Name: Alex Harrison.

Age: 30.

What is your business called?

Young Spirits Company.

Where is it based?


What services does it offer?

Young Spirits is a bottling and spirits business that has found a niche in the market to service the needs of small batch producers, by offering shorter lead times. Our aim is to typically offer two-week lead times to the craft market enabling firms to get their products to market quickly.

To whom does it sell?

Our client base is predominantly independent drinks companies around Scotland.

What is its turnover?

Our turnover at the end of our first year was £800,000. We are now halfway through year two and on target to achieve £1.5 million.

We were lucky enough during the very start of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak to be able to pivot the business and bottle hand sanitiser being produced by one of the distilleries. This began at the end of April with the sanitiser being sent to the NHS and care homes. It was a three-month project that gave us a lifeline during very challenging times and allowed us to remain operational. However, we made the decision not to extend this into a long term initiative as it would take us away from our core business.

How many employees?


When was it formed?

June 2019.

Why did you take the plunge?

My business partner, John Ferguson, and I identified an opportunity to support smaller craft producers that needed to have stock bottled regularly within short lead times. When we researched the market we found there were 130+/- operational distilleries and only 19 bottling halls, the majority of which are owned by larger distillers and multinational corporations. We felt this demand would continue to be strong especially since to promote a single malt Scotch whisky it has to be bottled in Scotland, so there should always be strong demand in the sector, never mind the growth opportunities in other spirits.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

A few years back I worked for an on-trade events company targeting students, the role expanded to include drinks sponsorship packages with some of the big spirit and beer brands. This gave me a good introduction to the sector and the chance to understand the market.

At one point I was sourcing bottle stock and then transitioned into buying whisky casks and realised that there was a business opportunity here to be explored. So, I set up my own company brokering the purchase and sale of whisky casks to a mixture of individuals and a few independent bottlers.

John left school and started working in the family business, Ferguson Group, before setting up a subsidiary company within the group called IceBlue Refrigeration. IceBlue built up a reputation as specialists in providing refrigeration and freezer solutions for offshore food transportation and storage. John was instrumental in driving the business forward until it was sold in 2014, at which point he returned to Ferguson Group to head up operations in the UK.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Both John and I used our own money to set up the business and get it operational.

What was your biggest break?

This has to be securing my first client in the events company that wanted to buy a cask, as this fuelled my interest in the sector and also learning about the brokering side of the buying and selling, which then enabled me to break out of events and set up my own company.

What was your worst moment?

Young Spirits was only four months old, we had moved into our first warehouse and expanded the team taking on five new staff and then John’s daughter arrived and he was off on paternity leave for four weeks. It was an intense period of multi-tasking as I attempted to train up the team single-handedly whilst still delivering client orders. In amongst this I needed to source some deionised water to reduce some whisky from cask strength. Fortunately, our nearby neighbours, Sweet Dram filled a 50-litre drum for me to collect. With some help from their team we loaded it into the back of my car and then disaster struck, the drum cracked open and the water flooded the car ultimately writing it off. A very expensive day in the office.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

There are several different aspects that I enjoy, but team camaraderie is one of the main ones. We have worked hard to create the right culture in the business and to support each other in everything we do.

When we set up the business, we invested a lot of time shaping our values and we instil these in the team that everything we do is for a greater cause. We want to support other small businesses and ultimately have a sustainable bottling plant, whilst inspiring others on their journey to be sustainable too.

What do you least enjoy?

Unloading 40 pallets of glass with the forklift when colleagues are on holiday.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To grow as big as we can and develop the business around customer requirements, as well as our values to be sustainable, eco and environmentally conscious.

What single thing would most help?

More thinking time to strategically plan the growth path of our business and work on it rather than in it all the time.

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

The Scottish Government could provide more guidance around exports for start-ups.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, but the most important thing is to enjoy the journey along the way.

How do you relax?

I like to escape to the Pentlands for a long walk and listen to a good podcast.