The basement of a 17th century, Grade I-listed castle in South Wales will be converted into a craft spirit distillery, bonded warehouse, gin school and visitor experience as part of a £7 million scheme to bring the castle back into use.
The 400-year old Hensol Castle, which has been used as a backdrop in BBC dramas including Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and Torchwood, is set to become a flagship tourism destination and will also produce a range of spirits for commercial sale, creating up to 120 new jobs over the next three years.
The company, trading as Hensol Castle Distillery, is a joint venture between the Leeke family, who own The Vale Resort and Leekes, and the Mallows family from Cowbridge, who own Bottles and Distillers Wales. Current Vale Resort directors, Stephen Leeke and Mike Fowler, are joined by father and son team, Andy and Rhys Mallows, to form the new board.
Hensol Castle Distillery will produce a range of entry-level, mid-level and premium-quality gins, vodkas and other spirits including an exciting low calorie, low sugar and low alcohol range. The ambition is for these to be available in local pubs and restaurants as well as major supermarkets, wholesalers and cash and carry outlets.
Visitors will be able to distil their own bespoke bottle of gin made to their specific taste. In addition, they will be able to look around the distillery operation, learn about the history of gin and Hensol Castle, discover the ingredients that go into the different gins and enjoy a gin tasting and cocktail bar.
Stephen Leeke, managing director of the Vale Resort, said: “This is a hugely exciting development at the Vale Resort and another critical step forward in the overall redevelopment of the historic Hensol Castle.
“The distillery experience set in a beautiful Grade 1 listed building will be something totally unique, not just in Wales but globally. It is a key part of our strategy for the re-development of Hensol Castle and its destination restaurant, which will focus on the very best of Welsh food and drink. We’re confident the distillery and restaurant will attract local trade as well as national and international visitors, and we will be working closely with Visit Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan Council, and other local attractions to bring new markets to the area. It will provide another compelling reason for tourists to visit south Wales, helping to drive the overall economy of the region.”
The distillery is part of a wider redevelopment at Hensol Castle, which has already included turning the once derelict castle into a first-class wedding and conference destination. The introduction of a top-end restaurant will follow.
The craft gin market is booming in the UK. According to figures from The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), there are more than 100 different brands of gin in the UK, with 73 million bottles sold to the domestic market in 2018, worth £2.1 billion. Combined sales of gin, both home and overseas, have broken £2.5 billion, and Britain now exports more gin than beef.
Andy Mallows, director of Bottles and Distillers Wales, said: “I’ve been working in the alcohol trade industry for most of my life, and it’s clear that craft spirits, and gin in particular, are booming – some are even calling it a ‘gin-aissance’. Obviously, we want to capitalise on this trend, ensuring our spirits are within an arm’s reach of consumers within the Wales market.
“The joint venture has the perfect blend of skills and experience. The Vale Resort provides years of tourism expertise of running one of Wales’ preeminent resorts while I have spent 25 years selling global brands such as Budweiser, Bacardi and Jack Daniels, before becoming managing director of Dutch distillery, Toorank. We all complement each other’s skill set to create a unique business proposition.”
The visitor experience, gin school, and production facility will open later this year.