Name: Helen Chalmers.

Age: 39.

What is your business called?

Highland Liquor Company.

Where is it based?

Ullapool in the North West Highlands. We’re currently the most north-westerly distillery in mainland UK.

What does it produce?


Our lead expression is Seven Crofts, a super premium small batch dry gin, hand distilled in Ullapool. Seven Crofts is the result of 18 months of testing and is recipe number 96. The previous 95 recipes generated The Experimental Series (Nos. 1 to 3) which were launched in October and November 2018.

Our next expression will be Seven Crofts Fisherman’s Strength Gin. At 57% ABV, it packs a punch.

We also opened a retail shop in Ullapool in December 2019.

The safety and wellbeing of our staff is paramount first and foremost and so now all staff have been furloughed on 100 per cent of their salaries.

Before the coronavirus lockdown we checked with medical practice and were able to repurpose the byproduct of gin production into hand sanitiser. We’ve been able to distribute this locally to NHS staff, chemists and postal staff. We still have some in stock but the need for hand sanitiser isn’t going to go away anytime soon so it might be something we can continue to make when we’re back in production. Plus of course it reduces our waste too, which can only be a good thing.

To whom does it sell?

We distribute Seven Crofts nationally and internationally. Latest stockists include Harvey Nichols, The Savoy, and Michael Caine’s Michelin star restaurant, Lympstone Manor.

Several famous international bars now serving Seven Crofts gin cocktails, including Atlas bar in Singapore, Ruby in Copenhagen, FAM bar in London and Nauticus in Edinburgh.

What is its turnover?

In our first year turnover was £20,000, this reflects five months of sales and does not include Seven Crofts which was launched in the first quarter of year two.

Our on trade sales have disappeared amid the coronavirus lockdown but the online shop has remained open and we can distribute across the country. Some of the bigger distributors we work with are also working, so we can continue to get our product out. It’s not business as usual but we have been able to sell in this way.

While our product is recognised nationally and internationally, we’re very aware that our first sales were local ones and it’s really important that we’re a part of the local community here. We’re based in a small town in the northwest Highlands so community has always been important to us but recent developments have put an even greater emphasis on this.

How many employees?

Two full time employees, three part time employees for the shop plus my partner Robert Hicks and myself.

When was it formed?

February 2018.

Why did you take the plunge?

We decided to set up Highland Liquor Company because there was no one distilling where we live in Ullapool and we felt that it was a huge gap in the market, it also helped that we are rather partial to a G&T. We initially discussed the idea back in 2012 but did not move forward with it until late 2017. After eighteen months of experimenting, Seven Crofts was born.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I’m originally from a farming background and studied agriculture at Aberdeen University. Growing up I worked for Perth Show during my summer holidays and got a taste for working in events. I returned to working in events after university and went on to run The Wickerman Festival for seven years before becoming self employed and taking on a variety of roles.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Developing the recipe was great fun, tasting 96 recipes was a challenge but we managed to struggle through. Having an input into the brand and bottle concept (working alongside design company D8) was really exciting and watching the first batch of bottles arrive from Italy was a very proud moment.

The camaraderie amongst other distillers is fantastic and people are so willing to share their knowledge and experiences. It is a very friendly and generous community.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

For Seven Crofts to be come a must-have gin that every bartender is proud to have on their back bar.

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

If they would like to reduce the rate of duty (and indeed VAT) then that would be marvellous.

It’s hard to say how effective the official response and the support provided for SMEs in response to the coronavirus will be as we’ve yet to see any of it filter through to us. We’ve furloughed staff at 100% salary because we really are committed to our team but delays in getting the furlough scheme up and running are likely to prove difficult. Cashflow is a major issue for many. It’s such a strange time and we’re really grateful for any assistance but it really is going to be tricky to balance the books over the next few months – everyone’s in a bad position though there are others in a worse situation.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

For us distribution is key. It’s all very well having a product that people love but if they cannot source it then it makes things a tad tricky. We are lucky in that respect as we found out early in the process.

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