Today’s interview is with Andrew Nelstrop, the Managing Director of English Whisky, who are the 1st registered whisky distillery in England in over a century. He shares some insights into his experience over the last 7 years and their plans for the future.
This interview follows on from my recent interview: Delivering Effective Social Customer Service – Interview with Carolyn Blunt and Martin Hill-Wilson – and is number seventy six in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.
Here’s the highlights from the interview I did with Andrew:
- The Nelstrop family have a 600 year old tradition of growing and processing grain. You can find out more about the family history here.
- James Nelstrop, Andrew’s father, on turning 60 decided he did not wish to retire but to do something different. Together with Andrew, they decided to investigate whisky production, which had stopped in England over 100 years ago. Several concepts were considered, a great deal of research was done in Scotland, Ireland and Wales and in October 2005 a planning application was submitted with approval granted on 10th January 2006.
- Although the initial idea was for a micro distillery, customs and excise wouldn’t consider anything smaller than 1800 ltr stills (larger than some in Scotland!). Therefore, their project turned from being a potential hobby project for Andrew’s father into a much bigger concern.
- They were fortunate that Iain Henderson a renowned distiller from Laphroaig, who was about to retire, was talked into coming along to help get them going.
- In December 2006 they were able to make the first 29 barrels of English whisky and by August 2007 they opened to the public with a visitor centre, whisky shop and tours.
- Since the original distillations back in 2006, they have made well nearly 3000 casks which are all maturing nicely in their warehouses. The distillery creates both unpeated and peated whisky, as well as having a rolling program of cask trials. Ongoing maturation will continue to result in new releases over the coming years.
- They are the 1st registered whisky distillery in England in over a century and are still the only whisky distillery selling mature stock. English Whisky Co. (wholly owned by the Nelstrop family) distill, mature and bottle English Single Malt Whisky on site at St George’s Distillery in Norfolk.
- Andrew is sure that not having had a background in whisky distilling has helped both the family and their distillers to be a little braver exploring the boundaries of what is possible and what isn’t. This ability to try new things rather than being stuck with a rigid set of handed down rules has definitely allowed them to create some great whiskies and allows them to keep new ideas coming forward.
- All whisky producers have benefitted from the global increase in demand for whisky, much of which can be attributed to the efforts of the Scotch industry.
- However, not being Scottish has been a massive hindrance as they don’t produce ‘Scotch’. Therefore, persuading drinkers to have a try of English whisky can be hard at times.
- But, as recognition of the brand grows – it becomes easier. They have had to build their own market place and over the years have found some countries have worked well and some haven’t. Much of this they put down to finding the right importer rather than specific nations liking or not liking their whisky.
- To help with their marketing, they have poured whisky at a lot of specialist whisky shows and also made sure their whisky has been entered into the main competitions. Being able to engage with fanatical whisky drinkers and to be able to prove that they can hold their own in competitions has resulted not only in great feedback but a real understanding of what whisky fans want. Interestingly the whisky buffs generally want a very different whisky to the mainstream customer.
- Overall, one of the hardest things they have found in launching a new brand is the branding, design and IP side of the business – they have muddled through but it is a constantly evolving part of the business and still the hardest thing to get right.
- Whisky production is a very slow game with a very long production cycle. It can take ten hers and upwards to produce a grew single malt whisky. But, the biggest problem they have is guessing sales in 10 years time, if they get it wrong they won’t have enough whisky to go around.
- Andrew and his team have just launched a very limited edition whisky called Chapter 13, specially for Halloween. You can check it here.
- Final word from Andrew: if you aren’t a whisky drinker then go and try a decent single-malt, add some water to it if you like, because you never know…..you might like it.
About Andrew (adapted from his bio on the English Whisky website)
Andrew is a farmer by background and is now Managing Director of English Whisky (www.englishwhisky.co.uk). His job encompasses everything from sales, design, negotiations (both internal and external), tour guide around the distillery and general cleaning up.
When he’s now working you can find him sailing, skiing and catching up with friends.
Finally, take a look at the very limited edition whisky called Chapter 13 they’ve just launched, specially for Halloween. You can check it here or ask at your local specialist retailer.