Based in rural Herefordshire, family-run Chase Distillery is housed in a converted hop kiln barn amongst 400 acres of rolling potato fields, apple orchards and Herefordshire cattle farmland.
My day begins at 7am when I arrive at the distillery and catch up with the night distiller and production engineer, reading all production logs to make sure that I’m aware of what stage we are at in production. I then have a meeting with Jamie Baggott, our head distiller and general operations manager. He oversees production at the distillery and we also currently collaborate on new product development. I’ll then head to the bottling line to taste test, check and sign off the liquid in tank that is to be bottled that day, before the bottling team arrive and start work.
Next on my list would be to begin the production process. I start by firing up the peeling line where we remove the skin of the potatoes and start to physically break them down ready for distillation. Mine is a very hands-on job which requires constant attention, from the regulation of steam pumped into the line, to the correct measurement of enzymes responsible for the breakdown of starch in the potatoes into smaller sugars that we need for distillation. Once broken down, the potatoes are now at a mash-like consistency (much like that enjoyed with bangers and onion gravy on a cold winter’s night)! After a short period on a gentle boil I will start the cooling process and once the mash reaches 20C, I’ll dose the yeast to start the fermentation.
Once fermentation has begun, the mash is sent to our stripping column where a low wine spirit is produced from our fermented potato mash. This low wine spirit is then sent to a receiver, which I will keep at a consistent level by pumping the low wine to a holding tank, ensuring a smooth distillation run.
From the holding tanks, the low wine is pumped to our pot still. Here I top it up with water from the bore hole on our Herefordshire family farm where the distillery is based. It’s at this point where the magic starts to happen! Using our state of the art distillation equipment, I begin the heating phase by injecting steam to the still. This heats the low wine and begins the distillation process; the heated spirit evaporates and the vapours make their way up our 70ft rectification column, (the tallest in the world as far as we’re aware) where the impurities are removed and we’re left with a beautifully smooth, pure spirit. I then take ‘cuts’ at 20-30 minute intervals during the 15-hour process to ensure only the smoothest spirit is collected and sent to bottle. All of our cuts are still done by hand, and our quality control done by taste testing – a part of the job that requires a very sensitive palate, and a personal favourite part of the day! The spirit here is distilled up to 96%, and so our taste tests are done with a minute amount of spirit – the equivalent of only a drop on your fingertip.
This process is the beginning to all of our spirits. Potatoes are used as the base to our vodkas and are substituted for apples to create our gins. At this point, the distillate is at 96%. It is then blended with distilled water, once again from our bore hole, and sent to bottle. Our limited editions, such as marmalade and rhubarb, go through a further distillation with their respective constituent raw ingredients and a few other specially adapted processes before bottling. For our gins, the apple spirit at 96% is pumped into our gin still, affectionately known as ‘Ginny’, where our botanicals are infused in a carter head style distillation. This means that I’ll carefully weigh out the botanicals used in a particular gin recipe, place them into a botanical bag (which is similar to a giant teabag) and place into the carter head chamber connected to Ginny. The apple spirit is then heated, its vapours passing through this chamber where the botanicals infuse and the vapours condense to be collected in our gin receiver. The distillate is then blended with water and hand-bottled in the same process as our vodka.
Whilst running the production process, I’m also responsible for the quality control of each of our products, from our Original Vodka to fresh fruit liqueurs; taste testing and trialling to ensure the consistent high quality that Chase Distillery has become renowned for. Throughout the day, I am in close contact with our other distillers and production engineer to make sure that everyone is up to date with each process finding a ‘production equilibrium’ and making sure it’s kept. The biggest challenge for me is to maintain absolute consistency and timing. We cannot have different batches of the same product tasting differently or not being ready for the bottling line on time – with so many lines, production planning is never an easy job, but totally worthwhile when I see the rewards, like winning the title of World’s Best Vodka at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards!
Aside from the production, another part of my job is the running of trade and public tours. I love taking people through the magic of the distillation process, showing them how a potato from our farm just outside the window turns into an award-winning spirit.