Speyside Copper Works

The Business of Scottish Gin.

Published: 9th May 2018

The Scottish Gin category is a diverse and exciting spirit category to work in, made up of all manner of businesses operating across the Scottish Gin supply chain. Packaging specialists, botanical merchants, still makers, spirits organisations and industry bodies; all supporting Scottish Gin brands, creating employment and helping Scottish Gin businesses grow and succeed. In The Business of Scottish Gin series, we meet some of the key people and businesses who contribute to Scotland’s growing Scottish Gin industry.

In this editorial feature we visit Speyside Copper Works, the Elgin based copper and engineering specialists who design, manufacture and install distillation stills and equipment, along with providing a range of maintenance, inspection and repair services.

There are a few things that are essential when making spirits – ingredients, time, patience and a still of some description to distil your spirit in. Over the centuries the methods and outcomes have differed dramatically from the ancient Greek Sailors distilling and evaporating sea water to create safe drinking water on long journeys or the Egyptian empire, that used distillation to extract base metals and colour them gold to adorn the tombs and palaces of ancient Egyptian Kings and Queens. One thing over the centuries has remained consistent – they all used a still of some shape or form.

Speyside Copper Works as the name suggests is based in whisky country. Working from their workshop in Elgin, Derek Brewster, along with business partners Stuart and Garry Fraser, have backgrounds in the design, engineering, manufacturing and maintenance of copper stills and between them have over 80 years experience, having all worked for a variety of well-respected spirit makers. Along with their team of highly skilled and experienced Coppersmiths and apprentices, the team at Speyside Copper Works design, manufacture and install copper pot stills.

Along with the design, fabrication and installation, the team at Speyside Copper Works also provide maintenance and repair services to still owners, including whisky and gin distillers, and has seen the team travelling all over the world to carry out out maintenance and repairs on copper stills of all shapes and sizes.

The copper pot stills made by Speyside Copper Works are used by local and international distillers to create their spirits, including gin. Speyside Copper Works designed, built and installed the copper pot still at Moray Distillery, the makers of Avva Scottish Gin. It is believed the copper pot still at Moray Distillery is the first Scottish-made gin still in the UK.

The team at Speyside Copper Works have also recently completed the design, manufacture and installation of the new copper pot still at Elrick House in Aberdeenshire, the new home of House of Elrick Gin, who recently featured on the BBC’s Dragons Den.

The team at Speyside Copper Works are dedicated and focused on helping their customers get the best results. After a period of meetings and refinements of the customer’s requirements, assessment of the site where the still will be installed and housed, the design of the still can begin. Starting life on the computer the design, including pipe work, flanges, bolts and more are all designed to meet the client’s specifications. From here, once the drawings are approved, materials are ordered and once delivered fabrication of the copper pot still begins. Stills can take between 3 – 6 months depending on the client’s specific requirements but each and every project is treated with the same care and attention to detail.

Ian Brewster, Master Coppersmith, said “Some pieces of copper have to be hammered up to 5,000 times to get the perfect shape. Some things can only be learned over time and through practice, and this includes working with copper. As new processes have been introduced that use technology and modern tools to speed up manufacturing, we’ve opted to incorporate some of these modern processes but still use many traditional techniques and methods to shape our copper stills by hand. There’s also a great amount of time and care goes into the finishing, which includes the polishing. Depending on the size each still can take over 20 plus hours to polish and buff so you get that rich, copper glow. This is one of those jobs the apprentices love, ha ha”.

“There’s something very satisfying about what we do as a business. When you start with a flat piece of copper metal and at the end of the project have an amazing, characterful looking still that combines skills that have changed very little over the last 200 hundred years, and computer-based engineering – there’s a real sense of achievement. We’re focused on ensuring the craft lives on by apprentices in both traditional and modern techniques. We feel this is an important part of what we do, teaching future Coppersmiths the ways of the craft”.

Derek Brewster, owner of Speyside Copper Works, said “We also install and maintain the stills we build so it’s always great when installation day comes around and you can see the customer’s reaction when they see the first glimmer of copper as the crate and packaging is slowly removed. There’s just something great about seeing a copper pot still you’ve worked on every day for 3 months fitted, tested and working. It gives you a great sense of pride, especially when the customer’s face lights up as they see their new pride and joy sitting pretty and working.”

The other side of the business and services supplied by Speyside Copper Works is an essential part of the distillation sector – maintenance and repairs. Over time as copper contracts, expands and is exposed to liquids and temperatures during the distillation process, this can cause wear.

“There are different rates of wear in the various parts of the still and this will result in sections of stills having to be replaced over time. We can carry out detailed surveys and thickness tests of stills, enabling us to advise when certain parts are likely to require replacement or repair. We are then able to carefully measure and repair or replace the existing still components as required to ensure they retain the same shape and character.”

“The shutdown of a distillery still can be a headache for the distillery owner with lost income and lost time. However, the distillery owner and master distiller also understands that our reputation for carrying out skilled repairs and maintenance means their still is literally in the most skilled hands. We’ve undertaken repairs and refurbishments on some beautiful stills that are admired and renowned within the spirits world. No one will ever know we were there or see the repairs as we understand we have a duty of care and responsibility to make sure these grand copper dames look spotless”.

Yes, it’s true that there are a few things that are essential when making spirits – ingredients, time, patience and something to distil in. The same could be said about Speyside Copper Works, and the copper stills they craft – experience, skill, dedication, patience and knowledge all go into a Speyside Copper Works’ copper pot still. With talk of plans for a bigger workshop in the near future to accommodate their growing order book, the future of copper still manufacturing in Speyside is most definitely in safe hands.

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