Scotland now has its first potato vodka – the Jarron family at Hatton of Ogilvy Farm began distilling there for the first time in September last year. The farm has been in the same family for four generations and grows a variety of crops, as well as having a herd of cattle. With craft spirits taking over the world, the team at Ogilvy set out to create a small-batch, consistently superb vodka.
All of the potatoes used in to make the vodka come from Hatton of Ogilvy Farm and are Maris Pipers, chosen to produce a sweet and richly textured spirit. The skins are left on the potatoes, helping to retain all of the starch and flavour.
Each batch of vodka only yields 500 bottles and takes an incredible 23 days to produce. The process starts with gentle cooking in water, slow enough to bring out the natural sweetness of the potatoes – the result is one of the best potato soups you will ever taste. They then create a sour-mash by adding some of the pot ale from which alcohol has been separated by distillation, amplifying sweet toffee and caramel flavours.
Fermentation takes five days, starting with three days using their own unique yeast strain, which both converts sugar to alcohol and creates amazing fruity flavours. To finish the fermentation they allow natural growth of lactobacillus, which converts the remaining starches and adds notes of vanilla.
Distillation takes place in a custom-designed Carterhead Mk II still nicknamed ‘Spud’, custom designed by distiller Abhi Banik along with engineers from John Dore, the UK’s oldest still manufacturer, combining both pot and column distillation. The fermented wash is placed in the pot at the bottom of the still and heated, evaporating the alcohol, which then passes through 32 rectification plates and the 7m-high methanol reduction column, purifying the spirit over seven days.
After distillation, the spirit is rested for a week before filtering through charcoal – only 200 litres can be filtered at a time, and each batch takes 20 hours to complete. The result of this painstaking process is a soft, sweet and creamy vodka. It’s perfect for sipping or for creating classic vodka cocktails like the Kangaroo – aka the Vodka Martini.
Nose: Creamy porridge and freshly cut Navel orange. There are warm nutty notes balanced by a touch of lemongrass.
Palate: Wonderful toffee sweetness with Conference pears and a full, rich texture. Clean and soft with soft minerality.
Finish: Clean citrus notes linger with cracked black pepper.
Comment: While being a clean and fresh vodka, it also gives you a full, thick mouthfeel and delicate sweetness. Although it takes an incredibly long time to produce, it is worth the wait and may well be the best vodka I have had the pleasure of trying.
Many larger distilleries look toward efficiencies to make the most liquid in the shortest time and there are plenty of craft distillers out there who concentrate on making the weird and wonderful for its own sake. Thus it is refreshing to try a spirit where everything is geared solely towards quality.
As a rule, I don’t buy vodka but I have a bottle of this, and I think it is one of the best-made spirits I have had this year. Abhi has used everything he knows about the science of distillation to create something quite special and with no compromise and that is something to be admired.