Mark Lane hears how Chamber member, Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council, has helped another member Durham Distillery, to firmly place the region as a leading player in the independent gin revolution
Gin is big business these days. Visit any popular nightspot, and many pubs, in the North East and you will likely find specialist gin menus, gin cocktails – we’re even seeing the opening of dedicated gin bars in some parts of the UK.
And it’s not just the usual names supplying the gins. Most of us have heard of famous traditional gins from the likes of Gordon’s and Beefeater, but in recent years a new breed of independent gin brands has entered the industry, making for a vibrant, exciting scene.
One name entering the segment in recent years – and placing the North East well and truly on the UK gin map – is Durham Distillery. As home-grown success stories go, this is one we can certainly all raise a glass to. A small batch craft distillery making gin, vodka and some other gin-based products, Durham Distillery was founded in 2014 by Jon Chadwick who, after a trip over to the US, saw that small distilleries were at the heart of bustling university towns.
He was joined by Jess Tomlinson, at the time was the youngest female distiller in the country, and they began expanding their range and distributing to local stockists, as well as further afield, including export.
In Durham Distillery’s formative, pre-commercialisation stages, Jon approached Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council.
Brian Archer, managing director at Business Durham, takes up the story: “Jon approached Business Durham in 2012 with an ambition to open a gin distillery in Durham City. He had undertaken considerable research both internationally and in the UK and could see the potential to develop his own distillery. At that time, there were no other gin distilleries located within the North East of England, so each step of Jon’s project was not only a learning curve for him, but also for Business Durham and other departments within Durham County Council.
“Jon initially approached the Business Durham team to ask for help to secure funding and suitable premises, in which to locate his distillery. Business Durham undertook a review of property available at that time within Durham City and initially nothing suitable was found. However, we quickly found industrial premises at Langley Park, which were financially attractive and in a qualifying area for grant funding at that time.”
The benefit of working with Business Durham, as well as financial signposting, was the networking opportunities it opened. For instance, Business Durham also introduced Jon to some of its other clients within County Durham, who had brewery businesses. “They offered Jon invaluable insight and connections to the drinks industry within the UK,” says Brian.
He adds: “It was very clear from the outset of the business that Jon wanted to create a craft distillery and ultimately a brand, that was renowned for quality and tried to incorporate as many locally-sourced ingredients from the North East of England as possible within its recipe. Many introductions were facilitated by Business Durham to relevant contacts within our networks who also became part of the Durham Distillery journey.”
Since then, Business Durham has remained very much part of the Durham Distillery story, helping it to identify property, funding, contacts, networks, suppliers, planning and so on.
Durham Distillery was also the first company to successfully secure investment from the Finance Durham fund, which was established by Business Durham and Durham County Council, to help provide loan finance to companies looking to expand, invest and create employment within County Durham.
I also caught up with Jess Tomlinson, head distiller at Durham Distillery, to find out about the company’s relationship with Business Durham and also the challenges of setting up the region’s first gin distillery.
Given that this was a slightly leftfield venture, I was curious to find out how challenging it was to secure finance.
Jess replies: “We are quite fortunate that there is a large amount of funding available in the North East for business, especially small businesses. However, some sources are more easily accessed than others. We’ve also benefited
from some small business grants and favourable rates in the past, but it can be tricky navigating the rules of each type of funding and ensuring there is no overlap between them.
“As a business we have made the conscious decision to grow organically rather than take large funding from sources that wouldn’t have been right for us. This has meant our growth has been slower than other distilleries, but our expansion is based on a solid existing business and this is very important to us.”
Jess says that Business Durham has helped a lot with the funding side, notably when it secured £250,000 through Maven Capital Partners.
She adds: “Other than the obvious finance one of the most useful benefits of Business Durham is the additional support related to training and development for our staff, attending a number of courses either free of charge or at a reduced rate, which as a small business we may not have been able to afford otherwise. This has better prepared our staff for the demands of the business as we expand.”
Now firmly established, what are the broader goals of Durham Distillery? Jess answers: “We hope to bring another sector of tourism to the city and county of Durham and that of the wider North East of England. We would like to work with other local businesses to create growth in the area and for something for locals to feel proud is ‘theirs’.
“The future is very exciting with expansion plans, and a move into the heart of the city, offering tours and tastings to Durham’s ever-growing tourism sector and the loyal locals. We will also be producing the first whisky ever to be made in the North East of England and a few more products which are under lock and key for now!”
Something tells me we’ll be hearing much more of this spirited business in the next few years and beyond.