Whitby Distillery expands with Ryebeck’s help
Luke Pentith and Jessica Slater are busy people! As if dealing with COVID-19 restrictions isn’t enough, preparing for a distillery relocation with building renovations is a big project. Yet, this is exactly what they have done with Whitby Distillery in the grounds of the historic Whitby Abbey on the North-East coast of England.
Back in June 2017, the gin-loving duo were holidaying on the west coast of Scotland. “We were captivated by these amazing distilleries creating local products“, recalls Luke. “This led us on to thinking of Jess’ home town of Whitby and going back there. We thought ‘why couldn’t we make a Whitby spirit?’”
At the time, they were living in the North-West of England. So, on the way home, they put together a business plan with the idea of purchasing a small still. “We worked every spare minute for nearly a year“, says Luke, “to get to the point where we had a fully licensed and developed product. Initially, we were doing it as a hobby out of my parents’ utility room!”
They released their first product in spring 2018. The positive response they received meant that what started as a hobby quickly changed to a fully commercial venture.
Struggling to find a suitable building in Whitby, in August 2018 they moved into temporary premises in York. They bought an American still to enable them to increase the volume of gin they were making.
New premises for Whitby Distillery
In April 2019, they noticed that a couple of derelict barns on the grounds of Whitby Abbey were up for sale. Therefore, they submitted a proposal to English Heritage and applied for local planning permission. On 11th September this year, they finally received the go-ahead from the council and so the next phase in their expansion plans could then begin.
Whitby sources new still from Ryebeck
During this time, however, they realised that the still they were using would not be suitable long-term. As a result, they began talking to Tim Prime, Managing Director of Ryebeck, last summer about purchasing a new still. “We needed greater capacity and more efficiency, control and flexibility on how we produce“, explains Jake. Originally, they intended to install the still at their new buildings in Whitby. However, with timings affected by planning permission and lockdown, they had to bring it into their York premises.
Finding a still supplier wasn’t straightforward, but reading the story of Jarrolds Gin convinced Luke to contact Ryebeck. “We looked around the market at different options“, remembers Luke, “but finding a person to speak to is another challenge! We were aware of Tim from posts on LinkedIn about UK-based installations with similar equipment. So, in 2018 we got some quotes from him.”
Tim went to visit them and, following further conversations, recommended a unique still with many useful features that had just become available. “We were keen, as we wanted something to stand out in the new distillery. We also wanted a size that gave us the flexibility to create new products and a batch time that would be manageable within a day.”
The new still
So, with Tim’s help, Luke and Jess decided on a 300L handmade German copper pot still, which they named Dora-Grace. “It’s a tribute to Dora Walker, who was the only female skipper in the North Sea during World War II. She would pilot vessels through local waters to avoid mines. Later in life, she supported local crews by buying their catch, sometimes at a loss when selling it on, to help them out. She was an unsung hero of Whitby, so we wanted to recognise her. Grace was a family friend of Jess. She was like a grandmother, a big and bubbly character, so appropriate for naming a still!”
Ryebeck’s professionalism and expert help
Ryebeck installed and commissioned the new still in May/June this year. Luke is keen to point out the help he received from Ryebeck in choosing this particular still. “They gave us clear quotes, a clear explanation of the service they could provide and confidence that they could deliver it as well.”
A visit to the German manufacturers, co-ordinated by Tim Prime, was a deciding factor, as Luke explains. “We went out to Germany with Tim in February this year. We really liked that the business had been going for 200 years and the level of detail on their handmade equipment. Tim was a very good host. We wouldn’t have bought [the still] without seeing it and Tim was very good at making that happen.”
Renovating the new Whitby Distillery building
With the new still working well, Luke and Jess now have the task of overseeing renovations of the new premises. Given the historic surroundings of the ancient abbey, the redesign is in keeping with their new location. “The barns used to be part of an old farm“, notes Luke. “So, we want to restore and maintain their heritage, not rip them apart and clad inside like a modern industrial building. We want them to look and feel like they were, but utilise technology for efficiency and consider the environment.”
Because environmental considerations are so important, they are incorporating various green initiatives into the design. A grass roof with flowers attracting bees and the potential to grow certain botanicals will join the two barns. This feature blends in with the hills behind and fits their ethos of including local botanicals and flavours in their products. As they use honey in their gin, they may be able to have their own hives here too.
Solar panels will be hidden in the roof above the still and rainwater will be captured for cooling the still. Also heat generated by the distillation process will heat the new building. Further initiatives include planting an orchard. “It was always an intention to grow fruit trees to support local wildlife“, says Luke. Additionally, they will be able to use this fruit within some of their new products. Luke and Jess are also committed to eliminating plastics from their processes and to limiting sound, light and noise pollution in consideration with their location.
Future plans at Whitby Distillery
As well as working on new products, Luke and Jess’ plans include a visitor centre, shop and event space. They are also considering other ways of heating the still through renewable energy and a steam boiler. If they need new equipment, Luke says that he would certainly get in touch with Tim Prime again.
The Ryebeck experience
Luke gives a ringing endorsement of working with Ryebeck. “They are very personable“, he explains. “They are an established business, very professional and easy to talk to. We don’t need to go through various layers of management to get answers. They were quick to act with changes to the still specification or a quote for a new piece of equipment. There’s no messing about with them!”
If you’re interested in purchasing new or second-hand distillation equipment, then Ryebeck can help. You can call the team on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.