STARTING a business is a lot like creating a whisky, with just a few basic ingredients and a lot of hard work you can create something great and truly unique.
Gregor Hannah had only a small connection with whisky when he stumbled across the idea for his independent bottling company, the Lady of the Glen.
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It is a perfect example of the serendipity that is rife within an industry that sells much of its product based on its romanticism and provenance.
Gregor smiles when asked where he got the idea for the company from.
“It was an accident really, in 2009 my Dad lived in Kilmarnock and what happened with Diageo closing its bottling plant there had a really bad impact on the community, I had friends who lived and worked there and they were really struggling for employment. Frustrated, I looked more into what Diageo does in terms of their operations. When I did I found that they owned certain distilleries that would only be used for blends, whiskies that were rarely bottled as single malts. It struck me that these could be great malts in their own right and there might be more decent whiskies out there that deserved to be noticed.”
The idea stuck and began to grow
The idea stuck with him and over time it began to grow, Gregor started to look at ways to make the business work, drawing not only from his experience with his Business studies at university and the voluntary work he had participated in with Young Enterprise, but also with the myriad jobs he himself had worked, especially within the banking industry.
From here he began to plan his next move. Though the economic climate at the time was still recovering from the recession, Gregor felt that he was ready to give it a go.
“I put in lots of meticulous planning, it took me a long time to get the courage up to actually fund it initially, because although I had the idea in 2009 I only actually acted on it in 2012.
The reason for his motivation he said, was that he found himself deeply dissatisfied with the job he had at the time and the idea kept coming back to him. “I was really unhappy at my job in the bank. I just found it really unfulfilling and I always had this idea germinating at the back of my mind, I knew there was a gap for a well branded independent bottler. I just decided to go for it at that point.
The business plan itself was quite basic
“The business plan itself was quite basic. It was something you’d get on the back of a beer mat originally. I only had to create a proper one once I was getting Princes Trust funding which was years later. Originally, though the plan was pretty basic, I knew that once I’d sourced the right casks I would be ready.”
When asked where he sourced the casks from, Gregor laughs, “I’m afraid that’s a trade secret.”
Building the company from scratch
Sourcing the first cask was only beginning, from there Gregor had to find someone to bottle the whisky for him, ironically it was the closing down of the bottling plant in Kilmarnock that had started him on this journey and now he found he had come full circle. To add to this he spent a lot of time trying to find the right designer for his bespoke gift bag, a huge selling point for him and something Gregor felt was going to be a cornerstone of his brand. Eventually the pieces started to come together, first with the bottling plant, then with the design of the label and the gift bag. Finally, once he’d got everything in place and he felt he was ready, it came down to trying to sell his first batch of bottles.
“Once all the designs were done, I had a website and put it up on there, something like a week went by and a gentleman from Germany phoned me up and he said: ‘I like your product can I get some free samples’. So is sent those to him and then he just bought like half my stock right off the bat.”
This early success really helped convinced him that he was on the right track.
“I got really confident after that so I phoned up Master of Malt and Hard to Find Whisky and they took the rest. Originally I had just the two casks, Ben Rinnes and Invergordon, which took about a year for me to source and to produce the bottles but within the space of three months it was completely all sold. I couldn’t believe it.“
Cask strength whisky
Gregor has managed to make sure the Lady of the Glen brand is instantly distinctive with the bespoke gift bags and the designs of the bottles but perhaps it is the decision to bottle each one at cask strength that is the most interesting. It was a decision Gregor felt was essential.
“I was more interested in making each of my bottlings really unique, than making a quick buck. I felt that if I started compromising for the sake of money, I’d lose a lot of unique selling points for the whisky and although the whisky maybe quite expensive, it’s far better than buying a diluted product, which might not be as good.”
The interesting thing is that the whisky itself tends not to be that expensive, despite Gregor’s protestations, and at around £60 for both of the newest bottlings they really are a bargain. Especially considering each come straight from the cask and both are aged for 16 and 20 years respectively. That’s before you factor in the hand-made gift bag and the option of two whisky glasses for an extra £5.
Lady of the Glen
One of the most important decisions was what he would name the company in the end he was inspired by something close to home, which helped him to make his choice. He decided upon Lady of the Glen, a name both noticeable and unique without betraying its Scottish roots.
“I got the name from a Scottish folklore story, ‘the Green Lady of Stirling Castle’. My wife and I would often go on walks round the castle at night to see if we could spot the ghost while we were students together at the university.”
So far, Gregor has bottled seven casks, the first four of which went on to sell out within the first few months. The last three are all relatively new bottlings. The most recent two, the 16 year old refill sherry Ben Nevis and the 20 year old bourbon cask ‘Secret’ (secret due to legal reasons) Speyside have only gone up on the site in the past few weeks. Both are cracking wee malts and would make perfect festive gifts, especially the Speyside, though you’ll have to be quick as they are only small batches of each (the Speyside is extremely limited with only 262 bottles).
With each successive cask bottled and sold, the brand continues to grow and thrive and it seems Gregor is doing something right, as his hard work has been noticed.
He’s just won the YoungEdge award, presented by Sir Tom Hunter, to add to the Prince’s Trust award he won in March and he’s previously been shortlisted for a Bank of Scotland Enterprise award.
However, it’s the whisky that Gregor hopes will stand out, not just the success of the company.
“I really hope that the whisky does well, that’s all that matters. Obviously I want the company to be successful but it’s important to me that I can help people get access to these unique, rare whiskies and more importantly that people get to enjoy them.”
Scottish whisky industry
Ultimately though, he feels it’s working within the whisky industry itself that’s really helped him in the long run. “Yeah, I have it enjoyed it and mostly everyone you meet is nice. People really care about it and it’s a passionate industry. You do get swept up in it and you do feel really proud when you can say that you are part of it.”
• Lady of the Glen is an independent bottler that aims to take rare and unique casks of malt and grain whisky and bottle them to provide a rare and unique gift. 16 year old Ben Nevis and 20 year old Secret Speyside now available to buy from the website: www.ladyoftheglen.com
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