How Yorkshire gin distillery set up by ex-RAF couple is hoping to stand out from the crowd

The legitimacy and safety processes of gin distillers are likely to come under the microscope in the future, according to the founders of Divine Gin.

Divine Gin was established in 2014 by Rachel and Ray Woolhead, who both previously spent their working lives in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The Holmfirth-based brand is currently going through the Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) accreditation process in a bid to stand out in an incredibly crowded marketplace.

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Mr Woolhead told The Yorkshire Post: “That shows that you’ve got procedures in place. That you are doing things correctly and you’re doing things in a safe manner.”

Divine Gin at New Mill in Holmfirth. Ray and Rachel Woolhead pictured on February 24. Picture: Simon Hulme

He added that a lot of pop-up distillers are posting pictures of themselves at work on social media while wearing t-shirts and with their hair out.

“That might be the thing that changes,” Mr Woolhead said. “People without accreditation are going to struggle.”

He added that hobbyist distillers who aren’t committed to quality and safety will be wheedled out.

“At some stage somebody is going to have to say hang on a minute is this OK to drink? Is this legitimate?” Mr Woolhead says. “At this moment in time there are no real checks on it and there are no procedures in place to make sure it’s safe.

Divine Gin at New Mill in Holmfirth. Ray Woolhead pictured on February 24. Picture: Simon Hulme

“There is nobody checking quality and I think systems need to be in place to check the quality of the product.”

The couple left the RAF in 1999 with Mrs Woolhead retraining as a dispensing optician and Mr Woolhead doing some welding work for Formula One teams.

“Then I got into project management,” he said. “I ended up working on insulation projects and then running big insulation projects around the country.”

The idea for Divine Gin came after an American friend of theirs told them how her brother had invested in a gin distillery in California.

Divine Gin at New Mill in Holmfirth. Picture: Simon Hulme

Mr and Mrs Woolhead thought they could do something similar in Holmfirth and started developing the Divine brand, producing their first batch at the tail end of 2016.

In addition to the accreditation scheme, the business is also pivoting away from gin festivals that encourage people to consume copious amounts of alcohol.

Mrs Woolhead said: “It’s about drinking better rather than being associated with certain festivals where people are falling over.”

Mr Woolhead added: “When we see festivals advertised as unlimited drinks we try to disassociate ourselves from that now.”

Divine Gin currently produces around 225 bottles of gin a week at the moment. However, their distillery located opposite the couple’s home in Holmfirth has the capacity to do 700 bottles a week.

The business also produces and bottles gin for Yorkshire food and drink brand, Cartwright and Butler. Divine Gin hopes to secure similar third party distilling deals with other brands as well. Mr Woolhead said: “When we make some bottles of Divine, we then have to go out and sell them.

“If we’re selling a pallet full of Cartwright and Butler to them in one fell swoop, it’s a lot easier for us.

“We can do that at a cheaper price for them so it’s a lot more sustainable for us. It props the business up financially as well.”

The couple spent two and a half years developing their own flavour profile as well as understanding how to develop different flavour profiles for others.

Mr Woolhead sees the business reaching production capacity of 700 bottles a week in the next 18 months at which point they’ll have to start looking at other premises and at putting different procedures in place.

Divine Gin’s brand gets its wings

Rachel and Ray Woolhead met while they were both in the RAF.

Mr Woolhead was an aircraft technician while Mrs Woolhead was a mechanical transport driver.

Divine’s logo takes inspiration from their time in the air force with two R’s placed back-to-back also looking like wings.

One day, while the couple were sat in their kitchen discussing the branding for Divine Gin, a pigeon flew into the window leaving an imprint of its wings on the window pane.

“We took that as a sign that wings were meant to be on the branding,” Mrs Woolhead, who looks after the marketing and administration, said.