How It All Began
When a group of friends share a love of socialising over a glass of whisky, the topic of discussion inevitably becomes one about favorite whiskies.
It then sometimes rolls on to what might be the perfect whisky. How to make it. How to shape it. How to craft it. How to create subtle improvements on some of the well-known legacy brands.
Occasionally these conversations evolve into something real.
Ours became Nine Rivers Distillery.
Whisky Networking had a calling from other cities in Guangdong and Beijing so Vince answered the call. Vince hosted whisky nights at Morgan’s Bar in Zhujiang New Town in Guangzhou, Whispers Whisky Bar and German Beer Garden in Panyu, Guangzhou and Side Street in Beijing.
Wuhan whisky fever was huge, so we needed a big personality to join the team and lead the crusade. Lucas gave Wuhan what it needed. Regular whisky themed events with sometimes as many as two events each month. A mixture of structured and educational whisky flights and whisky networking events. While The Toucan being the spiritual home of our whisky family in Wuhan, there were also whisky themed events hosted by Lucas at Paddy fields, The Devil’s Brewery and Smokehouse and a collaboration event with the American Chamber of Commerce in Wuhan. Lucas won an award in December 2019 in recognition of bringing something new and interesting to the Wuhan social scene.
The whisky trail headed almost 1000 kilometers north from Wuhan and came to Tianjin. With Graham, a Scot and a lover of all whiskies, bringing his own unique style and wardrobe to whisky events at 2 different venues in Tianjin. O’Mahony’s Bar, owned and managed by our good friend Jason was the spiritual home of our whisky family in Tianjin, although there were events at Cozy Cafe and As Always bar.
Even further north the whisky trail traveled, this time all the way to Shenyang. Mudy was our guy on the ground up in the north east and he didn’t fail in bringing whisky tastings, whisky flights and general whisky education to an audience keen to know more. While Taverna Vigna Italian Restaurant was the home for Shenyang’s whisky lovers, there were also events hosted at Sophie’s World, Mailo’s, Suerte and Mikey’s Diner.
With a whisky culture really starting to take shape in China and a constant recurring theme of conversation being “could we ever make whisky in China”, it was time to reach out to one of the most respected and influential foreigners in China – the one person who we all know would tell us all if our distillery could happen or if it was simply a pipe dream. Dr. Harley Seyedin, President of The American Chamber of Commerce in South China. With more than 20 years experience as a businessman in China, and more than a decade leading AMCHAM South China, Dr Seyedin has been instrumental in many interesting and exciting businesses that have made success from the international collaborations of both foreign businesses investing in China, and Chinese businesses investing in the USA. Dr. Seyedin liked our idea. He could see our passion to put China on the international whisky map. He and his team started to reach out across China through their extensive AMCHAM South China network.
With support from Dr. Seyedin and the extensive AMCHAM South China network, we were overwhelmed with commercially viable options – no fewer than 11 sites in southern China, with every one of them having unique selling points. One part of China just felt right to us. Xin Luo District of Longyan City, in Fujian Province. Situated more than 600 meters above sea level in an area of nationally recognized natural beauty, our new home had everything we were looking for. A cooler climate (allowing us to potentially age whisky for longer), an untapped ancient underground aquifer, an abundance of local smallholder farmers to help recycle our spent grains as animal feed and, most importantly, an amazing team of local government professionals that were energized and enthusiastic to make our project come to realization.
It was time to get in touch with a real expert to sanity check our vision for creating Nine Rivers Distilery – so we went to someone who had essentially done everything that we were hoping to do. Stephen Davies of The Welsh Whisky Company who took a similar ambition (to bring distilling back to Wales after more than 100 years absence) and to put Wales firmly on the international whisky map. Penderyn single malt whiskies were a huge favorite with our whisky community in China and with a modern and innovative approach to crafting whiskies, there are a lot of synergies between what Stephen and his team have achieved and where we would like to be with Nine Rivers Distillery. We knew that Stephen had to be on our team.
Making whisky is just one of the many things we do at the distillery, and we need to sell it as well. So our next step was to find someone who could help us sell it as well as promote it, someone who could promote our spirits throughout China as well as to the international market. Jonathan Dahan has 15 years of experience selling wine and spirits throughout China and is a founding partner of a leading wine importing and distribution company in China. Jonathan is a board member and significant investor in Nine Rivers Distillery.
The first step in creating our legal structure was to setup and register our Hong Kong Holding Company. On 14th June 2019, with the support of Robbert and Katy from Sovereign Group, we were officially incorporated as Nine Rivers Distillery Company Hong Kong. We continue to work with Robbert and Katy at Sovereign Group as they provide not only our Company Secretary Services, but are an active part in the management of our corporate structure and our investors.
We had a vision, we had a location, we had company, we had expertise for crafting products – but we knew that we needed someone that had what most startup companies completely lack – someone who lives and breaths all of those complicated corporate and legal things that can stifle startup companies, and can turn our idea of involving as many micro investors as possible into a reality. Simon was the most obvious choice for us. He had all the skills and experience that we needed and much more than that. Currently leading his own private equity group with investments in 30 companies across five continents. Plus – he’s a whisky lover! Simon formally joined our Board of Directors and is also a significant investor in the project.
As part of the AMCHAM South China delegation to the 2019 CIFIT (China International Fair for Investment and Trade) we officially signed an Investment Agreement with the government of Longyan City in the official signing ceremony. It was at the CIFIT Conference that we also got to appreciate the depth and breath of Dr. Seyedin’s reputation, as we were able to meet with the Deputy Governor of Fujian Province, leaders of Xiamen City and the senior leaders of Longyan City – Dr. Seyedin has close professional relationships with them.
Our team needed a General Manager. Someone with extensive experience in starting and operating businesses in China that required the ability to manage foreign led ownership within the Chinese legal and business regularity frameworks. Hayden Zou joined our team having held similar roles at numerous foreign owned companies in China, with two of these previous companies being owned by some of our investors. Hayden is also a significant shareholder in our company.
Nine Rivers Distillery Longyan City or 久溪（福建龙岩）酒业有限公司 as it is officially known as in Chinese, was officially registered on 28th November 2019, thanks to the legal support of Kevin, Lynn and Nelson at the Guangdong Guanhe Law Firm. Guangdong Guanghe have been our China Mainland legal partners on the Nine Rivers Distillery Project since inception and in addition to facilitating the registration of the China Mainland company, have also crafted all of our legal contracts for our unique ownership structure.
In the last 10 years, there have been numerous start-up distilleries popping up around the world and all we need to do is stand out from the rest. We believe in our team and are confident in our skills, our distillery equipment is unique and we have the ability to do what we set out to do in the first place. We also need fresh blood to come in, get to know us and be a part of the team. James Andrew Smith previously served as president of Brown Forman, where he was responsible for the spirits business in Europe, Africa and Eurasia. He is also a former board member of Finnish Vodka, Granger and Synergy. He was instrumental in the successful $1 billion IPO of Synergy (Beluga Vodka and other brands). James looked at our business plan and learned about our distillation technology, distillers and our team members, and he was interested in our team and wanted to be one of the investors in the project.
Our initial conversations with the Long Chi Food Industrial Park where we intended to buy a land parcel on which to build our distillery. Our conversations were for an area of 25.8 MU – which equates to 17’182 square meters. We believe that this is more than enough space to host our distillery for at least the next 10 years.
Halfway through the year of 2020, we had 45 investors (27 of whom were the original founders of this project) and we closed our Seed Investment Round. This investment round provided enough capital to take us through to our next round of investment. Here are just a few of the people involved so far.
After building a fantastic relationship with the leaders of the Long Chi project, the leaders of Da Chi Town and the leaders of Xin Luo district in Longyan City, we signed an agreement to purchase the land and to build our distillery. The signing ceremony was hosted by Mr Guan Lian Chen, Governor of Da Chi Town – with Communist Party Secretary for Xin Luo District, Mr Jin Long Chen and the Mayor of Xin Luo District, Mr Zhao Yang Zhang.
As further leverage to our growing network of whisky lovers, we reached out to find some whisky loving architects that would care as much about our project as we would. SOG Design, a boutique architecture and design studio with a focus on China and South East Asia, were an obvious choice for us. With an extensive portfolio of commercial, retail, residential and mixed used developments in China and a natural creative ability to combine both eastern and western influences with modern interpretations, we are excited and confident with this appointment.
With our third and fourth funding rounds completed, the number of people involved in our project has grown to 98, coming from 23 different countries.