Name: Drew McKenzie Smith.


What is your business called?

Lindores Abbey Distillery.

Where is it based?

Newburgh, Fife.

The distillery is built around our old farm steading, which in turn was built using stone from the monastery land on which it stood.

Lindores Abbey was visited by several kings and by William Wallace in 1298 after his victory at the nearby Battle of Blackearnside. The monastery fell into ruin after it was ransacked by followers of John Knox in 1559.

My great grandfather bought the abbey in 1913.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Whisky and Aqua Vitae, which is a herbed spirit drink infused with selected botanicals, some of which grow in the Abbey.

Our story began way back when a monk of Lindores called Friar John Cor was mentioned in the Exchequer roll of King James IV in 1494. This reads (in latin) ‘To Friar John Cor, VIII bolls of malt wherewith to make Aqua Vitae (or what we now call whisky) for the King’.

The Lindores single malt comes of age this December.

We also have a visitor centre where we welcome people from around the world as well as hosting events such as dinners and weddings.

We closed this for the time being on March 17 to minimize the transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus and to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors.

Last week we made the decision to shut down the distillery end of the building for the safety of our staff. For a whisky distillery production is crucial but whisky is also a long haul game, we’ll get over this blip and be back to full production in due course.

Earlier this month we produced 25 litres of hand sanitizer for use by the local community using a World Health Organisation recipe.

To whom does it sell?

We supply to resturants, bars, off licences and private individuals. We are stocked in a huge variety of places, from Fortnum & Mason to ‘cool’ bars across the UK.

The Aqua Vitae is bought by tourists who really buy in to the whole back story of Lindores.

We are doing a fair bit of business online at the moment so it’s not all gloom and doom.

What is its turnover?

£1.8 million.

How many employees?

42, including a mix of full and part time staff.

We have a number of employees on furlough as a result of the disruption caused by Covid-19. All the staff have been really amazing. We all want to get through this and carry on as before.

When was it formed?

Originally 1494 but resurrected in 2015!

Why did you take the plunge?

About 20 years ago the late Michael Jackson, the then leading whisky and beer writer in the UK, turned up at the house asking if he could go into the abbey ruins. We told him he was welcome and thought nothing of it until several months later a beautiful book appeared in the post called ‘Scotland and its whiskies’, with a message saying turn to page 70. This included a picture of the Abbey with the strap line, ‘For the whisky lover it is a pilgrimage’. That one sentence was what really started this business off.

But whilst there was interest there was no money for a project like this at the time and I parked the project and got on with the day job.

Five years ago an old friend who had been very supportive (Ken Robertson, ex of Diageo) gave me the confidence to re-visit the idea.

So with renewed enthusiasm I resurrected the project, co-financed the feasibility study and went and found some investors who shared my vision and passion for Lindores.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Cheffing in exclusive properties run by my wife Helen.

When Helen and I moved from our jobs in London to the Lake District for a change of pace we both needed to change career direction. I became a chef, although I had never cooked before, and Helen went into sales.

I ended up as the head chef at the Samling at Dovesnest cooking for the likes of Tom Cruise and David Beckham with Helen running the front of house and we stayed in the high end hospitality trade until we took the (massive) leap into the whisky business. It’s been a hair raising ride ever since.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

£5,000 from Business Gateway Fife to co-fund the feasibility study then three private investors.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Having a great team around me and the 20-second commute. It’s not everyone that gets to live their dream and own a whisky distillery.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To export Lindores Abbey single malt whisky worldwide and help to preserve the remains of Lindores Abbey for another 500 years through our preservation society.

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

Cut spirit duty.

On the whole the response to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on businesses has been good.

We are very grateful to the UK Government for the support provided towards paying the wages of people we have had to ask to take furloughs.

However, we are waiting to see if we will benefit from business rates reliefs that are meant to help firms respond to the impact of Covid-19. There is an urgent conversation with the Scottish Government regarding this as we are a distillery AND hospitality, retail business yet currently do not qualify for the rates ‘holiday’. We and all our fellow distillers with visitor experiences are hoping that common sense will prevail.

Fife Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise have been very helpful.