A proud Pembrokeshire man has created a new alcoholic drinks business after feeling intense ‘hiraeth’ during lockdown.

Former Fishguard man, James Rowlands, now works as a teacher in a special educational needs school in Cardiff.

During the coronavirus pandemic he found himself locked down in Chepstow and experiencing an intense longing for his native Pembrokeshire.

James, who is also a trained microbiologist, has always been interested in honey, brewing and distilling.

“I had a real sense of hiraeth [during lockdown],” said James. “I wanted to find a way to connect with nature again while being homebound in Chepstow.”

James began experimenting with honey, brewing and then distilling it, trying several variations of the process until he produced his first batch of honey spirit.

Having developed a love for the craft, he decided to turn it into a business, becoming a licensed producer and launching Hive Drinks Co in February 2021.

The company focuses on creating innovative drinks and spirits made almost entirely from honey, designed to be drunk on their own, with mixers or as part of a cocktail.

“Hive Drinks Co takes inspiration from the ancient practice of making mead, a honey wine,” said James.

“I wanted to create something that was authentic and paid homage to this simple and sustainable means of provenance, but I wanted to do it in a new and innovative way by creating a spirit.”

James applied for a start-up loan to enable him to upscale the business and pay for raw materials, production facilities and transportation of goods.

He has received £9,000 of funding from the British Business Bank is now collaborating with Dai Wakeley, the Master Distiller at the renowned Hensol Castle Distillery and Sam Cooper, Director of Afon Mel Mead and Honey Farm.

The result is a flagship Hive honey spirit that went on the market late last year.

The British Business Bank Start Up Loans programme provides government backed loans of up to £25,000 per individual, up to a maximum of £100,000 per business, facilitated through delivery partners in Wales like Business in Focus.

In addition to finance, successful applicants receive free mentoring, access to resources and advice.

“The mentoring I received as part of the start up loan programme gave me the support and confidence that I needed to take that first step in growing Hive Drinks,” said James.

“The process of applying was simultaneously straightforward but also rigorous and it meant I was accounting for everything from projected sales, to branding, to minimum order quantities, because I’d had the opportunity to talk it all through with my mentor”, James said.

In the short term, James hopes to increase production of the honey blossom spirit beyond the current small-batch scale, as well as to expand the drinks range.

Looking further ahead, James’ experience as a teacher of boys with social, emotional and behavioural challenges means he has aspirations to turn Hive Drinks into a social enterprise.

“The aim eventually is to start my own apiary, meadery and distillery, which would mean as well as sourcing the honey, I could produce the spirit on my own premises as well,” he said.

“This is where it would be great to employ people who have experienced challenges, or who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, so they can build up work experience that they might not otherwise be able to achieve.”

Jessica Phillips-Harris, senior manager for Wales at the British Business Bank said: “We’re thrilled to have supported Hive Drinks in its journey to producing its first batch of honey spirit. The start up loans programme is all about providing access to finance for everyone and some of our biggest successes have come from businesses borne out of passion projects, like this one.

“Combine that with James’ aims for a sustainable and socially beneficial business sand we see a real recipe for success. We wish James all the best with his endeavours at Hive Drinks.”