Production at St Andrews brewery and distillery Eden Mill is about to go 24/7.
It’s a major milestone for a company which only made its first beer two and a half years ago.
In that time, Eden Mill’s inaugural beer, 19th Brew Golden Ale, has been joined by a further five craft beers, the same number of small batch gins and a currently-maturing single malt whisky; it has gone from three employees to a team of 23; and is on track to post turnover of £3 million for its current financial year, up from £1m in the previous 12 months.
Showing SLTN around Eden Mill last week, Paul Miller is clearly delighted with the progress of the company, for which the seed was planted back in 2006.
As the then head of Molson Coors’ Scottish business, Paul was hosting his boss Pete Coors during a trip to St Andrews. Sitting in the bar of The Old Course Hotel in the early hours of the morning, Pete asked Paul if he knew of a local chiropractor and if he could arrange a visit to the nearest brewery or distillery the following day.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ve no idea where to find a chiropractor’ and I couldn’t think of any breweries or distilleries nearby,” Paul told SLTN.
“And that was it; that planted the seed.”
His idea was to remain just that for a few more years, however. Paul spent a further four years working for Molson Coors, whose Carling lager brand he had launched in Scotland, before going on to take a role as liaison between the drinks industry and the Scottish Government in 2010.
But his ambition to open a craft brewery in St Andrews – and return brewing to the Fife town for the first time in more than a century – remained; and when a unit in the former Guardbridge paper mill, owned by the University of St Andrews, became available to lease he jumped at the chance. That the 38-acre site, on the banks of the River Eden, had been home to the Haig family’s Seggie Distillery between 1810 and 1869 made securing it all the sweeter.
With financial backing from four Glasgow-based private investors who work in the telecoms industry, a Heriot Watt University graduate on board as head brewer and a supply of locally-grown Golden Promise barley, Paul set up the then Eden Brewery in the summer of 2012 and produced the first craft beer, the 3.9% ABV 19th Brew Golden Ale, that October.
More beers were introduced and further expansion – in both footprint and product range – followed.
Work to add a distillery at the site got underway in 2014, and three copper pot stills, hand-crafted for Eden in Portugal, were installed.
Eden Mill (as it was renamed to incorporate the spirits business) went on to produce its first gin last October, and distil and cask single malt whisky spirit at the site, for the first time in 145 years, last November.
“I’d like to say the whisky and gin was part of the masterplan but it wasn’t,” said Paul, whose CV includes almost ten years with IDV (International Distillers & Vintners), which went on to be integrated into the spirits division of Diageo, and five years at Glenmorangie.
“There is synergy between brewing and distilling – the front end is very similar so we started looking into distillation capabilities and what we could do. A distillery made sense.”
The move seems to have paid off.
The original Eden Gin has since been joined by Hop Gin, Oak Gin, Love Gin and Golf Gin – launched ahead of next month’s Open Championship in St Andrews – which includes wood shavings from traditional hickory golf clubs in with the botanicals.
More seasonal craft gins will follow; and Paul said gin sales are set to account for a third of Eden Mill’s anticipated £3m turnover this financial year.
Its beer portfolio, which now includes St Andrews Blonde, Shipwreck IPA, The Clock Red Ale, Seggie Porter and Jintrepid IPA, is set to expand further, with Golf Pale Ale launching on Monday (June 15) in cask, keg and bottle; new monochrome branding is currently being rolled out across all beers in bottle and can formats; and beer sales are expected to top £1.4m in the current financial year.
Eden Mill has listings with a number of major wholesalers and on-trade suppliers, including Gordon & MacPhail, Wallaces TCB, Inverarity Morton, Woodwinters and Dunns Food and Drinks.
The inaugural single malt whisky, meanwhile, which was distilled on November 14, 2014, is currently maturing for the required minimum of three years.
Eden Mill will produce 100,000 litres of single malt spirit a year (output was boosted with the arrival of a new 10,000-litre washback tank two weeks ago), 10% of which will go into its Private Cask Club. Members will have the opportunity to create their own cask of single malt whisky with the team at Eden Mill, selecting everything from the barley used to the type and size of oak barrel in which it is matured; they will also be able to taste how their spirit is maturing each year with the head distiller.
Eden Mill is also launching a Founders Club, which aims to have 50 members worldwide who will receive ownership of one of Eden Mill’s first 100 hogshead casks as well as the exclusive right to buy a further three casks in 2017, 2019 and 2021.
It’s not just the drinks side of the Eden Mill business that’s expanding.
The visitor area, which already boasts a gin room, whisky room and shop, is in line for a further £100,000 investment; and the firm is aiming to attract 400 visitors a week this summer. Eden Mill is also set to host a gin festival in St Andrews (see story left).
“It’s a really exciting time for us,” said Paul. “We’ve got a great young team; that’s the biggest buzz for me – creating real jobs.”
Making the move from working for global drinks companies to launch his own craft operation has been “liberating in some respects”, said Paul.
“I have made a lot of mistakes along the way, though, and I now know why big companies have those checking mechanisms in place.
“But it is such a buzz for me to point to something on a shelf and say ‘we made that’.”