The English Whisky Co: a bit of history and a snippet on branding
24 November 2017
Andrew Nelstrop from the English Whisky tells us how it all began and why Norfolk can now boast production of the best whisky in Europe.
My father, James Nelstrop, was the younger son of a very old farming dynasty that can trace its routes directly back to Ackworth in Yorkshire some 600 years ago. As a younger son, James had no family farm to go to, so instead started his working life as a farm manager for a huge Lincolnshire estate before going on to become a tenant farmer near Stamford. I think the main blessing of not inheriting was that it gave a sense of freedom – which James used to full effect. From Stamford my father emigrated to Australia with the family. Australia was a relatively short lived venture as a few thousand acres in the outback was less than ideal for my mother, who it is said was coming home “with or without him”. The next stop was Roudham – a sand land farm with massive untapped potential as it had a huge water source underground that James tapped into, and in the process became the first importer and installer of centre pivot irrigation. The farm at Roudham is how we have the land the distillery is built on, and how we knew the water beneath the distillery was plentiful and pure. James went on to farm in Lincolnshire again, Russia and Suffolk.
The distillery was James’ longest lifelong dream and when he turned 60, he was going to have a go at it regardless of the perceived difficulties laid out by HMRC. In a typical family meeting (coffee in the kitchen) it was agreed that we would have a go. I, as well as farming in Suffolk at the time, had a building company, so we set to constructing St Georges, employed the ex-head distiller from Laphroaig and turned the stills on in 2006. These were the first registered whisky stills in England since 1898.
Whilst we built the distillery and got things running, we spent a lot of time looking at practices and marketing of other new distilleries that had opened to see what lessons could be learned. Two things were obvious – either you are a company that makes things first and markets them second, or you are marketers that make something to sell on the back of the marketing. It was very obvious that with the farming background the production of a top flight single malt whisky was always going to be a far, far higher priority than marketing. This is still the case today. I am still not convinced our route was the best and, certainly, it has curtailed early brand awareness and sales, but we do have a very large stock of first class whisky, which will ultimately be the most important thing for the generations to come.
For the first 10 years our branding and packaging was designed on scraps of paper, drawn on Word and tidied up a little bit by the local printer – with hindsight it wasn’t good enough but a decade on we have now finally employed the experts and paid up for a very smart new look. Should we have done it sooner ? I’m not sure. In the world of whisky, doing something to mark your 10th birthday is probably as good a time as any.
Going forward, we will continue to expand the reach of the brand by opening new export market places and endeavouring to increase the on-trade outlets in the UK. Our best marketing is word of mouth and produce quality. To that end we have just been awarded ‘Best Whisky in Europe’ for the fourth time. An accolade not achieved by any other whisky distillery.
This article is from the November 2017 issue of Family Business, our quarterly newsletter for those working within family-owned businesses. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at November 2017.
To keep up-to-date with the latest news, legal updates and seminar information, please register and select the areas that are of interest to you.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at November 2017.