Sud­den en­tre­pre­neur

When late nights in the res­tau­rant busi­ness took their toll, Alex Wolpert, 37, turned his at­ten­tion to mak­ing spir­its

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - — In­ter­view by Anna Clarke east­lon­donliquor­com­

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

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