Fox Gins has found a new den to distill its award-winning East Yorkshire spirits. The fledgling operation has moved from the cottage industry setting in Kirk Ella to the commercially-focused Tokenspire Business Park on the outskirts of Beverley as it meets demand. David Laister reports.
Grand plans for corporate events and convivial evenings are being worked up for the new Northern Fox Distillery.
Positivity about post-pandemic opportunity abounds between partners Oliver Beniston and Aimee Toomey after opening their new Beverley base.
It hosts the artisan essentials as well as the space for tasting and tours – all currently on hold as Covid dominates.
A year like no other has cast a slight shadow over early success with the International Wine and Spirits Competition – where three bronze medals were bestowed on their early concoctions – as opportunities to shout about them have been limited by global events.
Now catering for a Christmas gift market in a lockdown interrupted run-up is going to be a concentrated affair – if allowed even then – ahead of hopes of welcoming people across the threshold.
But the journey to the first commercial premises is a fascinating one.
Microbiologist Oliver studied as a mature student, having gained an interest in the subject as a water engineer working with regional power stations, where purity is also all-important.
Soon after completing his degree he joined Heineken at Tadcaster, growing the yeast for the beers. After three years he headed to Cheshire to work for a beer and soft drink bottler, where the seed was sown.
“I just saw the amount of tonic water going out the door,” he said. “It got me thinking and that’s what got me playing around with gin and flavours.”
Yorkshire-born Aimee first met Oliver when they were teenagers in Barrow-upon-Humber, with her parents in the pub trade. They’d moved from The Windmill Inn, a 460-year-old public house in Linton, near Wetherby, to take on The Six Bells on the South Bank.
She left the banks of the Humber for Dubai, becoming the director of an international recruitment company in the Gulf state, before returning home with her twins.
They had stayed in contact, and with her desire to start a business, and his awareness of gin’s booming popularity, they joined forces in her Kirk Ella garage.
The name came from the prevalence of foxes in the village, often in the garden where the garage stood.
“We always want to stay crafty and artisan, and we started with a 30 litre still,” Aimee said of the venture that began in August 2018, with first products launched the following May.
“When we moved to new premises we got a 60l and a 120l traditional copper pot stills.”
Crafty, as it is known, is joined by Foxdog and Vixen
“We’ve built an office in there as well, and it will double as space for a tasting room. It has a great vintage industrial feel.”
Supplying to independents from Beverley’s Vine & Grain to Sewell On the Go at South Cave, Melton-based merchant House of Townend and many Yorkshire outlets, they are delighted with the success in the national awards coming so early in the journey.
Fox Gins’ Yorkshire Dry was celebrated in the London Dry category, the UK’s only Honeyberry Gin and its East Yorkshire Citrus Gin both in the distilled contemporary segment.
There are high hopes for a new Yorkshire Roasted Coffee addition, using ethically sourced Guatemalan Bojangles beans, with an almond, chocolate and orange flavour profile.
“It has gone a lot crazier than I ever thought it would.” Oliver said. “I knew gin was popular, but I didn’t think what we are doing would grow as quickly as it has done.
“To have this space now in Beverley, a lovely town, and to be able to produce larger volumes but still keep the artisan ways, was certainly what we were aiming for, but to have it now is amazing.
“It is a really nice place to work in, and the stills are running really well.”
It wasn’t just a case of plug and play – or deliver and distill – either.
“That was the most daunting aspect, on a budget we couldn’t spend £25,000 on an all-singing all-dancing set up, but I managed to buy some stills that were originally gas-fired, and retro-fit them with elements.”
He found a former distillery engineer online to help with the project, fitting his creations with an engineering pal. “It was quite a moment cutting holes in the gear we’d just forked out for,” he recalled of his summer project.
Now it is online social engineering that’s doing the hard graft as it looks to secure sales it would have anticipated from pop-up events with the likes of John Lewis in Leeds and Princess Quay in Hull. They are keen to honour the exclusivity it has fostered with an East Yorkshire farmer for the honeyberries too, a superfood that also aids the bee population with early pollination, while making for a great gin botanical.
“We were just gearing up when everything went south – we got the keys in February and we were in lockdown in March,” Oliver said. “We’ve really missed the summer events, meeting people, tasting – the music and food that accompanies them.
“Once Covid has gone and a vaccine is doing what it should be doing I can’t wait to get back out there. That face-to-face is what we really like.”
There are plans in place for retail events in mid-December, but for now the duo are hoping the appeal of free delivery for HU postcodes at their online shop will fill some stockings and get virtual parties in the festive spirit.