Feasibility of producing and selling alcoholic tinctures/schnapps commercially?

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Nov 5, 2021
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So, for the past couple of years or so, I've been dipping my toes into the world of home-brewing (initially, with a view to setting up my own microbrewery, as brought up on a previous thread). Still only producing pretty tiny 10L batches though, limited by the extremely basic entry-level equipment I've got space for in my residence. And truth be told, the lack of space and relative lack of funding (with the cost of living crisis, combined with having been largely unemployed for the past year now, intermittent zero-hours contract temp work aside) means that I haven't been able to do much experimentation with different hops, malts, yeasts or recipes (though I did manage to have a go at a rauchbier/'smoke beer' batch; personally found its taste interesting, and nice enough, but my dad and the other two tasters I offered it to weren't fans). As such, since last summer, for the most part I've been keeping the actual brewing itself extremely basic, using no more than a couple of different malts (mostly barley and/or wheat, but pearl millet proved a popular addition) and hops (Magnum, Columbus, Target and/or Citra) each time, and stretching things as far as I can take them. But I've also been being a tad 'mad-science'-y in my approach with regards to tossing other unusual ingredients in to create relatively unique speciality ale. And the easiest, quickest and most cost-effective way to try as many different beer flavorings as possible on a tight budget was by home-producing a bunch of different alcoholic spirit tinctures/American-style 'schnapps' (though most of the time, I haven't been bothering with straining/filtering them to remove any detritus afterwards, leaving them 'hazy'), using cheap supermarket-bought vodka as my base.

Using this method, along with ingredients from a wide variety of sources- including hunter-gathering from my local country park, my own garden, the local shops and online shopping from other countries- I've managed to create a pretty large assortment of varied and unique range of tinctures/schnapps, initially for use in my brews, but several of which then also got used either as flavorings for other drinks (incl. coffees/frappes), as snaps/shots in their own right, or even for foodstuffs (e.g, homemade chocolate) or herbal medicine. Honorable mentions go to those I made using sapodilla/chikoo fruit (see here for a similar example), lemon verbena leaves, butternut squash, fuschia fruit, and butterfly pea flowers, with the most demand for repeat orders coming for the tincture I agreed to produce on special commission from my uncle's Wiccan girlfriend using esfand seeds (though I still haven't repeated it, or agreed to do a new order using passion flower blossoms instead, on ethical and liability grounds, not wanting to repeat the production what I realised was effectively an ayahuasca-substitute spirit beverage, in spite of confirming this one's still legal pretty much everywhere in the world besides NZ and Australia).

And over the past few months in particular, I've actually gotten a lot more interest in the alcoholic tinctures/schnapps themselves than I have in the speciality ales I've produced with them ; not just from relatives, friends and acquaintances (particularly female ones, including the aforementioned wiccan GF of my mum's brother and the members of her circle), but from a few local pubs, bars and restaurants looking to expand their cocktail lists.
So, I was just wondering, particularly in context of how difficult it's been jumping through all of the hoops, rules and regulations to try and start up a pilot nanobrewery, mightn't it be more feasible and lucrative to simply focus upon producing, marketing and selling these alcoholic 'spirit tinctures' instead? Given that I'm not actually brewing or distilling anything myself when mixing up and making these alcoholic tinctures/schnapps, but merely engaging in spirit compounding, gov.uk's guidelines seem to imply that all I'd need to start doing this legally'd be to get an excise trade compounder's license, which I can get free of charge and I've already applied for. Am I missing something, though?
No clue really on the laws/regulations for this field, but as you are producing something for human consumption there are aspects of health & safety consumer protection, product liability. And your premises need to comply with the usual regulations re. food production plus you need to be insured separately from your domestic dwelling, etc etc.
I'm sure there are plenty of members here with more insight than me.
I think you will need a rectifiers license. And bonded storage.

Like many you think "this is good" I enjoy this and do the research I did. And decided not to. The sums don't add up for me.

Do able yes. But are you intending to make money or 'cos you can?
I think you will need a rectifiers license. And bonded storage.

Like many you think "this is good" I enjoy this and do the research I did. And decided not to. The sums don't add up for me.

Do able yes. But are you intending to make money or 'cos you can?
Not really- more like I'm thinking "Man, turns out it'll be so much hard and pricier to find a suitable premises to start up that nano-brewery I wanted to locally and fix it up to meet all of the rules and regulations before starting trading, plus I want to make money and after adding up the sums I'm not sure it can even do that. These herbal and fruit tinctures I've been whipping up with vodka to use as beer flavorings, though- they're a lot cheaper, quicker and easier to make and store. Plus, a lot more people are way more interested in them than they are in my beer, and willing to pay more for them than they are for the beer itself- even if I enjoy this and put in the effort I did. Maybe I should just place my aspirations to found a brewery start-up company on standby for now, and focus on retailing and marketing these tinctures instead?"

Hell, if I was really ultra-focused upon making money, and fiscal lucrativity to the utmost degree, rather than doing it "cos I can"/"want to" or "cause it'd be a good thing to do", I could go all in on a hypothetical alcoholic spirit beverage I formulated for the sake of it after researching just what I was mixing up for my wiccan aunt-in-law, combining the esfand/harmal seeds', lemon balm (which also contains harmine, but which I know actually tastes good, and makes the resulting alcoholic spirit a variant of 'carmelite water'), and butterfly pea flowers (primarily for the vivid psychedelic coloration, which changes depending upon the PH of the solution it's added to). That way, I could actively market the fact that it'd qualify as a medicinal product for diabetics (with harmine currently being the only known drug that induces proliferation of pancreatic alpha and beta cells in adult humans), thereby negating the need for a license at all according to gov.uk's guidelines. That way, all I'd need'd be bonded storage (along with supply chains and retail venues), which'd be fairly easy.

Heck, based upon the fact that harmine alkaloids purportedly greatly increases the intensity of the 'highs' provided by indulging in the consumption of cannabis, as well as mildly intensifying its psychedelic effects such as hallucinations, ego dissolution, and increased emotions (perhaps providing context for the documented historical surge in the cultivation and harvesting of harmal/esfand, in those territories controlled by the Sikh Bhangi Misl, much to the bewilderment of the British colonials who dismissed it as a worthless noxious weed), I could even mix it together with cannabis extract, emulating their secret Sikh Confederate-era recipes for bhang goli to compound a similarly super-charged 'Bhangi Daru'. And whilst the Muslims don't really drink alcohol on a large scale, shisha and hookah bars are plenty ubiquitous among the Muslim community.

The town I live in, Slough, now has the lowest concentration of pubs per capita in the UK, at roughly one pub per 6,900 people; but at least three of the historical local pubs which shut down over the past few years, including my previous local, have been re-purposed into dedicated shisha bars/lounges, which look like they're doing pretty well for themselves. It'd be all too easy to market such a 'Bhangi Daru' spirit blend as a dedicated nicotine-free alcoholic hookah/shisha or vape mix, or to simply let people catch on that it can be consumed in that way whilst avoiding liability by officially stating that it shouldn't be (just like Holland & Barrett do, to disavow these 'alternative uses' of their massively successful over-the-counter cannabidiol products).

8-11% of the adult population in the UK, roughly 4-6M people, have consumed a CBD product in the last year, with those who've done so being markedly younger than average and disproportionately likely to hail from an Asian demographic. The British CBD industry's sales are now estimated at just under £1 billion per annum, having more than trebled over the course of just the past four years, and still continues its meteoric rise; whereas in contrast, those of the entire British craft beer industry are now estimated at roughly £1.4 billion per annum, and have been continuously shrinking by 1.1% per annum for the past five years, with no change of fortunes in sight. If it were just about answering that question, "are you intending to make money", and "adding up the sums", which one'd clearly be the superior choice to get into, from a business start-up perspective?
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