Turning a love of Whiskey into a profitable business – Innovatr Q&A with Eddie Ludlow

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Just this afternoon, I was speaking to a friend about the secret to business success.

Whilst we agreed that great businesses are born out of necessity. We concluded that it depends on how you measure success.

It’s a cheesy sentiment, but I believe that if you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life, but in many cases, that’s hard to find.

In our latest Q&A series, we’re featuring a selection of entrepreneurs who’ve built businesses based on their passion.

In today’s interview, we caught up with Eddie Ludlow, founder of The Whiskey Lounge – a York-based business which (normally) runs hundreds of live whisky events each year.

His love of whiskey led him to create a successful business, and I wanted to learn who he was, where he’s come from and how he set about creating his very own dream job.

Hi Eddie, could you tell us a little about what you were doing prior to launching The Whisky Lounge?

I was the UK Brand Ambassador for Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in the direct lead-up to The Whisky Lounge. Prior to this – and where I learnt my ’trade’ – I was with Oddbins Wine and Spirit Merchants. It was there that I really built up my knowledge and passion for whisky, both in-store and at my own tastings.

What was your initial vision for The Whisky Lounge?

Good question! I’m not sure I had a full vision, but our purpose from day 1 has always been to turn people on to whisky, and in the meantime, hopefully make enough money to survive. I came at it very much from an enthusiast point of view, not as a business person, which is perhaps why the business grew very organically. For me, integrity is absolutely key. I will not do anything that I feel would compromise my love and enthusiasm for whisky! 

Did you face many setbacks prior to launching? If so, how did you overcome them?

I think that I perhaps got distracted by the lure of doing other things with the business – such as looking at becoming a retailer (which was my background) when I should have just focused on the events side of things. We also had no money but fortunately, family members gave us £10,000 to help start us up, 12 years ago. This was part of the reason I decided not to go into retail. You need (or certainly you did back then) quite a bit of capital to invest in stock, which we simply did not have. 

If you could go back to the day you decided to launch your business, what advice would you give yourself?

Have confidence in yourself and what you do. Don’t get distracted by the lure of projects or people who seem to promise a lot but don’t follow through. Follow your gut instinct. Do listen to others who have been through it themselves, and take on board what they might have to say, but always stay true to yourself and your ‘vision’, once you have it!

Like many businesses throughout the UK, you’ve had to change the way you operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you tell us a little more about what challenges you faced as a company and how you adapted?

We are still changing and adapting. It is a tough time for most out there, particularly in the hospitality and leisure industries. Due to the fact we are not a ‘venue’ and not a traditional hospitality business, we have not benefited from some of the government’s aid, but on the other hand, we do not have the same overheads as shops, bars or restaurants, so I don’t know what is worse, to be honest.

Currently, there is just me working full-time in the business. Amanda, my business partner and wife, has been on furlough since March and I have Chris who comes in to help me with admin normally twice a week. Our business is currently 100% online, as far as events go – we have developed some really cool whisky tasting packs with accompanying video tastings/tutorials.

What do you hope the future looks like for The Whisky Lounge?

Another good question! I am not sure. In many respects the opportunity to change the way we do things has shown us that perhaps we were making life unnecessarily difficult for ourselves in the past. We still want to be out there, seeing people in person, extolling the virtues of whisky, but the world of online and ‘virtual’ events has made it much easier to reach folk on scale – particularly those who cannot make it to a physical event, regardless of the pandemic. I think we will almost certainly see us doing a hybrid of the two.

Gin has been the spirit of choice for many over the past few years. How would you sell Whisky to someone who has never tried it before?

Gin is much easier to ‘get into’. It is very rarely drank on its own, and usually is paired with tonic water. If most tried gin on its own, or that was the only way it was available, I doubt it would have got the same attention or traction. Whisky is much more complex, which is partly why I love it. It is also much more expensive, time-consuming and difficult to produce and get right. It takes real skill, patience and passion (in the main) to make the good stuff and quite often you can taste this in certain whiskies. The flavour is derived purely from the century’s old technique of producing the spirit, then transferring this into oak casks that contribute more flavour, whilst removing unwanted aromas.

What’s the best way to taste Whisky? How should it be served and which foods pair well?

When I first started on my journey, I was very much a purest and as such I would have said either on its own or with a few drops or more of water. Water helps ‘unlock’ certain flavours. However, I am now of the belief that you should drink it however you like. The Highball, or Mizurawi in Japan where it originated, could be the answer to rival the Gin and Tonic. It is a very refreshing, simple drink comprising whisky, ice and soda water. Food-wise, whisky can pair brilliantly with seafood, sushi, cheeses and chocolate, among other things. Try a strong blue cheese, like Roquefort, with a smoky Islay single malt, like Lagavulin or Ardbeg. Delicious!

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