Spirit of Dartmoor
PUBLISHED: 15:23 01 August 2016
Local barley and Dartmoor spring water are to be transformed into Devon's first malt whisky, writes Liz Parks
Conjure up an image of Dartmoor and you’ll probably think of ponies, tors, mists and bogs. Now, two Devon businessmen are hoping that you’ll soon think of whisky too.
The Dartmoor Whisky Distillery is the brainchild of Greg Millar and Simon Crow, who both live on the edge of the moor, just outside Bovey Tracey.
They have been working for the last two years on a project that will soon see production start on a high-end brand of single malt whisky, as well as turning Bovey Tracey’s 150-year-old town hall building into an up-market visitor centre, bar and bistro.
Using barley grown on the moor and malted at Tuckers Maltings, in Newton Abbot, as well as Dartmoor spring water, Greg and Simon plan to create a drink that becomes synonymous with the moor. “I love Devon and I love the moor. It’s the wildness of it. It’s always changing. It’s beautiful whether it’s sunny or rainy,” says Greg.
The pair’s venture in whisky distilling seems, on the face of it, an unlikely departure for both. Greg started out in business as a specialist plasterer and now owns a successful gutter clearance firm, while Simon runs the Edgemoor Hotel, between Bovey Tracey and Haytor.
The idea of making whisky first arose when Greg went on a whisky-making holiday in Scotland six years ago. “I went on a course at Bruichladdich, Islay. I spent a lot of money to get up at 4am every day to make whisky. I fell in love with the idea of it. Ever since then I’ve been thinking of it,” he reveals.
When he returned to Devon and told Simon about the idea, the two decided to give it a go. And after several years of planning and working to convert Bovey Tracey’s Victorian town hall into what will be Devon’s first whisky distillery, the business is now beginning to take shape.
Greg and Simon have bought a 1,400 litre still from Cognac, in France, which will form the centrepiece of tours of the distillery, which is expected to attract around 30,000 visitors a year when it is up-and-running. The whisky will be stored in wooden barrels and will be matured for at least three years.
From a business perspective, this poses a fairly major problem. How do you make money when you have nothing to sell for the first few years? To address this, Greg and Simon will also be making Dartmoor Gin and a range of Dartmoor Liquers because these take much less time to be produced. This means that when the visitor centre opens, later this year, there will be a range of drinks for people to taste and buy. There will also be courses for those who want to learn how to make whisky, and merchandise including glasses and T-shirts will soon be available online from dartmoorwhiskydistillery.co.uk.
When whisky production starts this summer, the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery will be making around 800 bottles a week, meaning that it will be a small scale, high end product.
Greg and Simon have already decided not to try and sell the whisky into supermarkets, choosing instead to focus on South West hotels, restaurants and foodie outlets – as well as through its visitor centre and website. The firm’s Facebook page already has more than 3,200 likes and Greg believes that the growing popularity of the spirit will help to boost sales.
“There are whisky clubs all over the world and it’s a drink that’s very popular with women. Something like 50 per cent of whisky drinkers are women,” he enthuses.
Having bought the town hall building, Greg and Simon have agreed a leaseback arrangement with Bovey Tracey Town Council which will see the council remaining in part of the ground floor for three years while they build a community hub that will eventually house council meetings as well as other town activities.
It is also hoped that having the visitor centre at the top end of Bovey Tracey will increase footfall to local businesses. “I hope it revitalises the shops with the visitors. Everyone should benefit from it,” adds Greg.
It’s a big project to take on but the pair are undaunted by the challenge.
“There haven’t been any sleepless nights - I think we feel in control of everything,” Greg smiles.
With Greg managing the building work and Simon focusing on managing the finances, the two directors – and friends – are proving to be a dream team. In time, the distillery is likely to become a family affair.
“It will be passed on through the generations – it’s a legacy thing. We’re determined to do it,” says Greg.