The moment you walk into Fenspirits’ distillery, you’re met with a warm welcome and a series of smiling faces busy at work. It’s precisely that easy-going enthusiasm that has helped the Wisbech-based distillery go from strength to strength since its inception in 2016. Despite being one of the smallest distilleries in the UK, Fenspirits produces around 500 bottles a day of perfectly concocted gins, rums, and liqueurs.
The first samples of toffee vodka were bottled in Co-Founder Ant Winterbourne’s family kitchen. With the help of his wife Michelle, he took the first steps to setting up Fenspirits Distillery. The pair found the perfect little shed nestled in The Secret Garden Touring Park in Wisbech and got to work transforming the building into the heart of their new business.
When you visit the distillery, the unique flair of the business is apparent. The walls are adorned with silly selfies, risqué slogans, and letters of appreciation. The FenSpirits logo is proudly displayed at every opportunity, the branding reflecting the authentic local character of the company. The team of six work quickly and efficiently with regular quips and banter doing little to disrupt the flow of production. In fact, if it weren’t for the intoxicating aromas of sweet and bitter spirits, you wouldn’t know you were in a highly productive distillery.
What sets Fenspirits apart from other distilleries is their method of making their own alcohol in-house. This, according to Ant, results in a better product. ‘True craft distilling is making your own alcohol,' he says. We’re proud to do that and it makes a huge difference. I’m not beholden to how smooth or harsh someone else's spirit is. Our products are exactly that…our products.’
Instead of approaching retailers, pubs, or bars, Ant launched Fenspirits at local shows and events to build relationships with potential customers. That approach is also evident in the distillery's large social media following. Ant hosts online quizzes, bingo events and daily live chats with his customers.
Ant says, ‘People appreciate being able to put a face to the business. They get to know me on a personal level and can see my passion is authentic. We all take the business very seriously, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously. We’ve actually found that the more fun we have, the better the business does.’
Lincolnshire Co-op is the only retailer that stocks the company’s best-selling product - their toffee vodka. Inspired by tipples popular in Alpine ski resorts, Ant spotted a gap in the vodka market for something that could combat cold British winters. Despite the chilly origins of the products’ inspiration, bottles are flying off the shelves year-round and the toffee vodka has secured its place as a firm favourite in local liquor cabinets.
Fenspirits are always keen to do things a little bit differently. ‘Other businesses promoted large bottles of spirits during lockdowns, but we did the opposite and started selling boxes made up of a variety of samples,’ says Ant. ‘Everyone was trying new things at home during the lockdown, so what better opportunity to try a new tipple?’ And this idea was an immediate hit. Business boomed and the team spent one long Friday evening preparing more than 400 of these boxes for their customers.
‘We just crack on,’ says Ant, ‘It’s a real labour of love for all of us and I couldn’t do this without my amazing team. I can’t credit the success of Fenspirits to any single factor, but the team, the support of our customers, and the passion for our products are huge parts of it.'
With a range of at least 30 different products, the distillery shows no signs of slowing down. But what’s next for Fenspirits? Ant says, ‘Rather than following other businesses, we just try to listen to our customers. They’re the ones buying our product and supporting our brand, so their feedback is far more valuable than any new trend. We do always have something in the pipeline, but I like to take each day as it comes – I’ve never even written a business plan before so ‘what comes next’ isn’t something I can easily answer. All I’ll say is “watch this space”, we’ve still got some tricks up our sleeves!’