Companies across Derbyshire are ‘doing their bit’ when it comes to applying their knowledge and facilities to the fight against Covid-19. Max Vaughan, founder of White Peak Distillery, describes how local collaboration has facilitated a switch in their production from gin to hand sanitiser, with an aptly named new line ‘Team Spirit’. Rebecca Erskine finds out more.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Walt Disney
For businesses across the globe, the implications of coronavirus are having a very tangible impact: on the normal course of ‘doing business’; staff furloughing, self-isolation and sickness; supply shortages; and simply the withdrawal of their ability to sell.
Many are rising to the challenge through innovation. And what better place than in a county that has been known for its innovators over many centuries? Derbyshire can, after all, claim the first factory, first electric street lighting and first antiseptic bandages. Necessity may well always have been the mother of invention but it’s the speed at which our modern-day Covid-19 innovators have stepped up which, quite frankly, is nothing short of miraculous.
One such example is Ambergate’s White Peak Distillery. It felt the immediate impact of the Covid-19 outbreak; distillery events and tours suspended and trade sales lost. A week later, it also closed its shop. This was not as a result of enforced lockdown; the distillery could have stayed open in its capacity as ‘off licence’. It was a decision taken to ‘do the right thing’ and rule out unnecessary customer journeys to this rural community.
The distillery announced on April 3 that some of the alcohol destined for its gin production had been repurposed to a new ‘Team Spirit’ hand sanitiser. During the remainder of this month, it will donate hundreds of litres to the NHS, starting with deliveries of over 200 litre-bottles to hospitals in Belper and Bakewell.
Max Vaughan, White Peak’s Distillery Founder, describes their journey to this point: “Like everyone else, we could see that our frontline workers are in the thick of it. One of the concerns was the shortage of hand sanitiser. Whilst we don’t have an unlimited supply of the ingredients needed for production, we do have the equipment to make the high-strength alcohol that is required in hand sanitiser or surface sprays to kill viruses.
“An initial roadblock came in the form of licensing, however. Since distilleries like ours are licensed to make alcohol fit for human consumption, there’s a pretty hefty duty to be paid to HMRC (at £28.74p per litre of pure alcohol).
“Last month we applied to HMRC for an additional licence to make ‘denatured alcohol’; in other words, alcohol with elements added to make it unfit for human consumption, and therefore not attracting high levels of duty.
“We weren’t sure how quickly that approval would be granted. Thankfully, HMRC decided in the end to relax conditions for distilleries to produce hand sanitiser. We’re not expected to pay duty, provided the formulation is issued by the World Health Organisation (which ours is).”
As with every element of the Covid-19 National Infrastructure effort, both large and small suppliers look to play their part. Large denatured alcohol producers may have scale on their side but, as distribution channels become more impacted, the role of local craft distilleries such as White Peak becomes increasingly important.
Max describes two channels to the communities that need it: “As our key intention has always been to supply our wonderful NHS, our Team Spirit sanitiser won’t be available to buy. That said, we know the local community are concerned about a lack of hand sanitiser supplies. To that end, we’re including a free 20cl bottle for all online customers ordering a 70cl bottle of gin online.”
Since the establishment of the distillery in 2016, the emphasis has been on building up a loyal following, and giving back to the local Derwent Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site site.
The team’s altruism started with a decision to reuse and renovate its 150-year old premises, rather than rebuild them, which created significant carbon efficiency. Momentum was then gained in other areas: its quarterly litter picks in nearby Shining Cliff Woods (with a share in a community whisky cask for anyone who volunteers for more than four picks); gin refill services to reduce landfill; and a limited edition ‘Riverside Gin’ which raises funds towards the work of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in helping to combat the scourge of Himalayan Balsam from the riverbeds around the distillery.
Stepping up to this latest challenge was no different to the distillery’s earlier environmental and social projects, as Max explains: “Community is once again at the heart of this project whether that be support from our customers or support from our partners.
“We’ve no doubt that our distillery community are fully behind our decision to divert resources in this way at a level we can reasonably afford. We’ve had so many messages of support from individuals who want to play their part too. Reinstating our standard postage & packaging charges during the current lockdown means we can recover some of the cost of the sanitisers we’re donating to frontline workers, and ultimately means we can continue production.
“Our fast-paced response to repurposing our production would have been much more difficult on our own. We’re hugely grateful for the support we’ve had from our partners, Belper’s Lockwood Haulage for donating refillable spray bottles and Derby design agency Alt Design who assisted with the labelling.”
It’s that resolve and team effort that will surely see our country through these toughest of times.
Editor’s Note: More information on White Peak Distillery and how to order its gin online is available at: https://www.whitepeakdistillery.co.uk. Its first batch of whisky will reach maturity in winter 2021.