Production

That's My Whisky

A guide to starting your own distillery
By Chris Middleton
Ever thought of leaving your job to make your own whisky? Legally, of course. Some of us have and did. Others daydream about doing it.

Whisky making and marketing is an exciting business packed with rewards and risks. If you've dreamt of quietly sipping your own whisky as the sun sets, now is a good time to think about taking the plunge. Between now and that glass of whisky stand at least six years.

So now is the time to think harder, especially if you live in a whisky producing nation, surrounded by whisky drinkers.

Whisky signs are encouraging. Entry barriers are easing as national regulations, and local distilling permits are relaxing. Smart technology, modern plant and technical expertise are readily available. Consumer trends are creating opportunities as more drinkers turn to whisky, with a greater willingness to try new whisky brands, especially small independents. The 'craft' movement is gaining traction by establishing a viable niche with some consumers.

It's a boon time when small independent labels are starting to reap some of these benefits, others are rising on the whisky tide. You may be a minnow entering into the whisky sea, but if you do your homework and use your imagination, you will be able to stake out a commercial beachhead. Why? because there's always room for something new, something different, ideally better. Nothing stays the same.

It could be a small difference in your whisky flavour, your place of manufacture, the packaging, or something else that makes you sufficiently desirable to drinkers. Much comes down to your scale, resources and ambition, how you execute your business purpose and vision. Do you want to make a splash in your town or conquer the known universe?

'That's my Whisky' is a four part series taking you through most of the practical information and a step-by-step guide to providing you with an understanding and insight into what's involved in setting up the business. Whether you are thinking of spending your modest savings or raising a large chunk of equity or loans from investors, whether you will be situated in a city or on farmland, producing a few casks or thousand, many of the issues you will need to consider, and action, will be touched on.

In the real world, every distillery is different in a myriad of ways. Even if you had a series of cookie-cutter distilleries, it would be impossible to make the exact same whisky. As the average human is an aggregate of the species, every person is different, so too distilleries and their whiskies are individuals.

To make this more interesting, even challenging, we are going to create a virtual distillery in Norwich, the home of the Whisky Magazine. Think of it as a parallel case study illustrating some of the issues Whisky Magazine's distillery will face as we translate our particular vision into a business. Other than being built in Norwich, Whisky Magazine's distillery will produce malt whisky. You may want to make Bourbon, rye or another grain combinations, that's fine, similar production principals will apply. Just some variations in plant design and processes will need to accommodate the different grains - corn requires higher mashing temperatures due to its cellulose fibre content and rye is gummy with beta-glucans. Whatever grain, or combination of cereals you ferment, then distil and mature in wood, it's all whisky.

The next four issues will examine many of the key issues involved in starting a whisky distilling business:

Planning: Putting the business on paper

Construction: Converting paper into a distillery

Production: Turning the distillery to whisky

Marketing: Taking whisky to sales

Using this guide should prepare you for the rigours, occasional setbacks and great pleasures. Your hard work and creative skills should ultimately see your rewards on the shelf. So one day, when you walk into a friend's home, restaurant or bar, you can proudly point and say, "Hey, that's my whisky you're drinking."