Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to try the spirits that UK-based Chase Distilleries offers to the trade, so after completing my tasting notes on their core range, I’ve decided to combine them all onto one page for your viewing pleasure.
A little history first (1) –
A farmer of 20 years, William Chase had been growing potatoes to supply to the supermarkets as a commodity, but started to feel disheartened after he receives no feedback from the end customer. With prices rising, William decides to branch away from the supermarket scene with the idea of turning his potatoes into chips. During 2002, he travelled the world sourcing equipment and recipes to make potato chips. By the summer, ‘Tyrrells’ was rolling out, kick starting the homemade chips scene.
The creation of vodka though? That was more an accident. Whilst in the USA in 2004, William stumbled upon a small distillery whilst searching for packaging equipment – the distillery was producing potato vodka. So with his very own eureka moment, he sourced a bespoke rectifying column and started work on creating his very own homemade potato vodka.
From the idea in 2004, it took until April fool’s day 2008 to make the first of their potatoes and then make the first batch of vodka in June 2008. Despite having only a small volume output of 1000 litres for 16 tonnes of potatoes in its first run, William Chase prides himself on supreme quality over other mass-produced vodka.
So how does Chase create its award-winning products?
The first stage of the vodka making process is to convert the potatoes into sugars. The potatoes that we grow on the farm are old-fashioned high starch varieties such as Lady Claire and Lady Rosetta. They are harvested in late summer and stored in wooden boxes for the rest of the year. They tip them out of the boxes and into a water bath. Any stones that might be mixed in with them sink to the bottom, but the potatoes float and are drawn off into the peeling machine. The peel is mainly fibre and cannot be fermented, so they take it off and spread it on the fields as compost. The naked potato that they are left with is basically starch and water. They mash them and heat them up to produce a runny mashed potato. This cooks the starch so that the enzymes can get to work, but because they are destroyed by heat, they have to cool the mash to 60°C before they can add them.
The next stage is fermentation. The yeast starts to feed on the sugars that have been made out in the mash vessel and start to reproduce. This process has three waste products: alcohol, carbon dioxide gas and heat. They keep it cool at first to keep the rate of fermentation under control and after a week or so end up with a potato wine of between 8 and 10% abv.
When the fermentation has finished they then start the distilling process. As they gently heat the fermented mash, the alcohol will boil off preferentially and is condensed and collected. By law vodka must be taken to 96% alcohol by volume (abv) and then diluted with water back down to the bottling strength, which is 40%. In order to achieve this, it is distilled five times. The first distillation run is called a stripping run where they simply extract as much as possible from what they have fermented. Most vodka is stripped these days on a continuous stripper which is very efficient and can extract pretty much all the alcohol. Chase have gone back to using the more traditional batch pot still and although it only extracts 85-90% of the fermented alcohol, they are able to keep more of the character. The still is also handmade. It is completely copper which helps produce a smoother distillate by removing sulphates.At the end of the process, they end up with the Low Wines at around 45-50% abv.
Some of the substances in the Low Wines need to be removed as well as the need to concentrate the alcohol using the rectification column. This is over 70ft tall and extends up through the ceiling, up through the floor above and into a tower that had to be built on the roof of the distillery (again it is all hand-made from copper). They put the Low Wines back into the pot still and heat them up again. The vapour then passes up the rectification column through 42 bubble plates to the top where there is a condenser with cold water running through it. This condenses the alcohol vapour causing it to trickle back down to the bottom of the column leaving a thin layer of liquid on each bubble plate before it runs back into the still to be re-boiled, re-evaporated and sent back around the loop again. As the vapour passes up the rectification column again, this time it is forced into the layer of liquid on each bubble plate. As a vapour entering a liquid it will naturally condense, but because energy cannot be created or destroyed, something has to give, and so something also has to evaporate from the layer of liquid, and because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it tends to be the alcohol that evaporates preferentially. The result is that as the vapour passes up through these bubble plates it gets progressively purer and purer and more concentrated.
Once the ‘heart’ of the spirit run is removed, it is diluted with water from 96% abv to around 50% abv. The water is sourced from the aquifer underneath the orchard at the bottom of the valley. From the borehole they run it through a reverse osmosis filter and de-ioniser column to purify it. The next step is chill filtering. At low temperatures, long chain protein molecules can precipitate out of the spirit, and if not removed, the vodka could become hazy when stored in the freezer. So they chill the spirit down, allow the protein to precipitate out and then filter it again. They then add more of the pure water to adjust the product to 40% abv.
All the bottling is done by hand. The bottles arrive at the plant with the design already printed. They are then put upside down onto a turntable which rinses them out. After being put on a basic but accurate filler which fills the bottle to the required level, a cork is put in using a rubber mallet and a strip or capsule over the top.
So with a rather unique development, how do the finished products rate?
Chase Vodka – 40%
Gained the gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2010 Best Vodka category. Aromas of vanilla and butter mix well in the nose as the flavours of potato, butter and slight almond/vanilla surround your taste-buds. A smooth feel with a mellow aftertaste with great longevity. Slight black cracked pepper finish.
Chase Marmalade – 40%
Created using Chase vodka and marinated with Seville orange marmalade in the gin still. It is then boiled up and infused with Seville orange peel in their copper still. Giving a slight clear golden colour when poured and on the nose it gives off a subtle marmalade and orange aroma that smells fresh and inviting. On the palate, the marmalade gives off a stronger scent with a rather sweet and a slight bitterness from the orange, leaving a warm feeling and goes down well with a long lingering follow-up.
Chase Smoked Vodka – 40%
A small batch production of just 1000 bottles. Light smoke notes on the nose but bursts out as it hits the palate with a creamy potato textue. A long finish, albeit dry.
Chase Potato Bramley Apple Vodka – 40%
Bramley Apples are distilled with Naked Chase Apple Vodka. Light with kicks of apple on the nose that follows nicely onto the palate. A tangy yet crisp mouth feel gives a short profile.
Chase Rhubarb Vodka – 40%
Slowly cooked Herefordshire Rhubarb marinated with Chase vodka. A light, fresh scent of rhubarb aromas dance on the nose and palate, with a slight sweetness coming through as it nears the end.
Chase Bourbon Cask Vodka – 62.4%
Barrel aged vodka using casks that previously held Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Lots of dry oak swirl on the nose with vanilla, whilst the palate enjoys a mix of fudge, caramel and spicy black pepper to create a long finish.
Chase Raspberry Vodka – 40%
Very delicate and slow releasing of the raspberry on the nose which becomes rather fragrant once it hits the palate. A little sharp near the end but it soon mellows into a long offering.
Williams Gin – 48%
Distilled from organic apples, there’s lots of fresh green apple aromas on the nose which carries on to the palate, although a little bolder flavour. Hints of citrus mix to produce a smooth, longevity.
Williams Chase Seville Orange Gin – 40%
A sweet nose with slight orange aromas coming through slowly. Rather smooth on the palate with a slight ting on the long end. A lovely warmth.
Warm notes of cinnamon mix well with faint juniper aromas on the nose. Extremely soft on the palate with a kick of spice once it hits the throat. A little dry with the bold notes of citrus but the warmth of the cinnamon comes through a little more. Very long.
Chase Raspberry Liqueur – 20%
A deep, ripe raspberry nose bodes well as it creates a very smooth texture on the palate. A slight sweetness against a velvet offering produces a long finish, albeit a little dry.
There are many more variations that the Chase Distillery offer, including a smoked and a naked version of their vodka, a bramley apple and sloe gin, and rhubarb, elderflower and blackcurrant liqueurs.
Chase Elderflower Liqueur – 20%
Won gold at the Liqueur Masters 2009, sweet and floral on the nose, with the elderflower rather subtle on the palate instead of the hard hit you may expect. A refreshing long finish with a sweet after-taste that lingers.
Chase Rhubarb Liqueur – 20%
Very light and subtle on the nos, with a smooth sweetness of rhubarb which bursts as it makes it was to the back of the throat. A fantastic long flavour.
Chase Blackcurrant Liqueur – 20%
Soft nose of blackcurrant that doesn’t overpower the senses, although becomes bolder on the palate. A rather short offering with a little dryness near the end.
You’ll be able to find the Chase products on many back bars and homes these days – a testament to the brand from Herefordshire for traditionalism, hard-work, and determination to bring the UK something British! Worthy of a place in your drinks cabinet.
(1) All history and production methods taken directly from the Chase Distillery website. Subtle changes have been made for narrative purposes only.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.