Featured Producer - White Peak Distillery

Claire & Max at White Peak Distillery

This month we're talking to our friends Claire & Max at the White Peak Distillery.

Their gin has been exceptionally popular in our shop and, as the first ever whisky producer in the Peak District, they have a great story to tell too.

Our Burns Night Pop-Up Supper Club was a collaboration between White Peak Distillery and Peak District Deli and it was great fun to do.

Claire & Max have been really supportive of us since the beginning of Peak District Deli and we're proud to have their gin in our shop.

  • How many of people are involved and how many employees do you have?

Until February 2018 there were just 3 of us, but as of the start of 2019 we have 5 full-time staff and 3 part-time. Having founded the business in 2016, our first appointment once I raised some funding was our head distiller, Shaun Smith, who was previously in a similar role at The Cotswolds Distillery. This was November 2016 and several months before any distilling would be done but I wanted someone with distilling experience alongside me during the design and engineering phase. We also then had some quality time to research and develop our spirits (including gin) whilst the distillery was being installed. My wife Claire has been involved from the outset, initially focused on the design and installation of our visitor areas and then quickly becoming involved with me in all aspects of branding, PR and marketing. As we moved closer to the commissioning of the distillery we knew we needed some support to ensure the smooth operation of the business. Liz a friend of ours with a wealth of experience in project management was able to give us her support with setting up all the systems and records required to keep HMRC happy! Dave Symes joined us as our second distiller in Feb 2018 to be on board for the commissioning of the distillery, so we had both Shaun and Dave from the day the whisky stills were first fired up. In the last 6 months, as the business has grown and we’ve started offering tours, we’ve added to the team with James as a distillery apprentice, Nick to help part-time with local deliveries and marketing and most recently Alice who works part-time in the Distillery shop and helps host our visitor tours. 


  •  What was the inspiration to set up White Peak Distillery?

In 2011, on one of my regular visits to the Scottish Malt Whisky Society tasting rooms in London, I had a chance conversation with a person setting up an urban whisky distillery in London. This sowed a seed that never left me, and I wondered why there weren’t more whisky distilleries in England? I couldn’t come up with an answer, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt that Derbyshire and The Peak District would be a great place to make and age whisky. Coming across a potential space at the former Wire Works in Ambergate in 2016 was a major turning point; beautiful Victorian-era buildings with a unique industrial heritage, in a UNESCO World Heritage site, on the banks of the river Derwent and right next to Shining Cliff Woods (a designated area of special scientific interest).  The site felt perfect and I knew this was it!  


  • What did you do before White Peak Distillery?

I drank whisky, and that was the only relevant experience I had in the drinks and spirits sector! However, 20+ years’ experience in financial roles, and in helping other companies raise money, was something I brought to the table.  Plenty of people have great ideas for starting a business but perhaps not always the know-how when it comes to raising finance.


  •  What drives you to keep the exceptional standards you have?

We’re passionate about who we are, what we’re doing, why and where we’re doing it. We know that the passion we have for these things is important throughout all aspects of our business, and that during this formative period its critical to keep a focus on our core values to build a long-term business. There are certainly short-term distractions and opportunities to make money in ways we hadn’t foreseen, but chasing every opportunity won’t always contribute to the long-term goal.


  • Tell us a bit about the ethos behind White Peak Distillery.

Our ethos is very much aligned with the former inhabitants of our building, Johnson & Nephew Wire Works Company, who were a major employer for 120 years starting in the late 1800s. We’ve adopted their company logo which features on the neck label of our bottles, VIRTUS PATIENTA VERITUS, the virtue of patience and truth. This encapsulates our vision is to create a premier English craft whisky brand through an uncompromising approach to product quality, a celebration of the craft of the distiller and a focus on the customer experience throughout all aspects of the business. 


  •  What do you love most about your job?

Doing something in a part of the world we feel very fortunate to live in and for which we have enormous pride and passion. Derbyshire and the Peak District has so much to shout about. It’s been great to connect with other local businesses, like Peak District Deli, who are doing some great, creative things and who are inspired by our beautiful location. More recently, we’ve loved welcoming visitors down to the distillery and seeing in their eyes and through their comments that, before we’ve even sold a drop of whisky, we’ve created something special in a unique setting.  


  • What are the challenges?
Making a product that takes a minimum of 3 years to mature and be ready to sell. Need I say more!!! Starting a whisky distillery requires a lot of upfront capital investment, and then a number of financially difficult years waiting for the spirit to age. So the business plan is challenging! But then if it were easy, more people would be doing it.
  • What is it you love about the Peak District?

The people and landscape. I’m always struck by how humble and unassuming people are about their talents and achievements. We’ve done a lot of work with local businesses and individual contractors during the construction of the Distillery and throughout many challenges we’ve been lucky enough to work with people to see things through. And of course the beautiful villages, walks, scenery, pubs and outdoor events. We don’t have to drive far from the Distillery to feel that we’re on holiday, which is important when you don’t have enough spare time to take a holiday! That said, driving out into the Peak District to deliver to stockists doesn’t feel like work. 


  •  What's your favourite meal and best drink to go with it?

I like eating simple, good tasting food and I like picking at things as its less easy to see how much you’ve eaten!  A loaf of bread from one of our local bakers or delicatessens, local salted butter, cheese and meats and then it’s likely to be either a glass or two of burgundy or some of our great local beer.  Of course, gin & tonic as an aperitif and a whisky as night cap.   


  • What do you do in your free time?

There’s not a lot of it with a family business and 3 busy teenage children and a dog. When I can I like to jump on my bike and head out into the hills. When family commitments allow, we all like to get out with the dog and head to the Peak District to walk.  Claire and I were brought up in this area, but having lived in London whilst the children were young, we moved back as we really wanted them to get to experience what we had felt was a wonderful area to grow up.  On most of our walks, there’s usually a bit of excitement which revolves around getting chased by cows and sometimes feisty sheep. I’m usually sacrificed to divert attention away with the dog whilst everyone else makes a quick escape. We then head to a pub with a real fire.