Drinks

Published on August 10th, 2015 | by Clarissa Waldron

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Eventbrite Summerschool with Chase Distillery

Would you get out of bed to sample premium vodka at 8:00 in the morning before work? Would your stomach even be able to handle it? What would your boss say if he smelled your boozy breath as you arrived into the office? Well throwing caution to the wind, that’s exactly what we did one beautiful morning last week.

Rocking up to Pizza Pilgrims in the fabulous Kingly Court (check it out) at an impressive 7.45am we were treated to some juice and croissants to line the stomach before taking part in a vodka and gin masterclass with Chase Distillery.

The class kicked off with James Chase giving background to the family enterprise (“Every company needs to have a back story”, he said), whose origins spring from a humble potato farm. James was such a fountain of insider information and knowledge that we were immediately woeful of the fact that the class was less than an hour long.

Sick of supermarkets’ treatment of farmers, his father, William Chase, decided to start his own business and turn his potato yield into crisps – hence the birth of Tyrrell’s crisps in 2002. Yes the Chase family make both excellent vodka (more about that later) and premium crisps. A match made in potato heaven you could say!

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Soon Tyrrell’s starting make vegetable crisps – a sheer accident according to James, which involved a power cut in the factory one evening that caused an abundance of root vegetables to get mixed up and converted into the wildly popular, and much imitated, crisp variation. Eager to continue this experimentation the Chase’s decided to turn their potatoes into vodka in 2008 after encountering a small potato vodka distillery in the US. And what makes the Chases so special is that they are essentially in a field of their own – pun absolutely not intended.

The company is family run in a marketplace dominated by large corporate companies and dishonest marketing stories. Chase Distillery do all the hard graft themselves – from growing the potatoes on their Hereford farm, to picking, cleaning, peeling and chopping them. This is in contrast to rival brands which use grains or worse still, bulk bought grain spirit which they then distill.

The crash course in vodka and gin distilling was incredibly eye-opening – it takes the family nearly 14kgs of potatoes to make one bottle of vodka, while in comparison, 2kgs of grain makes the same quantity for all those supermarket staple brands. Its details like these that justify Chase’s £30-plus price point when compared to the cost of mass produced grain vodka. And did you know – the tax man swoops in and takes £9 himself for every bottle of vodka sold? £12 if it’s gin that you’re plying the country with.

Aside from an abundance of insight into the vodka and gin industry, James took us through the company’s distilling process which was hyper technical despite the help of his’ ad-hoc diagrams. The family distills in copper pots all year round on their farm near the Welsh border which ensure a highly desirable, and rare, field to bottle process. Their vodka is twice distilled in a technique that takes up to two weeks.

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Later on we learn that gin is made from vodka, in fact gin is just vodka watered down and redistilled. There is more to it of course but by this point I think the smoked vodka (an insane flavour that works best in a Bloody Mary) we sampled is going to my head. Large companies like Tanqueray and Beefeater we are told are culprits when it comes to buying in a readymade blank canvas of grain to distill with, while Hendricks secret ingredient is a few dashes of rosewater.

Despite this, the gin industry is growing rapidly, not just in the UK but worldwide. In fact we aren’t even the number one gin-drinking country anymore – the Philippines pips us to the post there, as does the US and Spain putting the UK in fourth place.

With quite a unique selection of flavoured vodkas to choose from, including the aforementioned Oak Smoked flavour, a Rhubarb variety and Apple Vodka made from cider apples, Chase Distillery are really onto something. The care and dedication instilled in every distilling process is admirable, fascinating and something we as a nation of drinkers and independent label lovers should support because support is certainly coming from far afield. The family recently signed a deal to ship their vodka to Russia – quiet a commendable achievement not least because the Russians would surely have no qualms drinking vodka for breakfast. Also having the World’s Best Vodka title from San Francisco in your potato sack certainly wouldn’t have hurt the deal…

Buy Chase Distillery Vodka and Gin at Waitrose, Selfridges and John Lewis or shop online at www.chasedistillery.co.uk

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