Abbie Neilson – An uncommon career path

Abbie Neilson – An uncommon career path

Being among the great outdoors and living a nomadic lifestyle away from textbooks and deadlines, I was able to step out of the rat race and find some headspace.

As whisky lovers, this prompted us on a journey of discovery which led us to visit all the operational distilleries on the island on a fact-finding mission which was to become an 8-part blog series on Tasmanian whisky.

We met passionate people running small and innovative operations, and the whisky was some of the best I’ve tasted. I asked one of the distillers how he came to work in the industry. He was a backpacker with no experience but quickly learnt on the job.’

The English Whisky distillery: it was written in the stars

‘During my PhD, I had explored brewing and distilling as an alternative science-related career but was put off by the need for a formal degree or years of industry experience. A brief encounter with this backpacker changed everything: it showed me that I could find my own way in the industry. The idea for our own English Whisky distillery was born. We had found a challenging venture that we could both work on together.

A brief encounter with this backpacker changed everything: it showed me that I could find my own way in the industry.

For the duration of our travels, we educated ourselves on starting a business from scratch and sought expert training from Bill Lark, the godfather of Tasmanian whisky. A whirlwind distilling dream snowballed into reality, and in 2016 we returned to the UK to self-build and crowd-fund Cooper King Distillery.

On our travels, we were lucky enough to experience some of the world’s most beautiful places and we wanted to preserve these places for future generations to enjoy too. So, we adopted many environmentally sustainable practices into our business operations. For example, the distillery is powered by 100% green energy and every bottle of gin sold funds the planting of one square meter of woodland in the Yorkshire Dales.

The distillery has gone from strength to strength. Since the official opening 10 months ago, our gin has won two international awards, is being sold in over 100 stockists across the country, and has been described by one critic as a game-changer.

The distillery has gone from strength to strength. Since the official opening 10 months ago, our gin has won two international awards.

We’ve had national press coverage in the Guardian and the Financial Times, and are currently working with chef Tommy Banks and his Michelin-starred restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead to develop a range of spirits for them, using fresh produce grown just 20 minutes from the distillery.

We collaborate frequently, whether it be with high-end chefs, fashion designers or other drinks companies – they are a great way to meet new people, challenge ourselves and our business, and have enabled us to launch innovative new spirits to market. Additionally, we plan on working stints of travel into the business, with trips abroad to source new ingredients and learn techniques from producers and experts from around the world. We have a lot of hard work ahead and it won’t be easy.

But the surprisingly convoluted path my career has taken has equipped me with such a broad range of skills and life experiences that I’m ready to take on anything. Wonderful opportunities can arise when you balance grit and determination with not being afraid to change direction.’