William Chase's career has always centred around spuds in some way. Born on the family farm in Herefordshire, he had been farming potatoes for 20 years, mainly supplying supermarkets. Then William took his first step towards diversification when he launched Tyrrells crisps - and we all know what a success they were! Not only did Tyrrells become a familiar brand across the UK and beyond, but they sparked a wave of copycat versions.
But it wasn't long before William was struggling financially again, with pressure from the supermarkets to lower prices (and therefore quality), and from larger competitors with cheaper bought-in raw materials. In the end, he decided to sell the business.
During one of his trips abroad to promote Tyrrells, William discovered that you can make Vodka out of potatoes and also that Gin is made from Vodka. He clearly loves a challenge and as he was ready for a change, decided to reinvest the money he'd earned from the crisp business to build a distillery at his farm and produce Vodka and Gin.
The Chase potato harvest
William stuck by his tried and tested rule: Produce high quality goods to compete with the best similar products in the world. He wanted to produce “connoisseur’s drinks so pure you don't get an hangover”, along with “products for people to sip”. Sticking to his principles paid off, and in his first year of distilling sales reached £140,000.
The potatoes for the spirit come from the combined 1,500 acres of William Chase’s two Herefordshire farms, as does all of the fruit for the liqueurs. The apple and citrus trees are grown in his 200-year old orchards using biodynamic agriculture. He's proud that he can “grow and make something sustainable with real pedigree”.
Chase spirits are unique, because they are 'single estate', i.e. every aspect of growing and production is done on the Chase Estate. 'Field to glass' is extremely rare; most spirits producers, even for Vodka and even for premium drinks, buy in their neutral spirits. In the UK this is usually grain spirit.
The Chase Team (William Chase is second from the right)
The Chase Distillery team has grown rapidly but is still very much a family business, with William employing his wife and sons in key positions in the company. It's quite an egalitarian enterprise, with everyone being head of something, from William Chase as Head Honcho, to those on the bottling line - Dave, Peter, Luda, Lyn and Phillip - being Head of Hand Bottling. Other team members include a Head of Money, Head of Bee Keeping and Head of Harvesting Potatoes. Sounds like a fun place to work!
Chase Elegant Gin is the only Gin to be distilled from apples. The apple spirit is then distilled with 11 botanicals, including juniper, angelica, orange and lemon peel, hops and elderflowers. Very English! It has fresh aromas of juniper, citrus fruit and spices, while it tastes crisp with juniper and aromatic green fruits, followed by warm spices and earthy tones. Watch this video on making the perfect Chase Elegant Gin and Tonic, below.
Chase Vodka is the world’s first premium potato Vodka, and was voted the world’s best Vodka at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It is produced in the tallest copper batch pot in Europe (70 foot), which results in a naturally sweet and creamy taste. It tastes of liquorice, black pepper and aniseed, and William suggests drinking it neat.
Chase Marmalade Vodka became a permanent fixture after the success of an initial 1,000 litre limited edition batch. It's marinaded with Seville orange marmalade and then distilled four times. It has strong flavours of orange zest a bittersweet taste. William recommends it over ice with a splash of Tonic Water, or in this delicious Marmalade Mule, see video below.
Chase Rhubarb Vodka is produced without using any artificial ingredients. Chase slowly cook Herefordshire rhubarb, then marinade it with their award-winning, triple distilled Chase Original Vodka. It is great in Champagne-based cocktails.
Chase Smoked Vodka is incredible stuff that's made by blending smoked water with Chase Vodka that has been distilled to the magical level of 96% ABV. Water needs to be added to take it down to 40% for bottling, and this is the same for the Original Chase Vodka – the only difference being that the water wouldn’t be smoked for the Original. This beauty will take your Bloody Marys to a whole new level!
William's newest venture is a bit of a departure, as it is Chase Provençal Rosé Wine. It is grown and produced on a single estate in the South of France, where William grows the vines biodynamically, and watches over the process from seed to bottle. Grapes are a mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The wine is aged in oak barrels and amphora - Roman style pottery barrels. It's then put in beautiful bottles with special glass stoppers, and shipped to the UK. Last year's was the first batch, and this year's (the 2014) has just been released.
We're looking forward to seeing what the Chase empire comes up with next... According to William, he aims to "keep innovating with both the spirits and the wines, experimenting with ways to make Vodka, by fermenting beetroot for example; anything new and different!"
Chase Rosé, photo © Karen Harvey