‘We were living in Leeds, working long hours, and those around us were beginning to get married, have kids and buy houses. We had also been saving money towards buying a house. But we both felt there must be more to life than that so we decided to disrupt things. With a desire to leave the rat race, we both quit our jobs and used our savings to buy one-way tickets to Australia.
While we were living and working in Tasmania, a nearby distillery won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky, a feat never accomplished outside of Scotland or Japan. Ever an opportunist, I contacted friends of mine at Master of Malt (whom I had carried out some freelance design work for in the past), to ask if they would like us to visit a couple of distilleries on a fact-finding mission to provide content for their online blog. They leaped at the chance, so we set out to visit all operational distilleries on the island.
One day we would be apple picking…the next we were staying in nice hotels.
Abbie and I had three amazing months leading a bizarre double life. One day we would be apple picking, sleeping in the boot of our estate car, eating cup-a-soup for dinner and living the true back-packer lifestyle. The next, we were staying in nice hotels, learning about all things whisky and meeting up with distillery owners and head distillers. We were treated to delicious food, and of course, sampling a stunning array of whiskies and spirits from these exceptional distilleries.
What we found was simply astounding: small and innovative operations run by passionate people making exceptional whisky by hand. The whiskies were unlike any we had tried before, with a unique character which could only be described as Tasmanian. We soon became hooked.
It was at this point that we realised to set up a successful whisky distillery, you did not need millions of pounds, nor did you need Scottish roots. The seed was sown. For the next two years and while still abroad, we educated ourselves on every aspect of whisky distillation and starting a business from scratch. We received expert training courtesy of Bill Lark (Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame) and Dean Jackson at the Redlands Distillery School. We enrolled in business and accounting courses, tasted hundreds of whiskies and, importantly, trained our noses. Our aim was to hit the ground running and establish our own whisky distillery when we returned to England in late 2015.’
The last 3 years since returning from Australia have been an absolute whirlwind. We arrived back in England with a cracking business plan, but no cash! So, we spent the first year fundraising.
Listening to Chris’s account of their travel experiences, it was obvious that the description ‘life-changing’, so often used too lightly, was genuinely the case for him and Abbie. The setting up of their business began in earnest on their return and their momentum has taken them to an extraordinary point in a remarkably short space of time. I asked Chris to take us through this exciting period and bring us up to the present.
‘The last 3 years since returning from Australia have been an absolute whirlwind. We arrived back in England with a cracking business plan, but no cash! So, we spent the first year fundraising. We launched a crowd-funding campaign – The Founders’ Club – which to date has raised just short of £100,000, and has attracted members from across the world. We successfully applied for several grants, including a large £20,000 EU innovation grant which helped us buy some of our unique distilling equipment. Also, we set up a limited company and sold a small number of shares for equity, which raised vital funds to get the building underway.
Building a new life (on a shoestring)
We built the building ourselves from scratch. Putting my architectural and project management skills to use, we drafted friends, family and founders to pitch in and help us complete the project. It was a steep learning curve, but an amazingly rewarding process to watch all our hard work materialise into a fully-fledged, working distillery.
The official launch event in June 2018 was a wonderful day, with 200 guests joining us to consume our gin and officially open the venture to the public. Abbie and I gave a speech, and I was hard pushed to contain my emotions that day!