The fields at Hunmanby Grange are where it all begins for Spirit of Yorkshire, the first single malt whisky made in, and of Yorkshire. It is created by a family where the narrative is so important, the underlying essence of the brand and is created from field to bottle on the Yorkshire coast near Filey Bay. This is a story of innovative tradition, respect for the past and associated traditions of an industry that is synonymous with Scotland, whilst bringing their own thinking to the table too. Paul Andrews went to the distillery to speak to Jenni Ashwood to find out more.
“We are a family and a business that wants to do things properly. That’s why we’re obsessed with every step of the distilling process, from field to bottle, using 100% homegrown barley. Mentored by renowned whisky expert Dr. Jim Swan, we respect tradition whilst applying our own thinking to create a whisky that doesn’t just replicate Scotch but is delicious in its own right,” explains Jenni.
“All of the barley we use is grown at Hunmanby Grange on our family farm, and we get our water from two sources, sunk deep into the chalk, which is also on the farm.”
“We’re in control of every stage of the growing and distilling process, from choosing the variety of barley and how it is grown, right through to bottling ourselves at the distillery.”
“Very few other distilleries in the UK can claim this and it’s something we’re exceptionally proud of,” she continues.
“We’ve invested in two of the largest Forsyth pot stills operating in the UK outside of Scotland and have also added a four-plate copper column into our process that works in tandem with our spirit still which adds to the variance of the Spirit of Yorkshire distillery. It’s all part of our commitment to combining tradition with new thinking to create something out of the ordinary. Our stills were fired up for the first time in May 2016 and we have thousands of various cask types – including sherry butts and bourbon casks, all of which will help create the subtle, complex flavours of our unique spirit,” she adds.
Every aspect of the business has a link back to the part of Yorkshire that they are based, and where the family have been farming for generations. It is an integral part of the narrative, and the reason for the name of the whisky, ‘Filey Bay’ which is just a short drive away. It is also featured by way of the gannets featured on the labels.
“Along with these fearless, precise, graceful and purposeful birds, we’ve prospered here for many years. Similar to their characteristics, we have a homing instinct, so wherever we travel to explore new ideas, we always return to this special place, a stone’s throw away from Bempton Cliffs, home to the largest gannet colony on the UK mainland. This is where we live and work, most importantly where our whisky was born. That’s why we chose the gannet as our talisman,” adds Jenni.
Jenni is the second generation of the family involved in the business and like many, she left home to pursue a career in London. Her career was in the world of marketing and has certainly been of benefit to the business since she got involved. Conscious of what the business needed and with the skills in place from working in an agency in London, she moved back home with her husband and started a role in the business.
“I was always aware of the need to prove myself but I had been developing brand strategies for clients in the luxury goods space so there was a natural fit, but even then you do question yourself and never want to fall into the ‘imposter syndrome’ position,” she adds.
“That was not the case and the role was perfect, and with a young family the role allows me to continue to build the business, develop professionally doing something I love, and live in a place that is more than home too,” she continues.
It is abundantly clear that the ‘PLACE’ plays an incredibly special part of the journey of the business and that sustainability is important too. At Spirit of Yorkshire they are creating a business that will offer a legacy to future generations.
The product is well respected, award winning and exported to 12 countries and the whisky embodies the very essence of where it is created.
“It really is all about the place, the driving force for the brand and an integral part of the messaging too. We have an honest field to bottle philosophy and an ethos that respects tradition but we still like to do things our own way too,” concludes Jenni.