A slightly southerly diversion this week as we expand our Scotch Boom series to incorporate the general worldwide Whisky Boom and chat with Chris Toller, one of the founders of Henstone Distillery in Oswestry, Shropshire.
Tell us a little about your distillery?
The largest still in Shropshire has just been installed in Oswestry. Henstone Distillery has been set up by Chris and Alexandra Toller and Shane and Alison Parr. Shane and Alison run Stonehouse Brewery and the distillery will also be based at the brewery site. The four partners have spent 2 years planning their venture and following the support of a grant from the RDPE Growth Programme are now just about ready to start production.
The impressive 1000 litre still, affectionately named Hilda, has been manufactured by Kothe in Germany. Hilda will enable Henstone Distillery to produce around 600 bottles per run, allowing them to retain a craft focus, whilst also being able to meet their anticipated commercial demand. The distillery hope to have their gin ready for sale very soon and they will also start laying down their whisky into oak casks to mature. Production of bourbon and apple brandy (from Stonehouse Brewery’s own Sweeney Mountain Cider) will begin in early 2018.
Chris said “Setting up a distillery has been a long-time dream of mine. Our three core principles are refreshingly real: to have fun, produce quality products and to build a business we can be proud of.”
With the current explosion of interest in craft spirits, the team expect the venture to create jobs as they grow, and to also attract tourists to the area.
“Gin has been the big story for the drinks industry for the last few years” said Alex, “We are adding the final tweaks to our recipe to produce a perfect, classic gin. There is a growing interest among consumers to try fresh, new, small batch products.”
There has already been a huge expression of keen intent from local shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels, and the Henstone team are eager to put Shropshire Whisky production on the map.
“Our experience of making beer will give is a real head start”, said Shane, “As whisky production starts with brewing a strong beer, which is then distilled to produce the spirit for whisky. The spirit needs then to be aged in casks before it can be called whisky. We can experiment with the best malted barleys and ryes to produce distinctive and characteristic whiskies and bourbons.”
How the early period has been?
Our initial period has been pretty good. We’ve made lots of contacts in the industry who have been extremely helpful. Probably our biggest hurdle has been sorting the fine detail with HMRC – having thought we’d applied for the correct licences we found this actually wasn’t the case and had to do some very urgent re-applications. We also found the payment of spirit duty a little difficult to grasp but believe that is sorted now.
Is your vision for the future unchanged?
Our vision for the future has remained virtually the same as when we started. We plan to continue gin sales to produce short term cash flow whilst pushing whisky production for the future. We still plan to produce a British Bourbon but have held back on this so far as we want to make sure we have sufficient whisky in wood to meet predicted demand in three or so years time.
What you are looking forward to?
We tasted our very first batch of whisky which had been in wood for just over three months the other day and WOW, we were all really impressed with how it is maturing so are very hopeful this will be ready in three years.
Henstone Distillery has just started to release sales of ‘futures’ of its first batch of whisky and these are already selling well. This first batch will be strictly limited to 200 bottles and available on a first come, first served basis – if you are interested in purchasing one of these please contact one of the distillery team.
t: 01691 676457
Henstone Distillery Ltd, Stonehouse, Weston, Oswestry, SY10 9ES