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Ellen Wakelam | Co-founder & Director | Welsh Wind Distillery

Ellen Wakelam: Crafting Excellence with Distilled Gin

The phrase goes, “You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you are somebody’s double shot of gin.”

Shifting her career from teacher to entrepreneur, Ellen Wakelam’s journey has been fascinating; delighted with an innovative approach, distilling an award-winning gin and other spirits, In the Welsh Wind excels under the leadership of Ellen.

As the Cofounder and Director, Ellen is dedicated to talking her potential customers through different Welsh gins and spirits, helping them make the right choice!

Insights Success caught up with her to know more about the In the Welsh Wind’s relaxed approach for the Gin tasting experience.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at IN the Welsh Wind. What challenges did you have to overcome to reach where you are today?

I started my working life as a teacher. I was passionate about teaching, but over time I struggled with the bureaucracy and politics that ran alongside the work in the classroom. At around the same time, I was involved in a serious car accident that damaged my knee. The combination of events led me to return to west Wales. As well as the challenges I had to overcome to recover my physical fitness, I had really lost my inner spark. It took an adventure – walking around Wales for three months, to recover that excitement and openness to the possibility that I needed to run a business. By the end of the walk, I felt fully restored and ready to go. My partner Alex and I ran a baking and catering business for a couple of years before setting up the distillery. We had to get to grips with the technicalities of creating gin, not to mention all the paperwork involved in working with alcohol, but with persistence, we managed it!

Our initial plan was to make and sell gin under our own ‘In the Welsh Wind’ brand. However, we were offered the opportunity to create gins for other brands and businesses, so from the start of our business in January 2018 until July 2020; we worked on the custom branded spirits side of things. We have developed upwards of 45 different gins for our custom spirits clients – many are award-winning. We launched our own, also award-winning, gin in July 2020 and are now focussing on growing our own range of spirits.

Tell us something about your company and its mission and vision.

The distillery has grown quickly from just Alex and me in a converted cowshed to flagship premises on the main west Wales coast road and a staff of 15. We have also opened a gin bar and bottle shop in our local town of Cardigan. We’re driven to produce top-quality, premium spirits that showcase the best of Wales, including our full-grain to glass whisky. We’re also committed to flying the flag for this corner of Wales, not only providing a tourist destination with our gin-making and gin tasting experiences but by providing work experience and training opportunities for young people in the area.

Enlighten us on how you have made an impact on the whisky niche through your expertise in the market.

Whisky is experiencing a renaissance in Wales, and we are one of 5 distilleries producing whisky here. Each distillery has its own USP, and we’re excited to be bringing a 100% Wels product to the market. Our grain, for what we refer to as our ‘Welsh Origin’ whisky, is grown within 10 miles of the distillery and is malted here on-site, removing the need to transport the grain to the commercial malthouses in England. Malting on-site also avoids energy-heavy kilning, which would be necessary if malting happened remotely. We’ve taken inspiration from the small number of distilleries globally that work with green malt and have customized the process to suit our needs.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

When considering the stills we would work with on the whisky side, we have chosen to use new, state-of-the-art still technology, which gives us greater control over the distilling process. In a small business, this is crucial for us to maintain the quality we expect from our spirits.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the distilling industry?

The industry is still very traditional, and while things are slowly moving in the right direction, it is also very male-dominated. I would like to see the industry becoming much more open and diverse, encouraging people from different backgrounds to become involved.

What, according to you, could be the next big change in the custom spirits industry? How is your company preparing to be part of that change?

We’ve seen an increasing trend in consumers looking to understand the provenance of their food and drink – to understand the stories behind the brands they are buying and for there to be integrity in the products they are buying. Our business and the brands we work with are committed to providing the same – it’s why they choose to work with us. I think the time is coming where the custom spirits industry will recognize and embrace this so that spirits that are branded as being from a particular place will need to demonstrate that they are made there, and wherever possible, that the ingredients used have some connection to the area, even if not native.

Where do you envisage yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for your company?

We have planning permission to extend the distillery and to build additional facilities at our existing location, so in the short to medium term, our goal is to capitalize on this opportunity, increase our production and develop and grow the ‘In the Welsh Wind’ brand into a household name and a symbol of the best Wales has to offer. Beyond that, the development of an industry-leading research and education centre is in our sights.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the business sector?

I would say there is no ‘right time to launch a business. If you believe in what you’re doing and plan to commit wholeheartedly to your product and to your business plan, there is nothing to stop you from giving it a go. And while having a plan is a great place to start, always be prepared to adapt depending on the opportunities that come along.