Pub landlord makes surprise fortune selling water in massive stroke of luck


A landlord who took on a pub and expected a huge bill to sort out its water supply found he was sitting on a goldmine.

Doran Binder bought the Crag Inn in Wildboarclough, near Leek, in 2016.

At the time he was at “rock bottom” because of his divorce.

Not long after taking on the small country pub, he had to get the water tested as part of an annual inspection to make sure it was safe for the public to drink.

But despite fearing he was going to end up having to dig deep, the outcome couldn’t have been more different.

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For Doran soon learned that the aquifer that runs 27 metres below the pub flowed with some of the purest water in the world.

And with 700,000 litres of it – enough to fill more than a million bottles a day.

He found himself sitting on liquid gold which flowed from the landmark Shutlingsoe hill.



The Crag Inn in Wildboarclough near Macclesfield

So much so that he was approached by a boutique US drinks manufacturer that sells high-end mineral water to elite clients for up to $150 a bottle.

But 49-year-old Doran turned them down, instead deciding to run his own glass bottling operation straight from the pub, and is regularly receiving calls from India, China, the US and further afield from companies looking to import his water.

The dad-of-five said he was working for Bumble and Bumble, a hair care products brand in New York, and living between the US and the UK when family circumstances prompted him to buy the pub.

“We were living 900 metres away on a farm, and we got divorced. I thought if I bought the pub I could be close to the kids. I knew the pub was failing, but I thought I’d just buy it and see what happened.



The water runs down off Shutlingsloe, filtering through sandstone and limestone into the spring on the grounds of the pub, in the bottom centre

“At the time I was working in New York and quite happy. I bought this, I’m commuting two weeks here, two weeks there, I’ve got a great little life. I thought, ‘I’ll run it for a year, see how it goes and then make a decision about what we do with the pub’.

“Because it’s a pub we have to undergo annual testing to make sure the water is safe for public consumption. I invited Blair Water round because they’re the company that his historically tested the water every year.

“I approached the meeting thinking, ‘I’m going to have to spend ten grand on this water, I know it’. So Richard Taylor, who owns Blair Water, comes along and we sit in the pub. I’ve never met him before, and the first thing he says to me is, ‘Do you know how good your water is, mate?’ He said he’d told the previous owners for 20 years that they should be bottling it and selling it, but they never did.



The water is currently hand bottled on site, but Doran hopes to install an automated system soon

“He said, ‘I’ve been drilling water for 40 years, all over the world, and this is the best water I’ve drilled by a mile, anywhere.’ He said there was nothing geologically to indicate good water in the area, but what I’d hit was a ‘vein of gold’ coming off Shutlingsoe hill.”

A concrete block around two feet high lies between the pub’s beer garden and a small barbecue. It is the top of the borehole that descends 27 metres down to the aquifer. Doran sent a sample of the water to be tested and accredited, and was intrigued as to what the result would be.

“I was at New York Fashion Week on a runway when my phone rang and it’s Richard Taylor, and he goes, ‘I’ve got the results, sell everything you’ve got, hand in your notice, come back here and start bottling it’. So I did. I sold everything and I started bottling it in May 2018.”

He set about turning the pub into a bottle processing plant. He uses only glass bottles, which are washed and refilled when they are returned.



The water runs around 27 metres below the ground

“For the first year and a half I was on my own in there. There was no bottle washer, there were three sinks. I was washing them by hand and I didn’t have any money to employ anyone.

“I was still sceptical – surely I can’t just make money from putting water into bottles?”

But the reality sank in three months in, when, Doran says, he was approached by a well-established American firm.

“They got in touch with me on Instagram and asked me for samples. I thought, ‘Okay, this where I get rumbled.’ These people are global experts, they sell the finest waters in the world. I reluctantly sent it to them, put it on a credit card because I had no money and it was about eighty-five quid, and then a week later they asked for a Skype meeting.



The site now employs 12 people

“The first thing they said was, ‘This is one of the finest waters we’ve ever tasted’. They didn’t think I was doing it justice by putting it in reusable glass bottles, they thought the water was better than that and they thought it was a bit of a marketing gimmick. I explained that it wasn’t a marketing gimmick, it’s about environmental awareness and that’s the direction I want it to go in, so I held off supplying them.

“They said, ‘If we were to sell your water in our boutique today, the 750ml bottle we’d be selling for between $35 and $50 a bottle’. They have bottles there that they sell for $150 a bottle, and that’s when I realised it wasn’t too good to be true.”

His company, Crag Spring Water, now employs 12 people who operate out of the pub’s old dining room.



Doran was approached by specialist companies who said his water could sell for up to $50 a bottle

The glass bottles are delivered by crate straight to the doors of customers, be that in the company’s own van, or by the dairies that now stock the water and deliver it on the morning milk rounds. The still waters sell at £12 for 12 750ml bottles, the sparkling at £15 for the same amount.

Doran is proud of the company’s environmental credentials, and is passionate about using glass and not plastic. “It’s re-using. Don’t say recycling. People say, ‘Oh, you recycle bottles …’ No, we don’t. We re-use them. We think about recycling as a green thing, but we take a bottle, put it in a recycling bin, it gets transported somewhere, it gets crushed, and then gets turned back into what it was. To me it seemed like the epitome of insanity but what’s wat we considered ‘green’.

“Hopefully here now we can make some kind of a difference. I can count how many bottles we’ve re-used, and it’s already up to more than a hundred thousand bottles that haven’t been buried or recycled.”



Doran currently bottle the water in glass bottle which can be returned to the plant for re-use

Doran intends to keep growing the business, and receives calls from India, China, the US and South Korea. “We want to grow it as big as we can but I don’t mean big in a financial sense, I mean big in terms of making a difference.

“We’ll be building a 10m by 25m unit on the land, then it’ll be automated, and when it’s automated we’ll produce in an hour what we’re currently doing in a day.”

The firm provides internships in collaboration with the Rossendale Trust, which works with people with learning difficulties.

“When I thought about how this gift came along at the worst point in my life, when I was really rock bottom, I thought someone’s looking out for me here, and I want to do everything I can to make the product as environmentally-friendly as I can. But then I thought about the Rossendale Trust being five minutes … that’s me paying back that debt, I suppose, to whoever it was looking out for me when I needed a bit of help.”

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