Vodka focus: Spirit of spuds

Related tags Potato Vodka

Standing here in the shadow of a state-of-the-art copper still with wintry sunlight pouring through the windows of a former agricultural building,...

Standing here in the shadow of a state-of-the-art copper still with wintry sunlight pouring through the windows of a former agricultural building, you could easily imagine you were in some Polish or Russian suburb.

However, this new £1m vodka distillery is in rural Hereford and it's not the latest venture of a spirits giant, but the creation of crisp manufacturer Tyrrells.

Equally remarkable is the seemingly blind faith that Tyrrells has in the potato-based spirit. It won't produce its first filled bottle until March and Customs & Excise has not at time of writing granted the necessary licence. This vodka novice has come up with a bottle design and launch strategy without consulting any experts in the field, yet Tyrrells founder William Chase says: "I have a hunch that this will work".

Then again, Tyrrells has built up a crisp brand valued at £30m from a similarly inexperienced standing start in 2002.

William came up with the idea to turn his farm's potatoes into artisan crisps, spent time researching and sourcing equipment abroad and launched with samplings in gastropubs and hotels - all without consultants, who he says "you give your watch to only for them to tell you the time".

The same will apply to Tyrrells Potato Vodka. The stills and equipment have been supplied by a German company and bottles will sell to consumers for between £30 and £35.The new product will make Tyrrells Court Farm's potato production more economical. While head distiller Jamie Baxter admits "there is not a lot of experience distilling from potatoes in the UK so we are on a steep learning curve", he explains that the potatoes whose size is not suitable for crisps are perfectly starchy for vodka. The varieties Tyrrells plants are chosen because their high starch content is suited to frying.

Jamie adds that Tyrrells' position as both farmer and producer will be exploited in the marketing, as it has successfully been in the case of the crisps. He says: "It's about more than expanding the brand. It's about sustainability, a holistic system where we control the whole process."

William has a similar belief that Tyrrells Vodka will be differentiated by the 'story' of its potatoes, focusing on this, rather than the water used, as many brands do.

"The spirits industry is full of twee stories about the water," he says. "Whether it comes from a volcano or wherever, it doesn't make any difference. It has to be filtered to neutrality otherwise it taints the distillation process. So I thought let's do something that has a relevant story for people who care about provenance. That worked for the crisps." So, the thinking goes, it should for the vodka too.

Why make vodka from potatoes?

It might strike some as a trifle odd that you would want to make vodka from potatoes when spirits are traditionally made from grain or grapes.

The use of the potato has always traditionally been a Polish oddity. Centuries ago makers of vodka simply looked for the most widely available form of starch. In Russia that meant wheat and rye, in Sweden wheat and in Poland it meant on occasion rye but also potatoes. To us it may seem an extremely low-grade ingredient for a premium spirit. But in reality that is far from the case. Many fantastic creamy, smooth vodkas are made from potatoes - such as Luksusowa.

Related topics Spirits & Cocktails

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