Alex Harrison: bottling craft

30 August, 2022

Young Spirits was founded in 2019 as a small batch bottling site for craft whisky and rum producers. In three years, the business has gone from strength to strength, tripling its revenue and growing from two to 42 employees. 

Drinks International caught up with co-founder Alex Harrison to shed some light on the so-called secret weapon of UK small distillers and producers.

“When we started, we had no experience in bottling. I had met my co-founder John [Ferguson], through our partners in a bar in Edinburgh, we became friends, and both wanted to set up a new venture.

“There was a demand for botting within the drinks industry and I have a huge love for the craft industry, so we decided to specialise in this area, but in the early days spent long hours learning the ropes.

“For our first big client, we would be bottling until one in the morning. We gave them a free trial cask to prove ourselves, and they’re still our biggest contract.”

With Young Spirits, Harrison and Ferguson had found a space in the craft distilling movement where they could be more than just a facility where bottles are filled.

“We can offer all the services our craft clients need. We can help source quality spirits through our network, we have a development team that advises on whisky blending, flavour development and recipe adjustments, so we can help our clients create the perfect product for their markets. I’d say our speciality is whisky and cask sourcing.

“We offer branding consultation, so we can give our clients a helping hand in getting their new products to market and help them stand out on crowded shelves. We want to share knowledge and expertise, so we run regular workshops and launches and have guest speaker evenings and gatherings.”

“But we also excel at bottling smaller volumes, being able to complete 200 to 20,000 bottle batches faster and with guaranteed quality sets us apart.”

By remaining agile, bespoke, and blending modernity with tradition, Young Spirits has become a one-stop-shop for its clients and the result has been expeditious growth. Since 2019, Young Spirits has outgrown its facilities three times. Far from its beginnings in 2,000-square-foot warehouse, the business now occupies a 30,000-square-foot space with its own bar for tasting events.

“We’re only three years old but what has worked so far for us is our approach to building strong relationships with our clients and those in the industry, and our passion for modernising the hand-crafted Scottish Whisky industry.

“Over the past three years, we’ve partnered with over 200 clients to fulfil a huge range of bottling, blending, labelling, and sourcing needs, but we’re also keen to keep niche traditions alive.

“We have great contacts here in Scotland, and there’s huge expertise here but, we’ve also built a trusted network of distillers and makers around the world.”

Adopting a modern working approach doesn’t just mean becoming an industry polymath, it’s about how the company operates as well. Young Spirits has a rum and whisky brand, Uhuru that donates 10% of its net profits to the African wildlife conservation charity, Tusk, and they’ve set their sights on sustainability too.

“We’ve created a three-year plan designed to transform Young Spirits into a truly energy-efficient bottling facility. We’ve made small changes – a recycling programme for all glass and plastics. We bought a compactor to compress all the cardboard that we use on-site, we’ve installed solar panels to reduce our energy consumption and we’re looking at all factors of our supply chains and speaking with suppliers to improve our sustainability plan.

“Ultimately, we want to become the first bottling plant in Scotland to achieve net zero carbon, everything we do, we do with sustainability in mind.

“We want to challenge ourselves with our sustainability roadmap, so we are truly energy-efficient. That’s so important to us because our activity impacts not only our local community here in Edinburgh but our worldwide community.”

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