Where there's a still...
Lucie Howatson explains how creative expansion can lead to something worth celebrating.
Hatton of Ogilvy Farm, a few miles to the south of Glamis in Angus, has been farmed by the Jarron family since 1910.
The business always focused on a traditional mix of arable and livestock production but in September 2014 Graeme Jarron, the fourth generation farmer, produced Scotland's first potato vodka, Ogilvy.
It was launched on to the market in early 2015, but it had taken many years of dedication, research and inspiration from Graeme and his wife Caroline for the farm to diversify into making vodka.
The couple first considered the idea in 2012 with a view to capitalising on the existing potato operation at Hatton of Ogilvy. The farm grows around 50 acres of potatoes each year and focuses on growing three premium potato varieties. Mars Piper proved to be the perfect variety for their vodka because its dry matter content is between 19 and 21%. Wetter varieties did not produce the consistency of flavour and texture they needed.
Extensive trials, using potatoes from the farm, were held in conjunction with Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh before investment in the new building and distilling equipment was made. The trials not only confirmed the best variety of potato but also allowed Graeme and Caroline to ensure that the distilling process could be increased from laboratory-sized production to a more commercial scale.
Ogilvy is produced using 600kg batches of potatoes at a time, which are washed and minced with the skins on - the skins caramelise and add a unique sweetness to the finished vodka - to produce a "mash". The mash is then pressure cooked for four to five hours, using a method of "sour mashing" to alter the pH of the potatoes which allows the naturally found starch to turn into sugar. This results is a liquid mix of sugar which is then fermented with the addition of yeast.
"The chemical reaction during fermentation heats the liquid, which is left for a period of five to six days," explains Graeme. "The higher the outside temperature, the quicker the process."
After fermentation the liquid (or "wash") is about 7 to 8% alcohol. The distilling process creates the alcohol by separating the menthol from the ethanol (alcohol). The alcohol content rises to 70 to 80% after the first distillation and peaks after the second distillation at 96%, the minimum requirement for vodka. Once at 96% the vodka is left to mature for seven days, which allows the alcohol to breathe by reacting with the air around it.
The final stage involves "polishing" the vodka through a charcoal filter and adding the soft Angus water to dilute the vodka to 40% before it is bottled.
The result is an international award-winning spirit, which counts the coveted Vodka Trophy at the International Wines and Spirits Competition in 2015 among its trophies. Graeme and Caroline have created a true craft vodka; the entire process from growing the potatoes to bottling the finished product is carried out on the farm, providing 100% traceability.
Ogilvy is a great example of how, with a bit of ingenuity and hard work, a business can capitalise on its existing enterprises and successfully diversify to create a new product or service.
As Graeme says, "it is important for the future of farming to diversify and create new markets in which to sell our products, be it a potato or a bottle of vodka."
Lucie joined Galbraith in 2012 and qualified in 2014. She works as a Land Agent in the Rural department at the Perth office and is involved in estate management, rural consultancy, valuation and property management work.