Since 2008, the Chase family have slowly but surely been building a portfolio of gins, vodkas and liqueurs that have allowed them to become the representative distillery for British provenance and quality the world over.
With gin fans having to wait until the team had created their award winning potato based vodka first, Williams Chase Gin was a project 2 years in the making. It was worth the wait as the result, Williams Chase Gin (also known as Chase Gin) is balanced, elegant with a full mouthful that is nicely complimented by citrus notes and an ever present appley undertone.
The story of Williams Chase Gin begins with vodka. Well, potatoes actually, then an award winning crisp company, then potato based vodka – then apple vodka, then gin.
By the early 2000’s the Chase family had built themselves a reputation as farmers of quality by selling produce from their Herefordshire farms. However, with no real relationship with the end consumer and having farmed potatoes for 20 years (mainly supplying supermarkets as a commodity), William Chase started to feel detached. In 2002 he decided to travel around the world to source equipment and recipes to make potato chips and by the summer, “Tyrrell’s Crisps” was born.
Obviously it wasn’t that simple but because our website is about gin, we’ll be paraphrasing a little… It was only in 2004, whilst travelling in the USA looking for packaging equipment for the chips, that the idea of creating vodka come into his mind. It then took Chase 4 years to make his first batch of vodka. To make it happen, he converted a barn into a distillery and battled with HMRC to acquire a license on a small still. In 2006/7 it was still impossible to own a smaller still that was less than 2300 Litres in capacity as the antiquated British licensing laws had yet to be changed. Thankfully, they have now, but Chase did not wait and in June 2007 installed a large still capable of producing his spirit – then intended to be named as Tyrrell’s Vodka. In hindsight, having to buy and operate a much larger still may well have been a blessing in disguise as had they started smaller, the progress may well have taken a lot longer to achieve. Back in 2007, producing alcohol was a big ordeal as it took a further year and a change in the base of the main neutral spirit to create William’s Gin. Why the change in the base you ask? Why is it important for us to be discussing the merits of vodka on Gin Foundry? Let us explain.
The initial process required to create vodka and gin is pretty similar – you need to create a neutral base spirit that has been distilled to above 96% ABV. Vodka is in essence a refined, high quality neutral spirit that has been reduced to bottling strength. To create gin however, you then need to flavour the neutral spirit with other botanicals, with juniper as the predominant flavour, before reducing it to bottling strength. There’s a saying that all gin is flavoured vodka, and while this is usually intended as a derogatory comment aimed at demeaning both, it is quite accurate. Therefore, changing or altering the base spirit matters as it is never “neutral” or tasteless as one might imagine.
After creating their potato based vodka, William and the team turned their attention to producing a gin from it. Unfortunately, the potatoes used to create their base spirit had left a distinct character, which didn’t pair up well with the botanicals the team wanted to go into William’s Gin. They wanted to make a lighter, yet still crisp gin, and test after test it just didn’t provide the right flavour profile. It’s not that potatoes can’t make a good base for a gin – GB Gin, Single Estate Gin and Seville Orange Gin by Chase Distillery all show that this is possible (we will review these separately in due course) – it’s just that it didn’t match with what they wanted to create at the time.
With this in mind, the team at Chase began the process all over again! This time, they turned their attention to their own apple orchard to create a new base spirit (the result actually ended in the production of a spirit that was good enough to bottle without further infusions and now sold as Naked Chase Vodka). What is the difference between the two bases? The apple base has a crisp, citric note, whereas the potato base has a full mouth feel and is somewhat creamy. On a side note for all of you wondering – 16 tonnes of potatoes only make 1000 litres of alcohol, which makes it a crazily labour intensive method to make a base spirit, and whilst apples are better, the majority of Chase products use the potato based spirit.
Now getting back to gin! To convert this apple based spirit into William’s Gin, they add the 96% ABV base spirit to the same amount of water from the farm along with juniper, coriander, angelica, liquorice, orris, orange and lemon peel, hops, elderflower and fresh Bramley apples. These are all packed into a small Carter-Head style still (affectionately named “Ginny”). The vapour infusion accentuates more floral notes as well as lighter flavours and the result is typical of a gin that uses this process.
Just to add some confusion into the equation – sorry dear readers – but it’s worth noting that originally, the gin was made in the large still where they still make vodka to this day. Since the laws changed and smaller stills were allowed into the UK, the gin is now rectified (i.e. created) in this much smaller 400lt still. This means a few things… 1. Production has changed into a different still and therefore the recipe has been adapted to account for a 2 shot distillation (i.e. they distil a concentrate and cut it back with vodka). 2. William’s Gin now tastes different to what it did to begin with as over the years, they have fine tuned the flavour to make certain elements – notably, the amount of juniper that can be tasted – slightly stronger. 3. Distilling gin only takes 6 hours to do. 4. If you tried it all those years ago, try it again because it’s not the same.
Anyway – back to the less uber gin geek factual write up – after distillation the gin is then watered down further and bottled at 48% ABV. William’s Gin has a strong juniper presence on the nose that is complemented by crisp citrus. On the palate juniper is present again, before a citrus flavour takes over with the coriander, angelica and liquorice all also contributing to create a long finish. The apple base can be brought out further by serving a slice of apple as a garnish in a G&T, but is also discernible when tasted neat if you focus in a little. Getting all the individual flavours out in a gin can be hard work when they are quite subtle, but William’s Gin is both quaffable and makes for an exceptional Martini. The apple base can be tasted on a wider level which speaks to how crisp the overall gin is.
The bottle is more reminiscent of a vodka bottle, but this is to be expected considering both the product and distiller’s origins. Tall, slender with graphic outlines of the orchard trees and reassuringly heavy, the bottling doesn’t let the contents down. Also contributing to the more ephemeral aspects that surround William’s Gin is the story behind the creation of the distillery which is brought to life by the brand’s site and social media presence. The constant human touch has clearly resonated with gin fans across the world as with all Chase products combined, the distillery produced and sold over half a million bottles in 2013.
The Chase team has created a product in William’s Gin that really competes in a fierce market place. It’s profile stands up to inspection and the price point is competitive to others who play in the same, artisan area. No stranger to the more marketing lead aspects of building brands either (Tyrrell’s crisps now both widely recognised and stocked in the UK) they have the combination of good product, know-how, integrity and enthusiasm that have turned William’s Gin into a regular sighting on shelves. The only question that remains is why they’ve taken so long to make a move on the US and to be more aggressively focused on other export markets. We’ve no doubt that this is in the pipeline and expect to hear of more success going their way as they expand into bars and homes across the world.
What is perhaps most understated about what Chase has achieved is that since 2008, they have slowly but surely brought out campaign after campaign that puts provenance centre stage. While it is always something that appeals to people, and so it should, this isn’t why they have flown the British flag. The “from field to bottle” ethos and being able to show where the ingredients are grown is something that is core to the team’s belief. Showing how it is all converted into the final spirit breaks down many barriers and helps understand what a product is all about. In this respect, they have pushed others in the category to become a lot more open about how and where they make their gin. They deserve recognition as one of the brands that has pushed transparency in producers and marketeers alike.
Knowing where and how something is made is a powerful message that the Chase team has in abundance – their Herefordshire provenance is core to the success of their gin. It’s been great to see them showcase this to a wider audience as well as the bartender community with events such as Rock the Farm. We look forward to seeing how they build on the success they have already amassed.
For more information about Williams Chase Gin, visit their website: www.chasedistillery.co.uk
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