The Spirit of Yorkshire
Tucked away near Catterick Racecourse lies the small Yorkshire Dales Distillery and founder Tony Brotherton has big ideas for its future
Article by Rupert Watkins, Photography by Andy Barnham
A quick canter from picturesque Catterick racecourse on a small industrial estate near the sprawling garrison lies a new distillery. Founded in early 2016, the Yorkshire Dales Distillery has, so far, bought a small range of gins and a vodka to market but founder Tony Brotherton remains adamant they, “are a craft distillery first and foremost, we are able to bring our experience to bear on any product. The distillery is looking to launch an aged rum later in the year (2018).”
Tony hit upon the idea whilst still serving as an officer in the Royal Artillery. With his family home near Catterick, “we (Tony and his wide and distillery co-founder Sarah) wanted to do something near home, something that didn’t entail us moving again and that had genuine provenance.” A distillery was but one of several business ideas the couple mulled over but was the one they kept returning to. A lot of time was spent in searching for a base, their current, well sized home belonged to a wine merchant and was the result of a fortuitous tip off by a friend.
Into this small business unit, Tony sourced and installed two still Austrian made stills, one a 30 litre, the other 300 litre. For its white spirits, the Yorkshire Dales Distillery uses 100 per cent vapour infusion, Tony’s rum is likewise vapour infused and is oak aged on site. Unlike many distillers, Tony has no need to de-ionise the mineral water he cuts the resulting base spirit with; his comes from Swaledale just outside Richmond and is of such high purity he doesn’t touch it.
The business was founded and registered in early April 2016 when Tony was still serving, the company began trading in January 2017 and the first batch of spirits left the distillery at the end of February, “we knew this was a very sharp turnaround and we’d looked at many other distilleries who had spent a lot of time and effort in pre-marketing and establishing a presence on social media before they filled the first still. We didn’t want to do that, we felt it was critical to get the product out and make a strong statement early on.” Since then, this small distillery has seen a gratifying flow of custom, both personal and local wholesale.
Unlike other distilleries who make a point of recounting how many distilling attempts they had to go through to finally get their distinct taste, Tony spent his time in carefully planning and calculating the balance of the various ingredients, “if you know what taste you are aiming for, what botanicals you wish to emphasize, you can create a shortlist of likely iterations and cut away those which very clearly are unlikely to work, that way when you move to test distils, you should be able to narrow down on your perfect taste within three to four attempts.”
The Yorkshire Dales Distillery offers three core gins; their Purple Ram gin is bottled at 40 per cent abv and with pink grapefruit and honey among its unique botanticals is fresh on the nose with the honey giving the slightest of sweet aftertaste. Tony’s Desert Ram is bottled at 50 per cent abv – “Army strength” he laughs – and with a heavier emphasis on cardamom, bitter orange and rose was a rather smokey but engaging taste on the palette. The roses are a very pronounced and different scent on the nose. The most recently introduced gin, in November 2017, is the Wild Ram with gooseberries, blackberries and redcurrants. Very different and bold in taste and smell, the power of the soft fruit is immediately apparent. Though their Purple ram is the most popular seller, Tony remarks that the more nuanced and unusual Desert Ram is a frequent winner in tours and tastings the distillery run – even if the extra alcohol content does take drinkers by surprise on the first sip. Flavoured with peppercorns, the Smokey Ram vodka is exceedingly smooth with a dry finish and would be an eminently sound base for a martini.
As well as this base offering, Tony also offers contract distilling for customers, he has a couple of clients in Harrogate he makes the house gin on behalf of. After the distillery and the customer have sat down and discussed the flavour profile a test run of three bottles is produced, Tony has a minimum six case batch size for the subsequent main order, “otherwise there is little point in the disruption at our end and having enough to be viable for the client to stock.” Despite the potential for any white labelled spirit to gain wider market traction than Yorkshire Dales Distillery labelled offering, Tony is philosophical about this business strand, it offers an income stream to help drive the firm forward.
The company is growing, with five full time and one part time staff. Given his background, it is unsurprisingly that Tony takes an active interest in military resettlement and looks to give preference to veterans, ex-offenders and the long term unemployed when looking for new personnel. His local MP, Rishi Sunak, is a regular visitor and is an enthusiastic backer of such small entrepreneurial start-ups. Tony is using the learning credits he accrued in the Army to distance study brewing and distilling at Herriott Watt University and off the back of his fruity Wild Ram gin is working with a major east Yorkshire soft fruit farmer to take excess and sub-standard fruit for use.
With 150 private and wholesale accounts around the county including listing in local Majestic outlets and its first rum on the horizon to demonstrate they are not simply white spirit specialists, things are moving in the right direction for the Yorkshire Dales Distillery. Those not fortunate enough to be in God’s own country should certainly peruse their web site for a more unusual northern spirit.
Enquires: Yorkshire Dales Distillery / www.yorkshiredalesdistillery.com/
Riddle’s road trip was generously supported by Jaguar Land Rover with the kind loan of a Jaguar XF R-Sport Saloon (RRP from £35,735) #riddleroadtrip