Monday, 14 April 2014

A Single Estate Journey: The Chase Distillery Tour

Keen spirit drinkers will be well aware of Chase products by now - even if you haven't tried any, you'll probably recognise the name or bottles from gazing at the selection at your nearest cocktail bar. In the past year or so they've been filtering their way through to the supermarkets and duty frees too, so there really is no excuse.

For those who might not know, Chase are responsible for that stunning English Potato Vodka, which was voted, upon the first year of entering in 2010, World's Best Vodka at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.

They also produce Williams Gin made from apples grown on the farm - no neutral grain spirit here. In the six years that they've been going, they have certainly made a name for themselves, and you, yes YOU, can go and visit the distillery to see where the magic happens, and uncover the story behind the Chase family and farm.

Last week, armed with a group of thirsty friends, I took a trip deep into the Herefordshire Countryside. Windy roads, quaint villages, fields as far as the eye could see, and numerous tractors later; our taxi arrived at Rosemaund Farm, home of the distillery.

There's quite a history at this site. Will Chase, the head honcho, had been farming potatoes here for 20 years, but with increasing price pressure from the big supermarkets, and having no interaction with customers, he felt it was time to change tactics. In 2002, 'Tyrrells' was born – those damn tasty potato chips. As they grew in popularity, Will was searching for the next step; then in 2004, whilst travelling the USA, he came across a small distillery making potato vodka... In 2008 they produced their first batch, and the rest is history... (I’m not going to tell you everything now, am I? I want you to go and learn for yourself!)

The tour starts with a tasting of their two vodkas; their original potato vodka, and Naked Chase, a unique apple vodka made from cider apples. There’s such a contrast between the two, the first is incredibly smooth and creamy, whereas the second, although not apple flavoured, is crisp and has an apple-y tang. It would make a fabulous martini.

You get shown around the farm (we lucked out with distiller Alex Davies), looking at the huge acreage of fields and orchards, then seeing all the machinery that washes/peels/mashes/ferments the produce. You even get to taste and smell the vodka (or what will be vodka) at different stages of its process, which is crazy. But it’s this single estate approach, from field to bottle within a matter of yards that sets Chase apart from many other spirits. There are no shortcuts in making a quality product, but extra processes obviously come at extra cost, nonetheless, the team at Chase take pride in this, and the fact they’ve put their heart and soul into it, makes it’s worth every penny.

They didn’t scrimp on their still either... They have their own bespoke copper rectifying column, and it’s flippin’ HUGE. At 70ft, it’s said to be the world’s largest.

Considering the amount of vodka/gin/liqueur they actually make, you’ll be surprised to know that they still bottle everything by hand. It’s a very modest work station in which they fill, cork, foil, wax, adorn with bow ties, and box their booze. You can imagine on the run up to Christmas that it gets pretty hectic in these parts...

Anyway, the tour finishes with a tutored tasting in the shop/bar area, starting off with the two gins; Williams Chase Elegant Gin and the GB Extra Dry. Both are made through re-distilling the Naked Chase with wild botanicals; the first is a very delicate mix of juniper, citrus, coriander and elderflower, at a not so delicate 48% ABV. It’s easy drinking, and therefore easy to forget its strength, but you can worry about that the next day. The latter is much spicier, using both juniper buds and berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, amongst others; it is my go to gin for a G&T.

They’ve also created a controversial limited edition gin which contains just one botanical (Difford's Guide gave it a cracking 5/5). It’s all very tongue in cheek, and even has a double label; is it a single botanical gin, or a juniper vodka? You decide.

All the products are available to sample; Marmalade Vodka, Smoked Vodka, Gooseberry Vodka, Islay Cask Conditioned Vodka, and my ABSOLUTE fave, Rhubarb Vodka (I’ll have this straight up, over ice, every time). Then, Seville Orange Gin, Raspberry, Elderflower and Blackcurrant Liqueurs, ‘Summer Cup’ (a take on Pimm’s), and their own classier version of Apple Sours. They’ve also branched out into making cider – Willy’s Cider – which is bottled down the road at Weston’s, and wine too. Oh, and take note, a Hereford Whisky is currently in progress. YES.

It won’t come as a shock to hear that we were feeling more than tipsy when we left. So how can you get in on the act? Easy... Tours are held on Fridays at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. It costs just £10 per person, and includes a £5 discount off your first purchase over £20 in the shop. To book, you can email TOURS@WILLIAMSCHASE.CO.UK or call 01432 820455.

GO.

Chase Distillery, Rosemaund Farm, Hereford, HR1 3PG.

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