Meet the distiller: Craig Law
Ryebeck’s latest service is to offer contract distilling using the experience and knowledge of Craig Law, creator of the award-winning Yorkshire Distilling Co.. Since leaving college at 17, Craig has spent his entire career in asbestos management. However, a taste for beer led to an interest in home-brewing and distilling spirits. So how did this journey start and what lit the fuse that fired Craig’s passion and eventual involvement with Ryebeck?
Beginning of the journey
“Like so many young people, I enjoyed a beer, but as I matured I became fed up with the big brands. Then about 11 years ago, I started home-brewing with the aim of making the best beer I could“, he explains with characteristic Yorkshire honesty. Drawing a parallel with two craft beers from his local pub, one made with horseradish and the other with cucumber, he wanted to emulate that approach, not restricting himself to the norm. This zest for pushing the boundaries and creativity led him into the world of spirits. “Brewing and distilling go hand in hand. I always appreciated rum, but was never a big spirits drinker until I received a gift around six years ago. It was a bottle of R.L. Seale’s 10-Year Old Rum. I grew up with the big supermarket brands of beer and rum, but this bottle opened my eyes and shaped what I do now. I fell in love with rum then and so started experimenting with distilling at home.”
The next stage came four years ago when Craig decided to upscale his distillation hobby and make it into a business by hiring premises in a local council building which has sadly since been demolished. He spent time learning as much as he could through courses, personal experience of working with other distillers and “drinking plenty of rum“, he recalls. “As owner and distiller, I needed as much information and hands-on experience as possible. I had to be comfortable with what I could produce.” After a year of training, research and tasting, he applied for a distiller’s licence which took a further six months of paperwork. Trialling various recipes until he was satisfied, his first bottles were subsequently launched two years after installing the distillery.
“I’ve always been interested in cooking and entertaining with friends, which ties into my home brewing. The processes are different, but it’s just like creating a fine meal, putting together the components for an end product and seeing the enjoyment in others.”
From rum to vodka
Craig is justifiably proud of his achievements. He originally set out to make a high quality, flavourful dark rum with a story (the packaging is fun and alludes to pirates stealing sugar!) and certainly achieved his objective. Then, similar to his epiphany moment with RL Seale’s, he discovered high quality Siberian vodka. “Vodka was always very popular in supermarkets, but I never found them any good”, he recalls. “The Siberian version changed my mind!”
Spotting a gap in the market for vodkas of superior quality than those widely available in bars, pubs and supermarkets, he researched how the poorer ones were made. Learning how specialist yeasts that produced faster fermentation times with higher alcohol were commonly used, requiring much filtering of the resultant spirit to remove the harshness, he was determined to adopt a different approach. Therefore, he created the Limited Edition Yorkshire Vodka, a double-distilled, unfiltered, wheat and barley-based sipping vodka, at a premium price point of £30 RRP. With its smooth, subtle flavours and barely noticeable 40% ABV, it sold well in Majestic and, as Craig describes, “educated consumers that it’s possible to make a high quality vodka which doesn’t need to be filtered.” Additionally, following a challenge from local bars to make “a quality vodka without a premium price“, he created Brethren Vodka, sold on-trade for £10 and an RRP of £17. He entered it in the prestigious IWSC (International Wine & Spirit Competition) 2018 and won a Silver award, competing against much more established brands.
Craig applies a common set of principles to everything he makes: “It’s not just about the money – I never set out to become a millionaire! A craft brewery or distiller should always be about quality and the product should be unadulterated like RL Seale’s with no added colour or sugar. We need brands to push boundaries and not keep it too safe. The public now has moved away dramatically from cheapness and there is a massive appreciation for premium drinks.”
“If I was going to make something“, he continues, “I would have to be open and honest about it! Rum has such loose regulations, but rather than just adding sugar, I wanted to make the best rum I could from 100% molasses, so Brethren Black was born. All the colouring comes from the molasses and the oak ageing. I had to be satisfied with the end result – if I wouldn’t drink it, I wouldn’t sell it. With vodka, I was adamant about applying the same principles, to make the best I could with the fewest processes.”
When Craig received notification from the council that he had to leave his premises, he contacted Ryebeck who agreed to purchase the distillery equipment. Managing Director, Tim Prime was so impressed with Craig’s three spirits that the idea of contract distilling was discussed and then soon became a reality. Craig already had some experience of this, but teaming up with Ryebeck represented an exciting new venture.
“I didn’t get to where I am today without making errors, so people can learn from my mistakes and head them off before they happen!”
As a contract distiller for Ryebeck, Craig offers a variety of services suited to individual client’s needs. These comprise any aspect of the journey from recipe development to initial set-up, distillation method, blending, advice on avoiding pitfalls and packaging requirements. He is available for one-to-one tuition with distillation on-site, or telephone and email consultations if preferred.
Through his in-depth understanding of yeast strains, heads and tails cuts and other technical considerations, along with experience of HMRC regulations and managing paperwork, Craig can provide an indispensable service for new distilleries. His enthusiasm, passion, integrity and core principles continue undiminished and will be of great benefit to others. “I love the idea of changing people’s mindset from a £16-£18 bottle to a more expensive one or the challenge of producing good quality vodka like Brethren for a non-premium price. I couldn’t do this if didn’t enjoy it and wasn’t happy.“