Sourcing a second hand still: the start of a journey in spirits!
Bruce Payne is just starting a new chapter in his life. He has spent the last 26 years of his career in the outside broadcast industry, mostly filming horse racing. Over the past 12 years, he has provided access platforms for TV crews, but the future in this business is uncertain. A different course now lies ahead, sparked by a family outing to Silent Pool Distillers in November last year for a tour and tasting. This kindled a yearning in him to enter the spirits industry himself. So the idea took hold and Bruce has now begun this journey with the help of Ryebeck.
The idea develops
Following much research and being a complete novice in this area, Bruce retains a strong sense of optimism spurred on by others’ experiences. “There are others who’ve done something very similar on a smaller scale … producing gins, which is an inspiration for me, because these people have been on exactly the same journeys.”
Initially, Bruce intends to concentrate on gin, but he’s interested in producing other spirits too, “perhaps going down the road of whisky, brandy and vodka … anything really I think I can do that’s not going to be insurmountable”, he explains. “I know whisky has to be stored in a barrel for three years. There’s no reason why I can’t produce gin to start with and whisky alongside, so that I have an income while the three years pass.”
Initial contact with Ryebeck
Bruce wanted a spirit still made bespoke to his specifications. However, he was adamant that it shouldn’t be a gleaming brand new still, but one with some heritage. “I didn’t want to go down the road of buying a brand new still. I wanted something with a bit of history and I could then add exactly what I wanted. So I scoured the internet for a second-hand still. I came across Ryebeck’s website, made the phone call and spoke to Tim [Tim Prime, Ryebeck’s MD] … I had already spoken to another company, but every time I left them a message about my interest in purchasing one of their stills, the sales person never phoned back. This happened three or four times, so before I discovered Ryebeck, I was struggling to find the kind of still I wanted.”
Sourcing the second-hand still
Tim recommended a 450L second-hand Adrian still, made in the 1950s with a steam jacket and, ironically, originally used for producing hangover cures! He then organised a trip to Germany to meet the Adrian team at their factory. “Again [they were] very helpful people … nothing is too much trouble”, recalls Bruce. “Any changes I want to the still, I speak to Tim who contacts them. He knows what questions to ask and facilitates any changes. For me, being absolutely inexperienced, he’s been brilliant. I explain in my terms what I’d like and he explains to them. It’s been a good working relationship.”
Adding to the still
The deal that Ryebeck negotiated included a cooling tower with the spirit still. However, because of Bruce’s interest in producing a range of spirits, a distillation column with extra bubble caps is being added, along with an agitator and a botanical basket.
Bruce doesn’t want to detract from the still’s original look and feel. “I want to keep it as original as possible. I don’t want to make too many changes. There are additions… but essentially the still will remain the same as it was in the 1950s. I love the fact that it’s not polished stainless steel like the ones you can buy off the shelf”, says Bruce. “It has some patina and history to it … There’s something very appealing to me about that … taking custody of this piece of equipment that’s been used in the past.”
Experience with Ryebeck so far
Bruce is full of praise for Ryebeck’s professional and helpful attitude in helping him choose the still that best suits his needs. “Nobody has been dismissive or condescending. Everybody has been understanding of my ignorance. Rather than seeing it as a negative, they’ve seen it as a positive and have been able to guide me through my journey so far. They’ve never displayed any kind of frustration and been very professional. Whenever I phone Tim, if he’s been busy, he’ll phone back. Every time I pose a question or ask whether something can be changed, the answer’s been ‘let see if we can do it’. It’s been a very positive experience and I’m really grateful that I came upon Ryebeck, so much so that I haven’t gone anywhere else. I don’t see the point!”
Next stage on the journey with Ryebeck
Bruce will be speaking to the Ryebeck team and is looking to gain experience and knowledge from other clients they’ve helped. “I want to speak to people who are doing what I’m anticipating doing to get the benefit of their experience.” Through Ryebeck, he is looking to gain advice on HMRC paperwork and also to speak to a master distiller. “I realise there are gaps in my knowledge and, although I’m on a journey myself to learn as much as possible, I need to speak to people who are involved in it already.”
The immediate future
Bruce is currently looking for the best location for his business, whether it’ll be local to his current home near Guildford or further afield in Suffolk. Additionally, he’ll need a name for the company, so will be consulting with colleagues who have experience in branding. He will run this new venture alongside his access platform business for as long as that continues, giving him “peace of mind financially“.
While a range of spirits remains on the horizon, Bruce will initially focus on gin. He wants to generate a presence and a turnover to make the still self-sustaining. “It needs to fund itself“, he explains. Long-term, he’s not just aiming for the local market, although he is very keen on opening up his future distillery to the public so that visitors can taste and buy his spirits there. However, his ultimate goal is to sell abroad as much as possible. “I have a vision with all of this“, he declares with enthusiasm. “I know exactly how I want to do it. There are a lot of things I don’t know, in which case I will bring in people who do.”
The final words on this part of his journey belong with Bruce. “I don’t believe that you can’t get involved in something you know nothing about. If I believed you had to know something about the subject before you became involved in it, then you wouldn’t achieve anything in life! So the fact that I know very little about it has not put me off in the slightest. In a lot of ways I see it as an advantage, because I’m not discouraged from anything. It’s just a matter of time.”
If you’re interested in distillation equipment as a novice or experienced distiller, feel free to contact Ryebeck for their expert advice on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via the online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.