The booming business that grew out of Dan's field of dreams
Turning a lifelong passion into a profitable business takes considerable expertise, a lot of hard work and the right support - but it can be done, as illustrated by the remarkable rise of Cotswolds Distillery in south Warwickshire.
One day in the summer of 2013 Daniel Szor was looking out of his farmhouse window in south Warwickshire at the field of barley that lay before him and pondering what a beautiful sight it was.
Nothing new there. Millions of people have admired the immense natural beauty of the north Cotswolds.
But another thought also occurred to Dan. An idea.
And that idea was unique - and would grow into a plan which would transform a lifelong passion into a thriving small business
Cotswolds Distillery, opened by New York-born Dan and his English wife Katia, on July 1, 2014, recently launched its first single malt. That's a significant milestone for a distillery but the business has evolved beyond the distillery process to also become a major tourist attraction at its base at Stourton, just outside Shipston-on-Stour. While, most importantly, its stock has established a high-reputation (not just whisky - last year they sold 100,000 bottles of gin), Cotswolds Distillery now attracts 30,000 visitors per year.
It is a success story powered by all the essentials of starting a successful small business - good advice, diligent research, deep knowledge and hard graft - along with some crucial early support from Warwickshire County Council.
"I had the idea one day literally when I was staring out of our window at a field of barley," said Dan. "As I looked at it, I thought: 'why isn’t there anyone distilling in this part of the world?' All the components were in place - wonderful barley, grains, fruit and a history of agriculture which has traditionally always brought about some form of distilling.
"I'd worked in currency management for nearly 30 years and didn't want to do that for the rest of my life and have always had a passion for whisky, not just drinking it but the process behind making it. So I thought why not give it a go?
"I thought there was room for a destination distillery in the north Cotswolds. The Cotswolds is a wonderful area with 23 million visitors a year but has nothing like this."
Dan's hunch proved spot on. His business now has 30 employees and is set to expand further next year with the addition of a new bottling plant and visitor centre, accompanied by further recruitment.
Dan has every right to feel proud and he does - though more appreciative.
"I am proud of the team and the collective effort," he said. "But above all I am very thankful for all the support we have had. I was lucky enough to get some wonderful help. I had never manufactured anything but got some amazing advice from two Scottish consultants, one a specialist in engineering, the other in flavour, with around 80 years experience between them.
"I also got some great advice from Tim Powell at the University of Warwick Science Park on possible grants. And the grants we obtained from Warwickshire County Council were a huge help."
Cotswolds Distillery first received a £22,000 Warwickshire Rural Growth Network Micro-enterprise grant for new fermenters and brown tourist signs. Two subsequent small capital grants, amounting to £27,000, from the county council enabled the purchase of two new grain silos and blending vat.
"Those grants were very important to our development," said Dan. "The first one enabled us to double production at a critical time, in our third year, and the tourists signs are wonderful because tourists are such an important part of that we do. The county council's support really helped us to get established and then grow.
"We've also had great support from local investors who believed in us and backed that belief with support, and then we crowdfunded which brought in a lot of small investors, each one a brand ambassador.
"When I started the business I thought maybe three years down the line we would employ four people - we employ 30 and need to employ more, but have no desks to put them at until the new buildings go up in the New Year!"