Copper Dog, a new blend of Speyside single malt whiskies, has been launched into the UK on-trade and duty free markets, plus other selected travel retail locations.
Copper Dog is the brainchild of London nightclub, bar and restaurant entrepreneur Piers Adam, who bought The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside, Scotland in October 2013. His company, Copper Dog Whisky Limited, has entered into a partnership with Diageo, which has a non-controlling interest in the brand and a supply and distribution agreement.
The name comes from a bar and restaurant Adam opened at The Craigellachie Hotel called The Copper Dog – a reference to the method by which workers at whisky distilleries in days gone by would filch a few ounces in small copper tubing cut-offs. Keen to offer guests a suitable memento of their stay at his hotel in the beautiful Speyside region, Adam set about creating an appropriate whisky.
The whisky is a blend of eight Speyside single malts. Each bottle bears The Craigellachie Hotel name and the signature of Diageo Master Blender, Stuart Morrison.
Well-known Scotch whisky executive Andrew Torrance (ex-Morrison Bowmore, William Grant & The Whisky Shop) joined Copper Dog as Managing Director in April and is overseeing the roll-out, which will include selected duty free locations.
The launch is being communicated exclusively via The Moodie Davitt Report, whose Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie spoke to the key players in the following interview.
PIERS ADAM PROVES THERE’S LIFE IN AN OLD DOG
He’s been described as ‘London’s King of Clubs’, such is his penchant for – and success in – opening trendy drinking and dining establishments in the English capital – establishments favoured by royalty, sporting stars and the glitterati. But when serial entrepreneur Piers Adam discovered a run-down hotel in the tiny village of Craigellachie, deep in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside region, he knew he had found the project of his dreams.
It was a poignant discovery (listen to Podcast below) that came about when Adam was taking his dying father David, a Scot, on a final tour of Aberdeenshire – the region where he and his brothers had been transferred from London for safety during World War II.
“I thought it’d be nice to take him back to places where he’d stayed,” Adam recalls. “I’d never been to Speyside, never been to Scotland, and coincidentally the closest hotel to where he had stayed in the war was The Craigellachie. I immediately thought it had so much potential; it’s just magnificent, this location.”
What he didn’t know was that the discovery would in turn lead him into an equally brave new world of whisky making. During his first visit, the barman told him that the hotel’s Quaich Bar offered the fourth-largest selection of malt whiskies in the world. Numbers one, two and three were all overseas, Adam learned to his chagrin. What was worse, the barman, though friendly enough, was not a Scot.
[Click on the Podcast icon to hear about Piers Adam’s poignant voyage of discovery]
“What upset me was that there weren’t any local faces,” he recalls. “I always love a local pub, which should be for locals. But there was nobody local working in there, and consequently no locals were frequenting it.”
Adam, having fallen instantly and profoundly in love with the property, vowed that if he could ever purchase it he would imbue it with the spirit of Scotland, both metaphorically and in its most literal sense – with whisky.
In 2013 the opportunity arose and, having acquired the property in October that year (without telling his wife, he mortgaged his London flat to fund the purchase), Adam set about an ambitious refurbishment.
One of the key touches he sought was to offer the hotel’s own Scotch whisky to guests as a memento of their visit. He sought help from Andrew Torrance, a Scot whom he’d met at an international rugby match at Twickenham. Torrance had spent years in the whisky industry, including spells with Morrison Bowmore and William Grant & Sons, before becoming Managing Director at The Whisky Shop in London’s Mayfair district.
“I want a whisky,” Adam said. But not just any whisky. He sought a product that was accessibly priced and yet a dram that anyone could be proud to offer guests or friends, something that would capture the “magic” of the hotel and of the Speyside region.
A private-label variation on any existing malt or blend wouldn’t do. Adam demanded something that rang true to the spirit of hospitality the hotel offered, to the beauty of the region, to the latter’s whisky-making heritage. But it also needed to be a whisky where drinkability rather than tradition triumphed, based on top-quality liquid which could be consumed neat or mixed, and equally suitable to a pub, bar or club setting.
“I saw that people were drinking Jack Daniel’s and bourbons, but no one was really drinking a cool Scotch blend. So I said let’s do something that is fun and cool.” – Piers Adam, Copper Dog Whisky
Adam, who had played a key role in driving the huge UK success of Diageo’s super-premium Ciroc vodka brand, holds strong views about the need for whisky to democratise its appeal. No whisky has ever lent Britain the edge it has in, say, fashion, rock ’n’ roll, film and music, he reckons, applauding what Jack Daniel’s, in particular, has achieved with Tennessee whiskey. “Jack & Coke – why can’t Britain do a Jack?
“I’m deeply patriotic. I love this island. I love some of the creative industries we have… but I find certain aspects of British society a little bit stiff. My core business is in bars and clubs, and I saw that people were drinking Jack Daniel’s and bourbons, but no one was really drinking a cool [Scotch] blend.
|And me, I feel reborn. I’ll be back for a spiritual sprauchle to this magical place as soon as I can. I can already hear the call of the whisky river.|
“Blend seemed to be a dirty word. People would just think, ‘Well it’s all about single malt – that’s the pure one.’ Everything seemed to be all about rules and regulations. If you think British fashion, you’ve got Jermyn Street, Savile Row and St James, some wonderful institutions; but there’s another side to British creativity and fashion, which no Scotches were personifying, one that’s slightly more edgy, more interesting and more engaging.
“When you think of what wines and Champagnes are, they are blends, and somehow it’s almost being allowed to be forgotten [with Scotch] that the craft is in actually creating a blend. So I said to Andrew, ‘Let’s try and do a British Jack Daniel’s. Let’s do something that is fun and cool.’
“Whisky’s an amazing drink. I love it and I think that more people should be drinking it because it is a great spirit, and I want it to be the spirit of Britain.” He found a kindred soul in Torrance, who talks of “A whisky that [renowned whisky writers] Charles McLean or Dave Broom would say ‘great liquid’ of, but one that also my mates could drink.”
“If you can create something built on provenance and place and capture the magic of Speyside, then you’d really have something,” he says of the thought process that drove the new whisky.
And so Copper Dog – the concept though not yet the actual whisky – was born. The name was inspired by the pub/restaurant Adam added at The Craigellachie Hotel, which serves strictly ‘farm to fork’ local food and offers a great range of local ales and whiskies. The term Copper Dog in turn harks back to the ingenious method by which distillery workers used to filch a dram or three of whisky to take home. They would solder a penny to one end of a small copper tubing off-cut and fit a cork in the other, smuggling their bounty out inside their trouser legs.
Torrance joined as a Director of Copper Dog Whisky Limited in April 2016 as the project gained momentum. Adam’s reputation and relationships with Diageo proved crucial as the fledgling business sought an appropriate production partner while maintaining its independent status.
Could the partnership successfully create a whisky that embraced the heritage of Speyside and of the hotel while successfully appealing to “anybody who likes a pub”, in Torrance’s words?
“To me this is Speyside in a bottle. It tastes amazing.” – Stuart Morrison, Diageo Master Blender
Enter Stuart Morrison, a PHD graduate in History and Science from the University of Stirling turned Master Blender and whisky specialist at Diageo. “We asked ‘Can we come up with a recipe that really reflects the region?’ ” recalls Morrison, speaking at Diageo’s central London offices. “It needed to be true to the spirit, not overwhelmed by wood. And we wanted people to be able to play with it – we could come up something that was outstanding in its own right, but if it wouldn’t mix well it wouldn’t make it.”
The decision was taken to create a blend of single malts that encapsulated the breadth, depth and quality of Speyside. “The region covers everything [in flavour profiles] except smoky,” says Morrison. “There is a huge fruity diversity. The relationship with Diageo gives Copper Dog access to the best blenders, the best experience and the best stock.”
A year-long creative gestation culminated in the parties settling on a liquid last July. Eight single malts were chosen to create the Speyside blend, including Knockando (central to the light, fruity J&B whisky); Roseisle (from Scotland’s first major new distillery in a generation, opened by Diageo in 2010) and Inchgower (a coastal Speyside malt renowned for its intense spiciness and salinity).
“It’s the first time I have had my signature on a bottle,” says Morrison proudly. “There will be no prouder moment than when I hand this to my mum and dad.
“To me this is Speyside in a bottle. It tastes amazing… with a great fresh character that has hints of vanilla and spice. There is an oak influence, but it’s more about the spirit and the distilleries. Even as simple as it is, it simply oozes quality.”
Adds Adam: “The name Copper Dog is fun and engaging; it’s a bit mischievous and it captures the youth who are trying to be respectful but actually want to find their own identity. They will veer towards it. But if you don’t have a great product, the name just becomes a gimmick. And what Andrew and Stuart Morrison from Diageo have done is create a bloody good drink – in my opinion and in other people’s opinions.”
The presentation is as fresh and mould-breaking as the concept. The front label (below right) features a spaniel drawn by US-based British artist, illustrator and writer Hugo Guinness, a good friend of Adam. And true to the spirit’s name the back label features another Guinness drawing of an original copper dog, complete with cork stopper.
“Hugo’s an amazing artist… and he does beautiful illustrations of animals in a really fun way,” says Adam. “And,” he adds with a chuckle, “you know, if no-one likes the spirit… normally Hugo Guinness’s work goes for about US$500. This is £28 and you can drink it!”
“The name Copper Dog is fun and engaging and a bit mischievous. But if you don’t have a great product, the name just becomes a gimmick.” – Piers Adam, Copper Dog Whisky
So how to drink Copper Dog? Like many whiskies, it benefits from a splash of water, which opens up the soft, alluring fruit and spice characters. Equally it can be drunk neat on a cold winter’s evening – of which there are no shortage on Speyside – or topped with a soft drink.
But there had to be more. With Adam’s philosophy about drinkability and mixability at front of mind, Copper Dog hired Calum Lawrie, an acclaimed drinks expert, mixologist and former National Bartender of the Year. As part of his Country Manager remit for the fledgling brand, Lawrie has been charged with creating a range of mixed drinks and cocktails that both embellish and benefit from Copper Dog’s character.
“What Stuart has created is accessible and mixable,” he says. “It goes with, say, ginger ale, Coke, tonic or soda.”
To prove the point, he makes us two cocktails, starting with the neatly named Sly Dog:
30ml Copper Dog
25ml Sweet vermouth
20ml Suze (a French apéritif made from gentian roots)
Three dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Lawrie serves it straight up in a coupe glass garnished with an orange twist. It’s gorgeous, almost jumping out of the glass with its combination of moreish spice, bitter traces and a chocolate underbelly.
Next up is a Spey Fashioned, a modern Speyside twist on one of the great cocktails of all time, the Old Fashioned. Here’s how it shapes up.
50ml Copper Dog
10ml Rinquinquin (a French peach apéritif)
Barspoon of Orange Blossom Honey Syrup
Two dashes Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Again, it’s true to both the literal and metaphoric spirit of Copper Dog whisky – a lovely medley of flavours, all in perfect harmony.
Copper Dog is, in Adam’s words, set to “rock ’n’ roll”. This fascinating fusion of tradition, folklore, geography and taste with not so much a contemporary twist as a full-throttle shake shows that’s there plenty of life in the old Copper Dog yet.