Meet the three friends who have converted an old kipper smokehouse into Filey's first gin distillery

Three Filey residents have teamed up to convert the town's last surviving herring smokehouse into its first gin distillery.

Filey Gin Distillery has been a labour of love for White Lodge Hotel owner Bill Rusling, local historian Dr David Pendleton and former food industry recipe developer Will Clarke, who spent the winter converting the Victorian smoking shed, which had been used by a garage since the 1970s.

Filey once had three of the kipper smokehouses, which sprang up in the 1860s as the fishing port took advantage of the coming of the railway to send its herring catch to markets in the cities. Only one remains - after the advent of steam trawlers meant the trade migrated to Hull and Grimsby, it fell out of favour and had several other industrial uses, including as a poultry plant.

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It passed out of the ownership of the local fishing families and merchants in the 1930s - but several relics of their time there have been preserved and incorporated into the distillery.

Dr David Pendleton, Will Clarke and Bill Rusling have teamed up to start Filey Gin Distillery

"There's a ship's mast in the roof that a fisherman who looked at it thought would have come from a herring coble, and the red pantile roof tiles that you can see all over the Yorkshire coast, and which came from Holland," said Dr Pendleton.

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They have also restored a wooden ventilation shaft reminiscent of Scottish whisky distilleries, and will even retain the soot-stained walls left over from the smoking process

Head distiller Mr Clarke has overseen the renovation project since the trio bought the building last year.

All three partners have trained as distillers

"We had to get it cleaned up, as there was a lot of old oil. We've replaced an old door, stripped everything back, and the walls are now exposed brick. There's even a room within a room - distilleries have a 'clean' room where the recipes are developed and the bottling and labelling is done. It needs laboratory-like conditions."

The copper still imported from Slovenia can only hold 100 litres of gin at a time, and is ideal for small artisan batches.

All three partners have trained in distilling, though they will take on different roles in the running of the business. As well as selling gins and tonics online, at the site and at local food fairs, they hope to open up the distillery for tours and gin-making workshops.

"I've wanted to open a gin distillery in Filey for around eight years, and thought about going into partnership with someone else - but that seemed like a bit of a cheat. I needed strength in numbers though - I felt like if I began distilling myself I could kill half the town!" said Mr Rusling.

Many original features have been retained

"We've all invested and trained as distillers, though Will is going to do most of that. We will make the gin in the traditional way, and the copper still will make it taste better."

Botanicals will be sourced locally where possible, though they are keeping the locations of the crops a secret. Their pink gin will feature Filey-grown rhubarb and strawberries. Local stockists have been secured, including McMillans of Malton and The Hunmanby Pantry.

Mr Rusling added: "We have big plans to make the distillery into an attraction, and we'll open it up for tours this summer. If there's any town that should have its own gin, it's Filey. We've got a lovely historic building that we've put time, effort and love into, which is part of our story."


The distillery is inside a former kipper smokehouse