The craft drinks market is growing rapidly. Brewers and distillers are producing all kinds of beverages which emphasise provenance, innovation and flavour.
For the last 2.5 years, In the Welsh Wind distillery, founded by Alex Jungmayr and Ellen Wakelam, has been feeding the current appetite for gin, producing custom-branded spirits for over 20 clients. Having launched their own brand gin in 2020, Alex and Ellen now have their sights set on producing an entirely Welsh whisky.
Here, Ellen tells the story of the distillery and reveals tips for other entrepreneurs.
Tell us about In the Welsh Wind.
We’ve been together since we met, but the idea of going into business crystallised some years later after we took some time ‘out’ to walk around Wales. We founded the distillery another couple of years after that.
We met in Llangrannog where I was working for the summer. Alex’s parents had recently moved to the area, and he was visiting them. We spent some time in the Midlands pursuing work, but we returned to West Wales a few years later. We both secured work locally, but increasingly felt that something was lacking in our life. Alex had been developing an idea to run around Wales but changed his plan. He suggested that we embark on the trip together, walking rather than running.
Being able to step out of day to day life for three months was a huge luxury. As well as an adventure, we had the space to think about our future and how we wanted to create a life that would keep us on the Welsh coast. The question was – what would that life be?
A couple of years later, during a trip around the North Coast 500 in Scotland, we discovered the craft distilleries of the Highlands. We realised that this was what we had been looking for. We came back to West Wales determined to build a unique Welsh distillery. Less than six months later, we had established our business, founded on ideals that drive us today.
Our company now develops custom spirits for clients, including technical, branding and marketing support, recipe development, distillation, hand bottling and labelling. Clients come to us with an idea and take away a product ready for market.
We currently produce close to 40 custom-branded spirits for over 20 clients. Among ‘our’ gins are multi-award winning Tenby Gin, and ex-England cricketer Michael Vaughan’s Declaration Gin which won a medal in 2020’s International Wine and Spirits Competition. A total of 6 of our gins won silver and bronze IWSC medals in 2020 – an enormous achievement for us.
We launched In the Welsh Wind Signature Style in July 2020, bringing together everything we’ve learned to develop our own gin. It’s had great feedback, and at the time of writing, it has been shortlisted for a Great British Food Award. We have also recently acquired the Eccentric Gin Company and moved production from Caerphilly to West Wales. The range has been rebranded and is soon to be relaunched.
Our future is not just about gin – we are already on the road to developing a purely Welsh whisky. Every element of the process, from growing the barley, to distillation, maturing and bottling will take place in Wales. This will include malting which is not currently available in Wales. We’re developing our own solution to maintain the Welsh provenance of our whisky.
Producing top-quality spirits is what In the Welsh Wind is all about. Still, we are very focussed on our community, so during the COVID-19 pandemic, we flipped production into hand sanitiser (following the World Health Organisation formula). As well as supplying the most vulnerable in our community, and key workers, directly, we have also been able to support doctors’ surgeries, the police, the RNLI, the coastguard, care homes and pharmacies. We’re currently supplying 3 County Councils with hand sanitiser. In total so far we’ve produced 30,000 litres!
Our journey to where we are now has been incredible. From a spark of inspiration in the Scottish Highlands, we now own flagship distillery premises and employ five full-time members of staff, including Alex and I. We’re in the position where we can develop an apprenticeship scheme and offer work experience packages. We’re committed to providing opportunities for upskilling in an area where permanent skilled work, and the opportunity to gain experience, can be hard to come by.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
We founded the business in January 2018 in a derelict cowshed with a £25,000 loan. Having renovated the cowshed and launched the business, we quickly began to outgrow it.
In March 2019, we were able to secure a lease with an option to purchase on the Gogerddan Arms – a prime spot on the A487 coast road between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest. To exercise our option to purchase and commence renovations, we needed to secure substantial capital. We achieved this through creating an investment opportunity for family and friends of the distillery, and a loan from the Development Bank of Wales, which was dependent in part on us achieving some challenging business targets.
The success of these two initiatives meant we could exercise our option to purchase and secure a home for In the Welsh Wind. Not only is it a huge source of pride for us, it’s massively exciting too.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
When we started out, we had very little knowledge of the drinks industry, and in particular around the legalities and the requirements of HMRC. This meant that things didn’t always run as smoothly as we might have liked, but we’ve taken that knowledge that we now have, and we share it with others as part of a consultancy service we can offer to those wanting to step a toe into the spirits industry.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
The support we’ve had from Business Wales AGP in several areas has really underpinned our progression and rapid growth.
We’ve had detailed business planning and financial support through access to finance experts. We’ve also had HR support and have benefitted from marketing and branding diagnostics.
Our relationship manager’s input has always been appreciated and has been key to accessing the support that we have needed to achieve our ambitions. We have been to a number of masterclasses held by Business Wales AGP and have always learned something new to help us improve our business.
We’ve also had support from Superfast Business Wales and attended social media and digital marketing courses which have been very informative.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
- Don’t be constrained by what other people say you can (or can’t) do. If you believe in something, go with it to the best of your ability
- Keep your eyes and ears well and truly open – you never know when an opportunity to develop your business will come your way
- If support is available, make the most of it