It all started with potatoes. Potatoes turned to vodka. Vodka became gin. And from a humble potato farm a rather more elegant empire has sprung: Chase distillery.
It was William Chase who created Tyrrels crisps, before reaching the brilliant conclusion that potatoes might be better used to make vodka and gin. The result is the UK’s only single-estate distillery, housed on 400 sprawling acres of potato fields and apple orchards in the heart of Herefordshire. I’m a big fan of their spirits, from a classic gin made from their own spuds, to a light, fruity version made from cider apples. Then there’s their famous marmalade vodka, and a surprisingly moreish pink rhubarb one that might be the only vodka I enjoy straight.
Visit the source and you’ll be shown the process by the affable and knowledgeable Guy, who was a Chase superfan before they even gave him a job. It’s that sort of a place. For a distillery of such a slick and sizeable brand, there’s a pleasing homemade vibe about it. While many gins are made from mass-marketed bought-off-the-chain neutral grain spirit, here everything is made from scratch, from the potato up. The classic marmalade vodka sits in industrial-sized copper stills, but it’s infused, not by buckets of essence, but by immersing gigantic bundles of Seville orange peel, like massive tea bags. Bottles are even filled and sealed by actual human beings.
And of course, when you visit, you get to taste things. I was delighted to discover there were Chase spirits I had never known existed, including a smoked vodka (brilliant in a bloody mary), sticky fruit liqueurs and a seriously sunny Seville orange gin. There’s even a range of very nice wines – no, not from potatoes, but from a vineyard William bought in Provence. Oh, and to my sheer delight they are now working on whisky. Watch this space.
Mr Chase is clearly an ideas man, and his latest local legacy is the Verzon hotel, a gorgeous bolthole in Ledbury. Which, in true keeping with his dedication for quality and detail, has Possibly The Most Comfortable Beds in The World, as well as a cocktail bar with open fireplace and stunning menus from chef Callum McDonald.
This is the perfect place to unwind. So just as well the food is worth staying in for. I can’t decide whether the soufflé with blue cheese, honeycomb and walnuts is the new love of my life, or whether it’s the dark chocolate creme brulée. It’s personal. You may find yourself swooning over the bacon French toast or the epic shoulder of Hereford beef roast beef and big, fat triple-cooked chips.
(Potatoes really are brilliant, aren’t they?)