Words by Maddie Zygmunt
A DRAMATIC career change has seen Hyde man Lee Chisnall leave a secure job in IT to produce Tameside Gin in the borough’s first distillery.
The 45-year-old from Hyde founded the Tameside Distillery which is located at a unit on Tameside Business Park Denton.There was a recent landmark for Lee, who used to live in Denton, when the first gin produced went on sale.
Lee is confident there will be demand for his gin, explaining: “There’s a quarter of a million people in Tameside. It’s like the Americans have a saying ‘own your backyard’.
“That’s basically where the interest is right in the radius. As you go wider the interest drops off. Someone in Somerset isn’t going to be buying my gin.
“Nearby you can get a lot of interest. You can also delivery for free to your local customers.
“That’s why the Americans call it ‘owning your back yard’, that’s where your customers.”
The self-employed father of two views it as a long-term business, explaining: “I want it sustainable for the next 25 years.
“I have two kids who will be going to university in 10 years. God knows that’s probably going to cost £15,000 each, there’s only 14 months between them.
“Then they’ll want money towards a car and a house. This has got to pay for all that.”Two years ago, Lee started researching how to make high quality alcohol for those who seek authentic flavour like himself.
As for choosing to produce gin, Lee explained that the process is more cost efficient with a higher demand.
Whisky must be aged for three years before sold, a costly process as Lee explained, you would need around £2 million to start producing whisky.
As for rum, Lee discovered that the demand for gin is greater, making it a better initial investment, though he may produce rum in the future.
Through online research and visiting other distilleries such as ‘The Three Rivers’ in Manchester, Lee accumulated a vast knowledge of gin production and its marketing.
To operate a distillery, Lee said: “You’ve got to be really honest with yourself. Can you sell it and make a profit on it?”
When discussing the difficulties in producing gin, Lee elaborated: “It’s all trial and error. There isn’t a science that tells you how many of each (ingredient) you need.
“There’s no formulas, there isn’t anything. It is just trial and error. I spent about a year and a half developing a recipe.
“Knowing what I know now, I could probably develop another recipe in two or three months.”
Lee added it is important to make a good London dry gin to open your business with as it will be the base of any gin you make.“It’s in some ways the hardest gin to get right. It’s hard to please people who drink those,” he said.
Lee explained how it provides the base for all flavours created by adding ingredients like raspberries to the traditional gin.
He chose to produce his own gin rather than create a brand where the product is made by someone else.
Priding himself on the quality of his gin, Lee acquires his ingredients from various spice traders online, including the importing of almonds from Bulgaria in 1kg bags, and grinding them himself.
Although happy with his recipe, mass producing the gin saw many struggles.
“You’ve got to sell 1,000 bottles just to break even. That’s with no staff,” he said.
Of demand, Lee said: “People don’t drink as much as they used to, so they can justify spending more money. On average they reckon people in Britain are drinking eight litres of pure ethanol a year.
“When back in the gin craze of the 18th century, they were drinking 80 litres a year. They were drinking 10 times what we will drink.”
With the gin made, Lee went to see potential retail outlets and gave them a free bottle to sample. He now has nine stockists for Tameside Gin.
To further promote his brand while helping a local charity, Lee has also created ‘The Willow Wood Gin’.
“The hospice needs to raise about £3m a year through donations, the lottery and selling things in its shop,” he explained.
Lee subsidises every bottle of gin he sells to them so they can make a good profit margin.
Willow Wood Gin is similar to Tameside Gin including the same amount of juniper and orange but differs slightly with the herbs and spices, making it a unique recipe and blend.
In a week, Lee added he could produce 1,000 bottles of gin, distilling three times. Although, without staff, time is taken rinsing bottles, labelling and packing them.
In the new year, Lee hopes to start recruiting staff to help with the operation while also producing additional flavours of gin, such as raspberry, strawberry and blackberry.