Three farming brothers have worked out that Scotland’s abundance of spuds can mean more than just chips, mash and roast tatties by opening the country’s first potato-fuelled vodka distillery (Hamish Macdonnell writes).
The Stirling brothers from Arbikie, near Arbroath, decided last year to diversify their family’s potato farm into new areas. The results can be found in a converted barn on their farm, where there are now three copper stills that produce Scotland’s first legal potato vodka.
The first batch of Arbikie Highland Estate Vodka has just been produced and the bottles are already on their way to Harrods and other exclusive outlets.
As David Stirling, one of the three brothers in charge of the project, said: “Angus produces 28 per cent of Scotland’s potatoes, so there is plenty of raw material.”
It does seem a smart move. After all, the few pounds that the brothers would get for three and a half kilos of potatoes translates into £42 when those same potatoes are converted into the specialist vodka the farm now produces.
Mr Stirling stressed, however, that Arbikie was not a mainstream vodka — the sort of spirit that is used in cocktails and drunk with orange juice or tonic water.
“Most vodka is grain spirit, it is not made from potatoes,” he said. “Ours is made from potatoes so it has a different flavour. It is more complex, it has more depth and it is designed to be sipped slowly, perhaps over ice, like a good malt whisky,” he said.
The idea came to the brothers during a visit to a Scottish bar in New York. They looked at all the niche and craft whiskies and spirits on display in the bar and decided that they could do the same – or even better – from their family home. The result is a vodka that is “slightly sweet, very creamy and exceptionally smooth”, according to Mr Stirling, who claimed that Arbikie had already received very positive endorsements from experts in the sector, including mixologists and top bartenders in Edinburgh and London.
There is another side to potato vodka too. “It is not made from grain. It is gluten free,” said Mr Stirling. “There is an increasing market for gluten-free products and we fit into that market particularly well.”
Mr Stirling also insisted that combining different types of potato was similar to mixing grape varieties into wine. Arbikie uses a combination of maris piper, cultra and king edward potatoes for what Mr Stirling says is the perfect mix for vodka.
The drink is produced under the watchful eye of Kirsty Black, Arbikie’s master distiller, one of ten new employees at the farm.
The Stirling brothers are clearly into the family ethos. Not only are they managing to work together — despite the fact that they fought with each other constantly as children — but they have named the two main stills after their parents, Jan and Ack.
With Mr Stirling believing that there is an increasing market for produce with a clearly defined local provenance, the whole family has invested substantially in the vodka project. The brothers intend to move on to produce whisky from local barley and gin from grain too.