Instead of having to pour away unsold beer, a Suffolk brewery will be distilling it into gin and whiskey as it diversifies in response to Covid-19.
Natural water drawn from a nearby ancient meadow will be used by Nethergate Brewery to help produce its new lines of spirits and its own brand of mineral water after it was awarded funding from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership’s Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme.
The £3.5m fund was set up by the LEP following the Covid outbreak to provide grants to support short-term business resilience schemes and longer-term recovery and diversification projects.
Nethergate’s managing director John Holberry says: “If you assume alcohol is going to continue to be drunk, we need to be more of a take-home oriented business. We will need pubs, but we have an online shop and an actual shop.
“By creating gin and whiskey, and rum we hope, we will be less dependent on pub sales and much more able to provide a range of products for locals. As we have vans and most of our customers live in a ten-mile radius, I wonder if we might be doing milk-rounds!”
“The grant has been enormously helpful for us. We would not have been able to do what we have done without that support.”
Four years ago, the brewery in Long Melford, near Sudbury, was awarded £20,000 from the LEP’s Growing Business Fund, enabling it to move into larger premises. When the Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme was launched in response to the pandemic, it applied for a grant of just under £50,000 to help pay for the purchase and commission of a still and other distillery equipment, and the design and branding of its gin products.
Although Covid has had an adverse impact on the business, it has brought forward plans to diversify its products and grow the capacity of its visitor centre to increase direct sales as part of the tour experience. For the distilling of its gin and other spirits, Nethergate intends to use the grain from its unsold beer and water from a nearby meadow.
John explains: “Most people nowadays buy ethanol and then distil that and put the botanicals in to create the gin. But we thought there are lots of people drinking gin, so we will distil from grain. We’re also putting a bore hole in an ancient water meadow and will use our own water and grain to make our own gin. So, we’re going right back to our origins.”
Gin sales in the UK surpassed the £2bn mark for the first time last year and John admits the market is a crowded one. But he says Nethergate’s 1,000-strong paying membership, as well as its tap house and shop, will give it a ready-made customer base for its new product lines.
Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia LEP, said Nethergate’s diversification into gin and whiskey was a prime example of the kind of project the scheme was designed to support and urged businesses to find out if they were eligible.
“I would encourage any business which is reviewing its processes, considering investing in new equipment or which needs support in the light of the pandemic to speak to one of our business advisers at the New Anglia Growth Hub,” he said.
To find out more about the Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme, go to https://newanglia.co.uk/grant/business-resilience-and-recovery-scheme/