Grants for equipment to enable innovation in small businesses in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding

Self-Building an Independent Distillery – ‘The Freer Spirit’

The Cooper King Distillery, based in Sutton-on-the-Forest near York, is a newly established distillery started from scratch by chartered architect Chris Jaume and Dr Abbie Neilson, biomedical scientist. 

Over a four-year period, the business has grown from an initial spark of an idea through to the launch of the businesses first new product ‘Cooper King Dry Gin’ in May 2018.  With funding support from the PAPI project operated by the University of York there now exists the promise of much more business development, growth and new product innovation.  

Chris explained that ‘the PAPI grant provided much needed support; it enabled the purchase of key equipment which allowed us to produce our first product, a dry gin.  We have been able to enter the market place and develop new products at a much faster rate than would otherwise have been the case with the first aged whisky product likely to follow in 2023.’  

A small family-owned and operated innovative spirits manufacturer in the heart of Yorkshire, the business founders set out with the core aim to produce ultra-premium spirits and liqueurs from the finest Yorkshire ingredients.  This business mission was inspired by a love of Australia and the passion and drive of whisky producers in Tasmania.   

Gin still

Looking to escape the rat race in 2014 Chris and Abbie left the UK with one-way tickets to Australia in hand.  This leap into the unknown coincided with the emergence of Tasmania as a world-class force for quality whisky production, with a Tasmanian single malt being named as the world’s best in 2014 and again in 2018.  Inspired by the unfaltering success of the emerging Tasmanian whisky industry following a two-year stint living in Australia and armed with knowledge and determination, Abbie and Chris returned to the UK with a plan to develop their own independent craft distillery.  

The scale of the challenge of starting a distillery from scratch was tremendous and required determination and creativity.   A Founders club has sourced significant crowd-funded finance for initial start-up costs and help prove market demand.  The PAPI project provided a grant of £18.5K to fund the key items for the distillery: a bespoke copper pot still and specialist gin distillation equipment.  The grant enabled the purchase to progress without major debt overhead, reducing risk and helping provide a strong foundation to an ambitious vision, which has subsequently enabled them to secure a small bank loan to further develop the business. 

Wiskey stillrc

The copper pot still purchased from Tasmania is central to the premium offer of the business, replicating the equipment adds uniqueness to Cooper King products as the shape and heating impacts the flavour profile of the finished product.  Alongside this, using local Maris Otter brewing barley and Yorkshire-made oak casks all combine to add a depth of flavour and colour creating a premium product. Whisky batch-distilled in the only copper pot still of its kind in the Europe is a key element in developing an award winning unique flavour profile similar to that of Tasmanian spirits and a unique selling point for the distillery.  The new equipment funded by PAPI will enable continued product and flavour innovation and the potential for future collaboration with other food and drink producers. 


Regarding the PAPI application process Chris and Abbie explained ‘The responsive business support and guidance provided by the PAPI team ensured that the grant process was smooth and efficient. This complimented the development timescales set out by Cooper King to ensure a swift introduction of a new product to market’. 

The experience with PAPI has encouraged the businesses co-founders to continue onward with their innovative spirit that first germinated in Tasmania and is now rooted in Yorkshire!

For further information on Cooper King please visit 

Could a grant from PAPI help your business? 

The PAPI project provides grants for equipment that enables innovation through to new product development. A grant of 40% is available on a project spend of between £20k-£50k which equates to a grant of between £8k-£20k. You can contact the PAPI team on 01904 32 8076 or email us at