee. Copperfish’s next endeavour certainly isn’t for the feint hearted. Now launching is the much-anticipated Black Rum, smooth, flavoursome and boasting a hefty 57% alcohol volume, to be handled with caution! The attention to detail doesn’t end with the rum itself, and with the striking Copperfish branding across the range in various copper oxide colours, you may, like myself, find it rather difficult to choose.

Whilst discovering the wonderful world of rum at Copperfish, another product caught my eye that begged for Andy’s explanation: “Moonshine is a name for an unaged whiskey, known in America as either Moonshine or White Dog, but don’t go thinking it’s a crude drink. Made from a mash of local corn, barley and wheat, it is fermented and distilled into a clear ‘white’ grain spirit.” Their original Moonshine was awarded a Taste of the West 2022 Gold, and makes for a fine, smooth spirit. Today, the range has grown into a collection of flavoured Moonshines cut as liqueurs.

One thing that the team are particularly excited to introduce is a long-awaited product that will bring something entirely new to the Copperfish table, which Andy is more than happy to elaborate on: “We’ve been working on this for a long time, so it’s very exciting to be bringing this to the market at last. We are delighted to introduce Kerbon®, a Cornish, bourbon-style spirit. As it says on the bottle, ‘If you like bourbon, you’ll love Kerbon®’. Here is a Cornish, oak-barrel-aged spirit made from local Cornish corn, barley and wheat; a super smooth dark spirit you can enjoy as an alternative to whiskey or bourbon.”

With such an incredible range of products under their belt, it’s no wonder that the team have been looking for a way to welcome people into the wonderful world of distillation, and a second unit overlooking the river in Looe promises just that, as Andy explains: “We’re developing this space to allow us to welcome people in to learn about what we do, how we make our products and, of course, to taste them! Along with tours and tastings we will eventually run immersive experiences to allow visitors to get hands on knowledge of fermenting and distilling while having fun sitting on the balcony overlooking the river, sipping the fruits of the days labour. We’re keen to create an attraction that suits whatever the weather and isn’t bound by the summer season. Looe has some fabulous food and drink so we’re hoping to be a part of a drive to attract people to come and immerse themselves in the delights Looe has to offer.”

Five years on from that very first rum, Copperfish have a shining collection of spirits to suit all tastes, each made from scratch in the heart of Cornwall by a company that keenly encapsulates hard work, determination and superb attention to detail that has earnt them multiple awards, each one well-deserved, a true demonstration of ‘proper spirits, made proper’.


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