Andy Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ellers Farm Distillery, pours Absolutely Yorkshire a drink and takes us on a whistlestop tour of an immediate success story
What initially inspired the launch of the distillery and how long ago was this?
The idea behind Ellers Farm Distillery first arose during the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown, when founder to-be, Chris Fraser, decided he wanted to seriously upscale his hobby of cider-making and distilling. Having dedicated the previous 12 years of his career to building the most environmentally-friendly and low impact fertilizer project in the world – the Woodsmith Project – Chris knew that sustainability would not be a choice, but a necessity, to his new venture. Realising that there was no large-scale spirit brand that truly spoke to him with honesty or embodied all the things a modern drinks brand should, he therefore set forth on a journey to create one of the finest spirits in the world, in the most ethical way possible. Thus, Ellers Farm Distillery was born.
Tell us about your location…
Located near the historic village of Stamford Bridge in North Yorkshire, Ellers Farm Distillery sits just a stone’s throw from York and only a 30-minute drive from neighbouring Leeds. As a team, we’re immensely proud of our Yorkshire roots (even if I am a relative rookie, having only lived in the county for a short 20 years!), and always strive to give back to the community. Most recently, we’ve planted our very own apple orchard to use in the ongoing production of our Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka; not only as a support for the local eco-system of wildlife and sustainable sourcing, it will eventually also provide jobs for those living in the area.
Do your surroundings inspire you in any way?
When the view out of the window is one of rolling fields and blue skies, it’s hard to not be inspired by your surroundings. Our flagship Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka takes its unique taste from the very land on which it is made – clean, crisp, and clear. Similarly, our Small Batch Spirits range has been created with that famous Yorkshire character in mind – no frills, yet bursting with top-quality flavour. It’s this appreciation for our county and countryside that has made us even more committed to being as eco-conscious as possible; without sounding clichéd, take care of your roots and they’ll take care of you!
From day one at the distillery, what did you want to offer?
Our mission has always been about achieving sustainable spirit excellence and sharing this with the world. By re-defining the vodka category, we want to be able to offer consumers the chance to try top-quality liquors, which have been made not only for them, but also for the planet. At the same time, however, just because we have big dreams, that’s not to say we don’t equally value our local roots; the support of the surrounding community has been, and continues to be, one of the most important things to us. We want to bring everyone along on this crazy, exciting ride of ours.
Was sustainability key for you from the start?
We were committed to carbon neutrality from day one. One of our first hires was a Head of Sustainability, Tabatha Hurst. Tabatha ensures every decision that is made within the business is analysed from an environmental perspective, and under her guidance, our sustainability journey has come on leaps and bounds.
Could you give us an insight into your distillation process?
Our distillation process is a unique one – and for any spirits wanting to break out into the market, it’s an important aspect to consider; when it comes to our flagship product, Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka, every step from farm to the finished bottle is given the utmost care and attention. The standard vodka story of “many times distilled” has become predictable and now means practically nothing to the industry, never mind the consumer. Unlike the gin category, which has the power of a thousand different flavour profiles available to utilise, the best vodkas have nowhere to hide. That’s why with Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka we are rethinking vodka. We own the process from start to finish, producing a flawless spirit farmed from fruit on our very own “vodka farm” in North Yorkshire.
We’re also incredibly fortunate to have a mastermind in our Master Distiller, Jamie Baggott. No stranger to the drinks industry, Jamie is equipped with 15 years of distilling experience and has earnt over 200 national and international awards, including Best-in-the-World Vodka at the San Francisco Wine & Spirits Competition in 2010.
What have been your most popular creations?
Within the industry, our famous brown-bottle spirit – Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka – has certainly stolen the show, clinching three Gold Medals at the Global Vodka Masters 2022, and securing listings in over 220 Waitrose stores nationally in its first 12 months of production, a feat that very few have managed to achieve so quickly.
Our Small Batch Spirits have also been extremely well received, with our Elderflower & Elderberry Liqueur and Cherry Liqueur taking home awards at the Global Liqueur Masters, and our Espresso Vodka winning Gold at the International Spirits Competition 2023 (in addition to being a favourite signature espresso martini spirit with bartenders!).
More recently, we’ve also seen success for our new Sloe Gin, which launched in December 2022.
How would you say you have evolved since the early days?
From a people perspective, the fact that we now stand as a team of 11 is a tangible reminder of how far we’ve come in the last 18 months.
On the distillery side of things, we’ve built on the success of our Dutch Barn Orchard Vodka and Small Batch Spirits, and expanded our product offering to include a seasonal Sloe Gin, distillery tours and a luxury whisky cask investment programme in collaboration with iconic brewery, and fellow Yorkshire brand, T&R Theakston.
Our newly planted apple orchard is another sign of how we’ve really grown into our own, and carved out our own path over the past year, and with so much in the pipeline, the next six months promise to be just as exciting.
Do you still have plenty of ambitions for the distillery?
Back when we started, we said that we wanted to be in the top 20 global vodka brands within seven years, by making the highest quality spirit in the most sustainable way possible. Though we’ve certainly made massive inroads into achieving that goal, demonstrated by our multiple award wins, it still remains our main aim, and it’s truly something that we believe we can make happen.
Your tours are very popular. What do you hope visitors will take from the tour?
More than anything, we hope our tour will give our guests the chance to indulge in a premium spirit like no other, made by a team that is not just proud of, but passionate about, its creations. Here at the distillery, we want to cater for those who are looking to try out a more sustainable drinking experience, and we truly believe the new tour provides that. As the fifth largest distillery in the UK, we also really think it offers visitors an industry-best insight into how important the quality of the distillation process is, knowledge which they can take away and use to inform any future purchasing decisions.
Do you have anything else planned for the summer?
Farm life never slows down, so there’s plenty to look forward to this summer – from our Small Batch Spirits re-brand to the launch of a brand-new flavour, and some very special plans for our whisky partnership.