Name: Thomas Chisholm.

Age: 41.

What is your business called?

Buck & Birch Ltd.

Where is it based?

Macmerry, East Lothian.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We specialise in crafting a range of wilderness inspired, award-winning liqueurs, spirits, cocktails and events, all inspired by the wilds of Scotland For example, our Aelder elderberry liqueur won the Best Artisan Drinks category at the Scottish Rural Awards in 2018.

To whom does it sell?

Our drinks can be found in high end hotels, bars and restaurants, exclusive retailers, independent wine and spirits outlets, iconic Scottish tourist attractions and we have recently started exporting. We also sell direct to consumers through our website.

What is its turnover?

Last year we turned over £300,000 (representing growth of 300 per cent).

The last few months have had a huge impact on the whole world and as a business we have had to adapt to survive. Staff were furloughed and we had to find other revenue streams as the hospitality trade, tourism and retail that we traditionally relied on disappeared over night. But thankfully we were able to innovate new product ranges and focus on building our relationship with customers through our online platforms. Our bottle cocktail range, in particular, has proved a real success and our online sales are up 630% on last year.

The lock down has also given us an opportunity to reflect on our business and develop a new plan for the future. Markets are slowly returning which is really heartening to see and we look forward to bringing our team back over the coming weeks.

How many employees?


When was it formed?

In 2015 but we didn’t really start trading until the end of 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?

Co- founder Rupert Waites and I originally met working at Brown’s Brasserie in Edinburgh where he was head chef and I worked as a waiter and bartender. I always admired the specials he and the team created along with the strong team ethos and calm atmosphere they maintained in the kitchen, even during the busiest services.

But it wasn’t until we had both left Browns that our shared connection to wild ingredients came to light. No longer in a busy Edinburgh restaurant kitchen but still keen to create Rupert was posting photos and recipes of his wild creations at home and these sparked memories for me of my upbringing immersed in the forests surrounding the outskirts of Oslo, Norway.

After a few conversations through social media we met in a local pub to discuss the potential of hosting a dinner and decided to trial our idea with some friends at a venue I had available in Portobello. Deciding to wait until spring to coincide with the rising of the Birch sap we eventually gathered 10 guests at our venue overlooking the Firth of Forth and served 5 courses of wild, ultra local and seasonal foraged food and drinks.

At the time we had little expectation or vision of where this first dinner would lead but the reaction of the guests was so positive and enthusiastic that we knew there was potential to take it further.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I had worked in the hospitality trade for a long time but more recently was managing the family nursery and after school club business.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

As well as us both committing personal loans to the business we were lucky enough to secure a small but vital investment round from friends to get the business off the ground. We were also granted a business development loan from East Lothian Investments to get us started.

What was your biggest break?

We entered the drinks world with minimal prior knowledge of it and therefore had to learn everything as we went along. Having the support of industry veterans like Arthur Motley at Royal Mile Whiskies and our product on their shelves gave us the confidence and credibility to go and find other stockists.

What was your worst moment?

We have undoubtedly had issues, mishaps, mistakes and bad moments over the years but none that seemed really awful or that we couldn’t deal with. I have learned to emotionally wrap myself in bubble wrap when things go wrong and focus instead on how to overcome the challenges.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The flexibility and uncertainty and having opportunities to come up with new products and ideas.

What do you least enjoy?

Project planning and accounting do not come too naturally to me.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We are very ambitious. We want to introduce our products to more people and places around the world and can see our drinks have a real place within the emerging, contemporary drinks culture. Consumers are increasingly choosing the importance of quality, provenance and sustainability in favour of ABV (alcohol by volume), something we as a brand mirror. Our philosophy has always been that our drinks should be “flavour first and seasoned with spirit”.

Our ultimate aim is to have our own forest farm, production, innovation and education centre where we can introduce others to the benefits, importance and joy of connecting with the landscape around you.

What are your five top priorities?

Family, health, happiness, staying creative and connecting to people and place.

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

We’ve had various levels of support from our local council and Business Gateway which has definitely helped us along the way. Beyond this I haven’t spent too much time thinking about what more the government can do for our business, I have always been brought up to believe it is better to focus on what you can do yourself than rely too heavily on the government.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Things will always take longer than you think or want.

How do you relax?

By baking bread.