IN this week’s SME Focus we hear from an entrepreneurial IT expert who overcame significant challenges to develop a pioneering spirits business in rural Perthshire.


Tony Reeman-Clark.



What is your business called?

Strathearn Distillery Ltd.

Where is it based?

Just outside of Methven in Perthshire; half way between Perth and Crieff.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Strathearn Distillery is unique in the range of spirits it produces and also the hands-on experience it also offers.

The Strathearn concept was to make traditional whisky and while we waited for the whisky to become Scotch (three years in oak) the plan was to make gin. The team likes to explore new ideas, generally based on traditional methods and the history behind them. Whisky, put simply, is distilled beer and only in the First World War did they introduce the rule about being matured in oak for three years. Prior to 1914, it was matured in any barrel that could be found and often drunk straight from the still.

Our Strathearn Scotch will be the first Scotch from the new generation of small Scottish distilleries when it is released in December.

The range also includes Uisge Beatha, our new-made spirit stored in non-oak casks for a short period of time; giving a tremendous range of flavours and Black spirit, in which the malt is peated and the clear spirit is sweet, with nuttiness from the old style bere barley and a slight smokiness.

Meanwhile, Strathearn has produced a range of award winning gins. Our Heather Rose turns pink when tonic is added. The Oaked Highland at distillery strength of 60.5 per cent ABV is probably the strongest gin in Scotland, if not the UK and also one of the smoothest.

We also made the first Scottish Cider Brandy with Scottish based, Thistly Cross Cider.

The experience at Strathearn is very important to us. People can spend time at the distillery making their own whisky; not standing and looking, but controlling the stills, making the cut points and filling the casks from grist to cask. They can even dig out the mashtun!

To whom does it sell?

Strathearn products are sold mainly in independent retailers but are found all over the UK and now have a growing footprint in the rest of the world.

What is its turnover?

Strathearn will have a turnover of more than half a million this year.

How many employees?

Five including Zak, who won the Young Distiller of the Year and Liam, an amazing brewer and distiller. The average age of the production team is 22.

When was it formed?

We got our licenses to distil in August 2013, so we’re just coming up to our three-year birthday as our whisky reaches maturity.

Why did you take the plunge?

Because I like a challenge and because whisky gives me a hangover! Then one night, one of my team bought me a whisky and accepted that I would have a hangover, but I didn’t. Being a bit of an analyst and putting my engineering background to good use, I had to find out why and so after several nights in bars, I discovered ‘good’ single malt was the solution.

It was like waking up in one of the best wine regions in France and discovering you could drink the local products. I fell in love with the flavours, the history, the romance and the myths. After a couple of years of study and getting to know Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, I felt as though opening a distillery would bring together both sides of my life in perfect harmony. It allows my love for engineering, flavours, people and planning to come together.

One day, at the 2010 Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh, someone said: “why not build a distillery?” That very night, I sat down and drafted a project brief and overview and here I am!

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne and lived there until I was about 23 then discovered there was a world out there! Previous to setting up the distillery, I worked in IT and was managing a professional services group for Sun Microsystems and latterly, Oracle in Northern Europe.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

As a small-scale distillery, nobody thought I was serious. So it was the usual case of family and friends.

What was your biggest break?

It’s got to be finding the location. There had been two expensive false starts and by accident I found our current location when I was on a training experience at Bachilton Farm. I asked if there was a spare building and heard the immortal pantomime words ‘behind you’ and Strathearn was born.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Seeing products I have created on the shelves and young people coming back into distilling. Zak and Liam’s passion and knowledge is amazing.

What do you least enjoy?

Routine. I’m always looking to create new products and make the distillery more efficient.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Paperwork. HMRC have been very helpful and I am managing to now help them through various committees I’ve been invited to. But a lot needs to change in order to make it easier for everyone and HMRC just do not have the resource to do it.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To become the home of hand-crafted spirits in Scotland. We don’t want to lose our ethos of small and hand-crafted, so we are looking all the time to make joint ventures with others. Maybe a second distillery?

What are your five top priorities?

Focus. We teach people how to make whisky and gin and we make a long list of products but behind all of this there is a need to keep a sharp eye on what is happening.

Develop and encourage staff. We are putting in a share scheme to make sure our team is invested in the company.

Exports. Now we have a solid UK base, we are looking to the export market for growth

To stay ahead of the others.

And obviously make money so that the business is successful.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

A reduction in tax similar to the cuts enjoyed by brewers! It would double employment in the industry overnight.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

It is possible to do something completely different if you really set your mind to it – and you have the support of your immediate family. I have a very understanding wife!

How do you relax?

No idea!