Skip to main content
Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 25/03/2024

Thomas Chisholm and Rupert Waites saw untapped potential in Scotland’s natural larder. So, they built a flourishing business producing drinks that showcase the hidden flavours of Scotland.

Read on to find out how they built their exciting business, producing award-winning craft Scottish spirits and liqueurs with a real sense of place, plus special tastings and immersive events for visitors.


Business partners Thomas Chisholm and Rupert Waites first met working in hospitality in Edinburgh. They connected with a shared fascination for the natural world and interest in developing the hidden flavours of Scotland into glasses.

Tom and Rupert first started to work together in 2011, running popular pop-up dinners in Portobello. They offered seven courses of hyper-local, seasonal dishes, featuring foraged ingredients, for up to 20 people a time.

They served homemade drinks to accompany the food, which were also made from wild ingredients. Customers loved the experience, and the elder liqueur was especially well-received, with many requests to buy a bottle.

How they got started

Having listened to the positive feedback about the liqueurs, they decided to test the market. They knew their product was distinctive and had a good story behind it. So, they made 200 bottles and gave them to friends in hospitality.

The result was positive, and they were quickly stocked in a number of sites in Edinburgh, including Tom Kitchin’s restaurants, Harvey Nichols, and Royal Mile Whiskies.

How the business started to grow

“Setting up a board changes the parameters. It’s been a really positive move.”

A key moment was connecting with East Lothian Food & Drink. They supported the new business to take a stand at the Royal Highland Show by offering a subsidised exhibitor rate.

The opportunity to showcase and sell their liqueurs was pivotal, as it gave them the opportunity to speak to visitors and take feedback. This was valuable, tailored market research at an early stage in the business.

They targeted local farmers markets, Christmas-themed events and business-to-business shows, which resulted in new connections with key buyers.

As the business grew, they managed to secure more prestigious stockists, including:

  • Gleneagles
  • Virgin Hotels
  • The Dorchester Hotel
  • Edinburgh Castle

To further develop the business, they took on two rounds of investment. The first was from friends and family and they restructured to create a board. The second round was from more experienced investors, bringing expertise from within the drinks industry.

This has proved to be an important step, helping them to:

  • streamline the business
  • manage running it from a personal perspective
  • set clear targets for growth
  • get some capital to develop their operation

In 2019, they moved to their new premises in East Lothian. They set up a tasting room, which quickly became valuable during lockdown, enabling them to create a virtual tasting experience to engage customers.

This space is now used to host business-to-business visitors, mostly retailers and bar tenders. It helps them to engage their customers by telling the story behind their business in a really authentic and honest way.


One of the Buck and Birch owners holding a glass of liqueur.

Developing the customer experience

“What we do is authentic and different.”

Separately, they created an experience for the public and travel trade visitors, running foraging tours and courses.

Its aim is to show people the local environment, in which the owners harvest the ingredients for the drinks and engage visitors with nature and rural skills.

These experiences visit a local community woodland that the restaurant uses to sustainably harvest ingredients, offering an authentically Scottish experience.

This is especially important in a saturated market. The owners believe it helps to convert customers into becoming advocates for the brand.

The tourist trade is important, with visitors coming for a day, as part of a tour or combining a visit with Glenkinchie Distillery.

The business listed with VisitScotland and have received support from the tourism organisation in setting up a tourist experience.

The owners organise different experiences from a quicker tour and tasting to a bespoke day. This depends on requirements of the tour operator involved.

East Lothian Food & Drink has offered useful support and guidance, helping the owners to develop and refine their offer for tourists.

A bottle of liqueur at Buck and Birch.

What has been the key to their success?

  • Appointing a board

    Appointing the board was a good move for the business. It helps them to implement a strategy and grow, albeit with a very small team. This has been very helpful in managing the many demands of founding and growing a business.

  • Creating visitor experiences

    Visitor experiences give the brand a great opportunity to engage customers. It helps them understand more about the brand story and engages them with the ethos of the brand and local environment.

  • Continuous testing and feedback

    The visitor experiences also help visitors understand what they do and why. This is critical for an artisanal product. It's also a useful opportunity to test products on customers, gather feedback, and continue to improve the products and experiences.

Related links