This was a piece I wrote for Edinburgh Whisky Blog, one of the premier whisky blogs available. Originally hosted here.
Chase Vodka reviewed at Bon Vivant’s Companion by Joe; our friend, guest blogger, journalist and professional bartender
There is a refreshing trend developing in ‘premium’ spirits towards distilleries run by real people, in real places, with real cool philosophies. The days of bullshit imported neutral spirit being re-distilled with a couple of local ingredients lobbed in are long since over. This revival has most commonly been seen in the great gin uprising of the past 10 years but there exists a close circle of distillers willing to go the extra mile to apply this school of thought to creating truly artisanal vodkas.
The Chase family story is a prime example of this emphasis on the real. After five generations of farming in Herefordshire the family were declared bankrupt in the late 90s. They became a casualty of the supermarket price wars that drove farming profits into the ground. They were reborn in 2002 with the creation of Tyrell’s crisps and two years later became the first brand ever to refuse Tesco’s offer to carry their products.
It was on a trip researching crisp making methods that William Chase became inspired by a distillery in the USA making vodka from potatoes. He brought the idea back to his family and they set about building a distillery on their farm with a bespoke 70ft tall rectifying column fitted with 42 bubble plates.
Their first run of potato based vodka was ready in 2008 and success followed soon after with the family scooping the WSC Best Vodka award in 2010. The notion of vodka that is distilled from what is essentially a potato wine seems repugnant but in reality proves rather pleasant.
Chase English Potato Vodka
Nose: As expected from a vodka the nose is straight up harsh with just the slightest sweetness emerging.
Palate: It is on the palate that this vodka is really outstanding, like a grand heap of Granny’s buttery mash the tongue is coated in a playfully creamy mouthfeel which is a relief when expecting a nasty starchy mess.
Overall: The company’s flagship spirit delivers immediately upon their philosophy, it is clean and unobtrusive. It could almost be perceived as sipping vodka as the finish is not as fiery as expected.
Marketing Director James Chase explained that they select Rosetta or Lady Claire variety potatoes as due to their higher starch content they produce more sugar and less wastewater. As regards the by products of their distillation process the mash is used to feed William Chase’s cattle, the methanol produced is used as fuel for boilers and vehicles, and any waste water is processed on site and returned to the lake it is drawn from heating a few of the farmhouse’s rooms on the way.
Everything used in the process is taken directly from the farm or sustainably sourced. As such the next move for the distillery was to make use of the farm’s 600 acres of cider apple trees in an apple based expression.
Naked Chase Apple Vodka
It must be noted that this is not an apple flavoured vodka as such, rather it is produced by distilling what is essentially an 8% farmhouse cider like the potato wine used for the original expression.
Nose: In terms of vodka the nose is unsurprising, bold and boozy with just a slight tang.
Palate: A pleasant vodka that shares a slight creamy mouthfeel with its potato predecessor. The apple flavour is not overpowering whatsoever and leaves a pleasant finish, rather than the sticky apple soorz disaster left in the wake of other apple flavoured vodkas.
Overall: A sensible next step in the evolution of the brand and an education in the subtle differences between the potato and apple expressions.
James then explains that he wanted to play with the new set up and produce a gin that ‘worked off the definition that gin is a redistilled vodka with juniper as the predominant flavour’.
Williams Chase Gin
Nose: Despite being a particularly punchy effort at 48% the nose is clinically clean and a little sweet with appearances of lemon zest and seamint.
Palate: The trademark Chase creamy mouthfeel lends something new to the gin drinking experience and as a result the flavour coats the entire tongue. Licorice, red apple and an intriguing cameo from dark chocolate combine to offer a delicious gin.
Overall: The gin is unique amongst its competitors due to the creaminess and despite claiming to be the ‘most complicated gin in the world’ is actually relatively easy going. In spite of having 11 botanicals there is nothing too mindbending going on.
As well as these we tasted three of their flavoured vodkas, each of which brought a unique and curious sensation to the fore.
The family’s marmalade, now an entrant for the 2012 world marmalade championships, is turned into a tongue-twisting marmalade marinade and used in the distillation process to create this delicious beverage.
Nose: A nice spiced bitter orange, almost Christmassy aroma.
Palate: You could have this for breakfast and not notice. Literally tasting like a generous helping of marmalade spread over warm toast, a sexy breakfast in bed.
Overall: A supremely smooth finishing vodka with little or no bite to it this will prove an intriguing one to play with. After the tasting my pal Alan experimented with a marmalade vodka Marmalade cocktail (replacing gin with the Chase marmalade and using a wee dash of gomme to replace the sugar of marmalade) and it turned out pretty delightful.
Bramley Apple Vodka
Nose: Pretty harsh and like the potato vodka made me worry.
Palate: As soon as it hits the tongue my worries are quelled. I get a delicious super juicy red apple straight away with a crafty blackcurrant finish. Almost a cider and black flavour here.
Overall: A pretty cool limited edition, perhaps a little too sweet, but a promising sign of things to come. James insists that anybody with ideas gives him a shout and they are currently working on a few intriguing concepts, including a local company that grows chillies.
Nose: Again at risk of repetition I’m filled with trepidation as I’m met by a harsh and near peaty nose
Palate: The taste however is a total contrast. Like the marmalade vodka I’d happily chow this down on a nice hunk of bread, perhaps with a mustard garnish. There’s no mistaking the honey roast ham flavours at work and it’s a pretty peculiar but delightful experience.
Overall: As an on trade exclusive this is one for the high end of mixology. Perfect for anybody really wishing to mess with perceptions and a really pleasing product.
The distillery show a real commitment to creating a product that professional bartenders will care about and use to inform and delight their guests. They also host ‘Rock The Farm’, a two day live music event that centres around the Chase Cup cocktail competition and last year saw over 700 bartenders invade the farm. At the end of our tasting James gave us all an open invite to drop in if we were ever in the neighbourhood and this is an offer I’m sure he will regret making as scores of people will undoubtedy rock up at the farm to check out what they do.