When late nights in the restaurant business took their toll, Alex Wolpert, 37, turned his attention to making spirits
From barman to artisan distiller
Alex Wolpert spent his 20s working his way up from bartending to a managerial role in a London restaurant, and often worked until 4 o’clock in the morning. But when his first child was born, all the late nights hit him hard. ‘I was just too knackered to do it any more,’ he recalls. It was the catalyst for him to set up his boutique spirit business, the East London Liquor Company, in 2014, scooping several awards and accolades along the way. For anyone hoping to strike out on their own, Wolpert has this advice…
Choose an industry you
know well. I knew the drinks business inside out and realised that while there was lots of attention on London gin, no one was doing much with London whisky. The old distilleries had closed more than 115 years ago – I wanted to bring them back, build my own distillery and create a more affordable product.
You may have to remortgage
to make it work. I dreaded mooting this to my wife, but luckily she was very supportive. It was tough to find somewhere that could house a brewery and a distillery, and I spent 18 months looking, eventually settling on a former pub in Bow.
Get lots of advice. Even now I have a group of great people across the drinks industry who I can ring up and ask, ‘Am I doing this right?’ Don’t be afraid to pay for advice either, because a chat over lunch could end up saving you thousands. Without it, setting up a business on your own can feel pretty lonely.
Stick with it. My former bartender job stood me in good stead for my new business. Dealing with queues four people deep and cleaning up sick taught me a lot of resilience.
Accept that it’s a long
process. Once the premises were secured, I bought two handmade copper stills, adding a third later. That’s when the real work started. As soon as I had my own equipment, the team and I could play around with recipes. It took six months to produce something I was happy with. Later, I installed a window between the distilling room and the bar, so you can sit and watch the distillers making the spirits you’re drinking.
Don’t be afraid to make
mistakes. I’m not a trained distiller, so there was so much trial and error in the early days. In the beginning, I was producing 1,000 bottles a month. Now I’m doing between 12,000 and 16,000. Be prepared to worry. When I first hatched the idea I never would have anticipated the stress and sleepless nights that would follow. I still have sleepless nights even now, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Starting up alone isn’t what I expected, but then again, I’d probably be a terrible employee by now anyway.
Top Alex Wolpert. Above One of the stills seen from Wolpert’s bar