This week we talk to Chris Toller, Director of the Henstone Distillery Limited, an exciting new craft distillery based in the beautiful rolling Shropshire countryside. Their vision is a grand one, and their three core principles refreshingly real, to have fun, produce quality, and make some money along the way.
What does your company do?
The Henstone Distillery is a completely new direction for us. My wife Alexandra and I, spent the last ten years in a very different industry, running a successful IT and Telecoms consultancy. Whilst this is worlds away from the drinks industry, it’s a sector we have always taken a keen interest in. I was travelling a lot, and it was whilst I was working in Abu Dhabi that I first had the idea. I told friends that I wanted to do two things when I returned to the UK, build a still and breed snails for eating, the latter however, proved much harder to achieve!
Our business partners, and long-time friends, Shane and Alison Parr on the other hand, have owned and managed the highly successful Stonehouse Brewery, in Shropshire for several years, and it was through their award-winning expertise and existing customer base, that the idea for the Henstone Distillery was eventually born in November 2015.
Demand for high quality craft spirits is on the increase, it’s a booming global industry, and one we are excited to be part of. Our vision is to produce a range of exceptional quality whisky, gin, bourbon and apple brandy, from what will be the largest craft distillery in Shropshire. On a more local level, we’re passionate about supporting the region and are confident that we will create jobs in the local food and drinks industry directly, with a view to fairly rapidly expanding nationally and internationally.
What do you feel are the advantages of using finance for your business?
As a start-up, the need for significant capital investment was an immediate requirement.
Although we had personal savings, we decided that a business loan would be the best option to make the business equitable. We’d already set up a business bank account, and assumed that the process of pursuing a business loan via this channel would be equally simple, instead we found timescales unreasonable and the process, a bit of a nightmare.
With White Oak UK, it was simple. Our account manager supported us through the process of obtaining a loan and the funds were available in our bank account in just a few days.
Where do you hope the business will be in three years’ time?
Our business is positioned for long-term development. Shane and Alison’s experience was invaluable and ensured that we didn’t simply buy a small still, but instead invested in the biggest we could afford. We chose to futureproof our business.
We anticipate that our 1000 litre Kothe still, affectionately named ‘Hilda’, will enable us to produce around 600 bottles per run, allowing us to retain a craft focus, whilst also being able to meet our anticipated commercial demand. Installation starts in November and we aim to have our initial gin ready in time for Christmas 2017.
Other products are not so rapid however. Whisky production is a much longer and more involved process. Henstone whisky will be matured on-site, in ex-bourbon casks, and whilst this process will take at least three years to mature, we plan to sell ‘futures’, enabling people to secure their bottles in advance.
We chose to keep our predictions on production and sales somewhat conservative initially, estimating around 7000 bottles annually, however we already see great opportunity to develop these outputs significantly.
Ultimately, for us it’s about building a quality brand based on a quality product, and we’re excited to see this taking shape.