“Our Net Zero Energy Achievement is the Result of Six Years’ Dedication to Sustainability”: Q&A with Chris Jaume, Co-Founder of Cooper King Distillery

Welcome to the debut of our “Leaders of Yorkshire” series! We’re set to uncover the tales, experiences, and motivations of some of Yorkshire’s most influential business leaders and entrepreneurs, starting with the co-founder of Cooper King Distillery, Chris Jaume.

Situated in the heart of Yorkshire, Cooper King Distillery is a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit that defines our region. Chris, a chartered architect and his wife, Dr Abbie Jaume who is a former scientist, founded Cooper King Distillery back in 2016. Their self-built, pioneering distillery has been producing world-class spirits using 100% renewable energy ever since and this year, they launched England’s very first net zero energy whisky.

Join us as we kick off our new series with an insightful and inspiring Q&A session with Chris Jaume…

Leaders of Yorkshire – Q&A with Chris Jaume, Co-Founder of Cooper King Distillery

Dr Abbie Jaume and Chris Jaume

It has been a while since we last spoke and you’ve had a fantastic couple of years with new product releases and award wins. What would you say has been a personal highlight for you?

It simply has to be the successful launch of our first-ever whisky. It’s the culmination of a 10-year adventure, which has taken us on a wild adventure from Yorkshire to Tasmanian and back again! To be able to release a whisky – influenced by the people and landscapes from our journey – for others to enjoy on theirs, has been a wholesome and heartwarming process.

The positive response has been just incredible to see, and myself, Abbie and the rest of the team are incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved.

You recently created and launched the first whisky in England to have been distilled using net zero energy. Could you tell us a little about the unique production process?

The First Edition whisky is made exclusively from English Maris Otter barley, a heritage two-row autumn-sown grain, selected for its depth of flavour and intense malty characteristics.

This is floor malted for us at Britain’s oldest working maltings, Warminster Maltings. This slow and labour-intensive floor-malting process has changed little over the last 150 years and results in a superior malt character expression that champions the heritage grain’s flavour. Importantly, this malt is fully traceable back to the farm of origin.

Mashing is carried out at the distillery by hand. A labour-intensive but vital process, it keeps our distiller Sophie Pashley busy on mash days! The result is 1250 litres of beautifully sweet wort, which fills the distillery with the warming aromas of barley and Horlicks. Spent grains from mashing are collected by our local farmer and fed to their cattle.

Specially selected distillers’ yeast is added to our clear wort. We then ferment for a long 6-7 days. Fermentation temperature is guided only by the extent to which we cool the wort before pitching the yeast, allowing seasonal temperature variations to influence the character of the wash. 

Then follows double distillation on our custom-made 900-litre copper pot still from Tasmania aka ‘Neilson’ – named after Abbie’s father. It is the only one of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere! Its short, wide neck and innovative renewable-energy heating elements help to carry over a full complement of flavour compounds within the distillate.

The resulting new-make spirit is then matured in small 100-litre oak casks in our on-site maturation warehouse. This is ventilated by an off-grid, solar-powered system. Small casks – typically used in Tasmania – permit a faster maturation due to the increased wood surface-to-spirit ratio, and together with the spirit, create a rich and flavoursome whisky.

We have spent the last 10 months sampling our maturing spirit, building up our understanding of how our characterful new-make interacts with our small, active casks. The result was a vatting of 6 small oak casks from our early distillations, which yielded 589 bottles of the First Edition.

A backdrop of vanilla and oak from the bourbon casks allows the delightfully fresh and fruity character of our new-make spirit to take centre stage. We then layered up with fruit and spice from ex-sherry and ex-red wine casks, before bringing in the cognac cask to dial up the notes of honey, sweet malt and soft oak.

The whisky was then bottled, labelled and batch numbered by hand, at the distillery, with no chill filtration and no caramel colouring.

As is the Cooper King way, we shared the full Spirit Specifics online, so whisky drinkers and enthusiasts could really get stuck into the nitty-gritty details. The feedback from this has been superb – people love being able to explore the whisky they’re drinking and gain an understanding of why it looks, smells and tastes the way it does.

Just 589 bottles of your trailblazing whisky were produced, and they sold out within 10 minutes. Did you expect such an incredible response?

We were absolutely blown away by the response. The positive emails, messages, social posts, reviews etc that ensued were a delight to read. It’s incredibly satisfying to know that our hard work over the last 10 years has paid off and that our customers have loved the results.

First Edition – Fruit + Spice was the first release in your brand new Expedition Series. What was the inspiration behind the series, and what exciting products can we expect next?

The First Edition is the starting point for the Expedition Series of releases; a journey of discovery through the finest casks in our warehouse. 

Work has already begun for the next release, due in spring 2024. We’ve got some excellent first-fill Kentucky bourbon casks sourced directly from MB Roland and premium NEOC Bordeaux red wine casks to play with. It’s too early to say what the direction of the release will be just yet, but expect a bigger, bolder flavour with a greater wine influence and a release size almost double the size of the first one, as more casks reach maturity.

£5 from each bottle sale is being donated to Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. Why did you choose this particular cause?

There is an urgent need to protect and restore our delicate rural landscapes, to reverse biodiversity loss and to help the UK achieve net zero by 2050. That’s why we’re dedicated to producing sustainable spirits that drive positive change. 

Although beautiful, our rural landscapes are negatively impacted by inaccessibility, isolation, climate change and widespread poverty. An increasing number of young people passionate about the environment are leaving rural areas because of limited access to training, low employment opportunities and high transport costs. This creates a significant challenge to small businesses in the environmental sector which are unable to recruit the specialist skills they require, leaving them under-resourced for conserving and enhancing wild spaces. 

By funding rural apprentices and removing these barriers, we enable young workers to carry out meaningful countryside management and community environmental projects. The Rural Apprenticeship Scheme equips young people with the skills and confidence to become custodians of our natural environment.

Work undertaken by apprentices includes restoring and protecting precious habitats such as the Yorkshire peatlands, to safeguard their natural carbon storage, which is estimated to be twice that found in forests. 100% of our donations go directly into the programme.

Can you explain how you achieved your net zero energy status?

Our net zero energy achievement is the result of six years’ dedication to sustainability, including carbon footprint reduction, and is 27 years ahead of the UK Government’s 2050 net zero target. 

To achieve net zero energy status, we developed innovative and sustainable distilling processes, utilised NASA technology paint on our still and sourced 100% renewable energy. Alongside this, we have actively reduced the carbon footprint of our operations to as close to zero as possible. You can dig deeper into our sustainable actions on our website.

We then engaged environmental consultants, Environmental Strategies, to calculate our Scope 1 and 2 emissions from our distilling operations from day one (i.e. when the distillery first fired up, on 1st February 2018). The resulting footprint highlighted that all our hard work had paid off! The total emissions from our own operations to date was a minuscule 0.6 tonnes of CO₂e, equating to an average of 0.1 tonnes of CO₂e per year (less than a one-way economy flight from Leeds to Glasgow).

The final step was to remove or absorb these emissions from the atmosphere – which we did three times over – utilising Direct Air Capture (DAC), UK tree planting and overseas tree planting. 

Transparency is important to us. As such, we made our Carbon Emissions Report publicly available online: www.cooperkingdistillery.co.uk/net-zero-energy-whisky. The more we share the sustainability strides we’re taking, the more we hope others are encouraged to follow suit.

As a company dedicated to sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, you must be incredibly proud of the positive contribution you have thus far. What are your goals for next year?

Next year sees us continue to fund some of YDMT’s key environmental projects. We’re aiming to hit 30,000 square metres of woodland planted and 5,000 square metres of wildflower meadow restored, as well as donating £17,000 to fund an entire rural apprenticeship.

Plans are also underway to increase our juniper planting for gin production, and to cover the entire distillery’s roof with solar cells… it will be another exciting year!

With the first release selling out so quickly, further products in the First Edition range are likely to be equally or perhaps even more popular. How can our readers ensure they’re notified ahead of the next release so they can get their hands on a bottle?

For those keen to get hold of a bottle, we recommend signing up to our newsletter to be amongst the first to know when it goes live.

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