How the Spencerfield Spirit Company started

The fast-growing company took a dynamic approach to getting their products noticed

Inverkeithing-based Spencerfield Spirit champions the place of a small company in an industry dominated by multinationals. Hannah Ewan met its founders

How do you make a splash when you resign as CEO of a company that turns over hundreds of millions of pounds a year, taking two of their least marketed whisky brands with you?

For Alex and Jane Nicol, who founded the Spencerfield Spirit Company in 2005 with Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose, the answer was a horsebox.

‘The listing fees for supermarkets and wholesalers meant we didn’t have a cat’s chance in hell there,’ explains Jane. So they took a two-pronged approach in an attempt to compete with the giants. ‘We focused on exporting to places where the brands had always been popular. It helps that there is, among older people at least, a remembrance of the Sheep Dip brand; it has a sort of cult status. At the same time in the UK, we filled a horsebox with the product and went to agricultural shows – something big companies don’t do!’

They’ve never tried to mimic the multinationals, but Jane’s happy to admit that without her husband’s background at companies such as Glenmorangie, Beefeater and Whyte & Mackay, Spencerfield wouldn’t have been possible.

‘I don’t think we could have started it without Alex’s knowledge of the spirits industry and the contacts he had built up. As it was, he went from being a big cheese to a very small one. People say “no” a lot when you start out, which is very hard.’

They began to say ‘yes’ when the Nicols settled on their markets. Not sitting on supermarket shelves has helped them fit into delis and farm shops that wouldn’t have taken them otherwise, and they don’t sell to more distributors than they can handle personally.

‘Face-to-face contact is important. We still go out and talk to people a lot, all of us. It particularly works in the US, where they’re delighted that it’s not a salesman they see, but the brand owner.’

And with their recently launched raspberry-infused Edinburgh Gin and a second limited edition Sheep Dip – Sheep Dip’s Oloroso Amaroso – coming out soon, Spencerfield might not be a small cheese for much longer.

Spencerfield Spirit Company

Spencerfield Farmhouse, Inverkeithing, Fife, KY11 9LA